The UK government is proposing that all .gov.uk sites must be AA compliant by 2008. This is great news for all users and is a positive step towards improving the Accessibility of the web in general. At this stage it seems that there are no plans to expand to sites outside the gov.uk domain. The recommendation builds on the excellent work carried out in PAS 78 Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites. The newly created Equality and Human Rights commission no longer seems to have the document on the website but until that is fixed you may be able to get a free copy from the BSI website.
PAS 78 is also a solid base for non-technical employees to understand the requirements for commissioning an accessible website. It is largely based on WCAG 1.0 and offers good advice for sourcing a professional agency.
The majority of these recommendation are nothing new. WCAG 1.0 has been around since 1999 and many professionals have adopted them as standard to their process. It is good to see another document embracing these standards however. There are many who think the web standards debate is over. The Web Standards Awards are no more and many feel that web standards are now adopted broadly enough to forget about them. I agree that on the agency side this is largely true. Client side though, education is still required desperately and this document is a step forward. It is certainly not too late.
What worries me is that just as the impetus would seem to be gathering on the client side (well at least governments) the W3C are stalling over WCAG 2.0, the much needed update to the recommendations. The recommendations are still in Working Draft and many have found them very difficult to understand. WCAG 2.0 needs to reach a conclusion so legislation can be created referencing it. Until then WCAG 1.0 may well have to do but it already seems outdate.
What still disappoints me is that there is still no definition for public websites regarding access. Since 1999 we have had the Disability Discrimitation Act which states:
The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public.
The Act Specificially refers to websites but what is disappointing is that in that time there has been no legal definition about what that means. Perhaps this is the result of a lack of a test case. In the USA there is an ongoing case between Target and the US National Federation of the Blind. This will certainly give definition to the US laws.
It would be much simpler to define the criteria however. WCAG 1.0 has been a recommendation for 8 years. This is certainly long enough for developers to have understood and learnt about requirements.
I applaud the publication of the public consultation document. I think it is a sensible, achievable document that draws on work completed in WCAG 1.0 and PAS 78. I still feel however that this will have little impact on the Accessibility of UK websites in general. This is a positive step but current legislation has no impact on the industry. It is good that the UK Government is looking to make their own sites water-tight but really I feel we should be looking for broader legislation that could have a real impact for all UK users.
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