In June 2007 I wrote a piece that made the point that it was time that the DRC took action against sites that were clearly not meeting a reasonable level of accessibility. (http://www.sitemorse.com/news.html?id=1288457167) The premise was that sitting back waiting for the "market" to drive sites towards accessibility, so they didn't miss out on the £6bn of spending power estimated to be up for grabs, was clearly not working. A year on and has anything changed ?
Well there hasn't been a flurry of legal cases hitting the courts. If you search for instances of court cases the are very few and you always find the same tired old examples of AOL and Target in the US, the Sydney Olympics in Australia. But nothing that would put the frighteners on a website owner looking to assess the risk of prosecution if they do nothing about accessibility.
So if the stick isn't being wielded and therefore the threat of it's use is becoming less and less effective how are the carrots doing ?
The main carrot as always is MONEY. What's the return on investment if I spend £x thousands on making a site accessible. I found one site that was a usability and accessibility consultancy that had an ROI calculator - great, I thought, that'll make this bit of my blog easy. When you look at it they ask "What return do you expect from improved usability?" and have the following options - low 0.5%, medium 1%, high 2%. That seems low to me. Another site pointed out that there are 54 million disabled Americans with a discretionary spending power of $175bn - although another site gave the same number of people a spending power of $700bn ! And the best another site came up with was the following bullet points
- Avoid the courtroom.
- Get your information out and process less enquiries.
- Create better software practises, and cut down on code maintenance and server load.
- Move to alternative browsing technologies with less development.
- Gain prestige by being a leader.
So it looks like there are no tangible numbers or percentages out there to quote which would act as an easy justification for the effort involved. (apart from 0.5%, 1% or 2% which aren't going to set the world alight). The above bullet points are all valid, they are just difficult to put monetary values against.
If we look at our Sector Surveys and see how the Retail, Food & Beverage and FTSE 100 sites are doing (they get the carrots) compared to Local Government sites (where varying sizes of sticks have been wielded) we see the following percentage of pages passing our Accessibility tests
Local Gov. "A" - 95% "AA" - 26%
FTSE100 "A" - 77% "AA" - 8%
Food & Bev. "A" - 64% "AA" - 5%
Retail "A" - 52% "AA" - 0.44%
So the people with the most to gain from the spending power of the disabled community are taking the least notice. As my blog from yesterday discussed, the COI are bringing in further "incentives" for .gov.uk sites to improve their sites (which are already pretty good and certainly well ahead of the private sector) with the threat of (though I doubt it will ever come to it) removing the right to use .gov.uk.
And my conclusion is ? BRING BACK THE BIRCH !