gov.uk websites – accessible or offline by end 2008!

Accessibility has been a big issue foe me since I worked for a not for profit organisation dealing with disabilities. So it was pleasing for me to see an article in The Register that the British government has given all websites in the gov.uk domain till the end of 2008 to achieve the minimum, Level Double-A of the W3C Guidelines will have its domain withdrawn.The Register feels this is foolhardy. The Register is wrong and misguided in its view. It is a great incentive for government agencies to get their websites to abide by the W3C guidelines. For too long website designers have ignored or paid lip service to the needs of people with disabilities, and more courageous decisions such as this need to be made to make the web accessible for all.Not only is The Register wrong on this. It has failed to even take notice of the notice advising of this. The Cabinet Office notice says “In order to meet European objectives for inclusive e-government and so that the UK public sector meets its obligations with regards to disability legislation, we have proposed that all government websites must meet Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines by December 2008.””Government websites are strongly recommended to develop an accessibility policy to aid the planning and procurement of inclusive websites. This includes building a business case, analysing user needs, developing an accessibility test plan and procuring accessible content authoring tools. The guidance covers some of the design solutions to common problems faced by users but is mainly aimed at strategic managers and project managers to assist with planning and procurement.”So as the notice says, it is to meet the British government’s legal obligations.Websites which fail to meet the mandated level of conformance shall be subject to the withdrawal process for .gov.uk domain names, as set out in Naming and Registering Websites (TG101).And as a note for website designers, clause 18 says:
Fixing an inaccessible website after it has been completed can be difficult, costly and may not succeed in providing effective access. The best way to create an accessible website is to make sure that accessibility criteria are included throughout the project life cycle, starting with the procurement or commissioning stage.The document, Delivering inclusive websites, is available from the Cabinet Office website here.The Register article is available here.

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