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WAI: Strategies, guidelines, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities

Editors Draft: 18 June 2009 [changelog; original draft] $Date: 2010/01/26 22:03:53 $
Status: This document is an in-progress Editor's Draft. The published version is at <www.w3.org/WAI/users/inaccessible.html>.] Please send comments to wai-eo-editors@w3.org (a publicly archived list).

[alternative DRAFT]
How to Report Inaccessible Websites

Page Contents

Want to complain about an inaccessible website? This page helps you be more effective.


Your effort reporting inaccessibility can make a difference.

We encourage you to bookmark this page and pass it along to others.


First, understand that Web accessibility barriers are usually unintentional. Most web developers are not aware of accessibility issues, and don't know how to make their website accessible. Your complaint may well be the start of their education about the importance of Web accessibility and the impact it has on users. Just knowing that some people are having problems may be the motivation an organization needs to make the changes that will make a difference.

The advice of consumer organizations is to stay calm and be polite, even if you are frustrated and angry. Approaching an organization with an angry, aggressive tone will usually reflect badly on you and the accessibility cause, and not result in a good response. Instead, consider approaching the organization as if they do not understand accessibility. Approach your complaint in a positive manner - you want to help them understand the problem encountered, and how fixing it is in their best interest.

At the same time, be aware that Web accessibility is recognized as a human right in things like UN Convention on Human Rights and many national laws. While it is best to approach an organization gently at first, be firm and recognize that you might need to get tougher in subsequent follow ups.

Why Bother

There are probably lots of people experiencing the same or similar problems on any particular website. Your effort in taking the time to contact an organization that has an inaccessible website may turn out to have an impact and result in improvement that will benefit many others.

Many web developers have long lists of potential improvements, but issues raised by customers or site visitors will be more front-of-mind for the site owner and developer.

And, as we said earlier, the organization may not even know about the difficulty they are causing - until someone complains, the organization may not even be aware that there is a problem.

Finding Contacts

If you are approaching an organization directly, a little research to locate the best contact person can pay off. Look for a senior person to address your compliant to.

Many sites will have a "contact us" link at the top or bottom of the page, or in the navigation area. These "contact us" pages may provide a form to complete, an email address to contact, or other ways to contact the organization by phone or letter. Some organizations will have "accessibility" pages - these may have a contact point about accessibility matters. Some other places to look for contact details are a site's "legal", "copyright" or "disclaimer" pages.

You may have more contact options than just a generic email address or a general feedback form. In this case, contacting the manager of the publicity or communications section, or the manager of the information technology section, is useful as these groups often take overall responsibility for an organization's website.

Many larger organizations, especially government departments and educational institutions, have disability officers or coordinators, and these can also be very good people to contact.

If you are contacting the organization by email or letter, consider also sending a copy to a relevant disability or older peoples' organization.

Feedback Forms

Many websites will have a "feedback" form which can be a good place to start. Some feedback forms will allow you to report "problems with our website" — if this option exists, then it implies that an organization is interested to hear about the difficulties you are experiencing, and hopefully will respond positively to your complaint by fixing the problem. In other cases, the feedback form might be a simple "contact us" form, but still worth considering. Print all forms for your records before submitting them.

If you do use a feedback form, they sometimes have questions to categorize your feedback. If you encounter one of these, try and answer as best you can as they are trying to direct your feedback to the most appropriate section in the organization. If you get an immediate "thank you for your feedback" reply, do not to assume it has been read, only that it has been received.

Other Contact Options

If you can't find any contact details on the organization's website, other places to look for a postal address include the telephone directory or the public companies register.

You could then write a letter to the Managing Director, the Communications Manager, or the Information Technology Manager. Within a large organization, the more senior the person you write to is, the more likely it will find the right section to be handled appropriately, and the more likely it is to be recorded and acted on. Within a small organization, the Managing Director may well be the person in charge who can get action taken.

Alternatives to Direct Contact

If you don't feel confident contacting an organization directly, consider approaching a disability or older peoples' organization to complain to them on your behalf.

@@ more information?

What to Report

In your email or letter to an organization with an inaccessible website, you should tell them:

Even if you know nothing about how the Web works, you can still describe the difficulties encountered.

Where is the Problem

Tell the organization which page or part of the site you were on when you experienced the difficulties, and possibly what you were trying to do. Either give them the Web address (also called URL) or a description of the page where the problem occurred.

Example Web address (also called URL):
Example page description:
"I was on your services page and wanted to get to the XYZ service details"

What is the Problem

Try to describe in as much detail as you can what it is you cannot do or are having difficulty with.

The detail you can provide about the problems you are encountering may assist the organization to address the problem. Also, try to describe the steps you were taking before the problem was encountered. If you've been able to view similar pages, or access similar services, on another site, then consider mentioning this too. If you are an experienced web user, or have some knowledge in web technologies, you may be able to describe the problem in some detail. To help the organization act on your feedback, it should be constructive and usable.

It can help the website owners understand the problem if they know the impact your disability or impairment has on the way you use a computer and browse the Web.

Example problem descriptions:

Finally, if you can take a screen-shot of the problem area, then this may also be useful to include with your email as it can show the organization exactly where the problem arose. If you are writing a letter to post, then consider printing the problem page and circling the areas that caused difficulties.

Your Computer System

If you can, it is helpful to indicate your operating system and browser. However, if you don't know any details about your computer system, then you can ignore this section. As long as you have described the problem you are experiencing clearly, then that should be sufficient.

It can help the Web developer to diagnose the problem if they know some things about your computer system such as:

Some people will have multiple browsers installed. If you do have more than one browser, you should try and replicate the problem with all them - this can lend weight to your claims of poor accessibility.

Example computer system descriptions:

Keep Records

Don't forget to document everything - create a "complaint diary".

It is recommended to keep copies of your correspondence (or notes of any online forms submitted or phone calls made), and the dates you interacted with the organization, in case you need to follow-up further or want to lodge a more formal complaint in future.

You should also keep printouts or screen grabs of the pages causing difficulty to refresh your memory as the site changes.

Provide Pointers to Web Accessibility Information

If you are interested further in Web accessibility, or would like to refer others to some resources, then the following web pages may be helpful:

Sample Emails

We have provided a template with optional sections around which you can base your email or letter. We have also prepared some sample emails to show how the final correspondence might look. Write your email or letter in your own style, keeping the above points in mind.

Email Template

Below is a template that you can use when preparing your own feedback. Each part of the template has sections for you to complete if appropriate as indicated by the (hints) in brackets which are also italicized and colored light blue. Of course, be as descriptive of the problem and the difficulties you are experiencing as possible.

start of template:

Dear ... (name or position of person you're writing to)

I recently tried to visit your website and was having difficulty with ... (provide Web address (also called URL) or describe the page where the problem occurs)
when I try to ... (describe what you where trying to do on their site).
The difficulty I experienced was ... (describe what doesn't work for you, or what doesn't work the way you expected).
I have no difficulty on ... (maybe talk about another similar site that works for you).

I use a ... (provide details of your computer and operating system if you know)
with the ... browser (provide the name and version of your browser if you know).
I also use ... (describe any settings you might have, or assistive technology you use, if appropriate).

Further information about Web accessibility is available in the "Introduction to Web Accessibility" at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php (feel free to include some other references)

I look forward to seeing your improvements - please contact me if I can be of further assistance.

Yours sincerely, ... (include your name and usual signoff)

end of template

Sample Email 1

start of sample letter 1:

Dear Citylights Marketing Manger,

I have noticed some accessibility issues for people with disabilities and older people using you website.

I recently visited your ticket offers page (http://www.w3.org/WAI/EO/2005/Demo/before/data) and was having difficulty understanding the different types of tickets available for Thelonius Mank as a result of the black text on the gray background. I have difficulty seeing anything that is not very high contrast. As I am a CityLights events fan, I would appreciate your attention to this problem, and your advice when it is fixed.

You can get further information about Web accessibility in the "Introduction to Web Accessibility" at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

If you would like me to supply any further information, please email me.

Your sincerely, John.

end of sample letter 1

Sample Email 2

start of sample letter 2:

Hello Citylights Director,

My colleague told me that you had some heat wave information on your website, so I went to the news page, but there was something strange going on. I found a sentence about the heat wave and temperatures, but then there was something about the violin case man. The page was confusing for me to listen to - it appears it was not written in a linear fashion so that someone like me using a screen reader can easily understand it. Much of the page seemed mixed up. By the way, your news page didn't seem to have any headings either — these help me understand the sections on the page and can help me navigate the stories.

I listen to web pages on my notebook computer with Windows and Internet Explorer and with the Saturn-V screen reader.

You can get further information about Web accessibility in the "Introduction to Web Accessibility" at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

Please let me know when these problems are addressed.

Thank you for your attention. Betty

end of sample letter 2

Response Time [@@ better heading]

Did you hear back from the organization, and are they trying to fix the site? Have they already fixed the site? If so, congratulations — your feedback was worthwhile. If you didn't hear back, how long should you wait before following up?


You should receive an acknowledgement very quickly - but remember that is not a resolution of your complaint.

Different organizations have different cultures and different systems for managing correspondence and handling feedback and complaints. For example a government department or large organization is likely to have an internal correspondence tracking system which means it may take a while for the feedback to reach the right person and even longer for action to be taken, while a small organization may be more responsive and act immediately.

Many government organizations have a policy of responding to correspondence within four weeks; this should be he maximum response time for any large organization.

Fixes [@@ better heading]

Sometimes, a quick solution is possible, such as addressing issues related to color and contrast, other times it may require an organization to buy new web publishing software before they can address some problems. In some organizations, the approval process to implement changes may be a slow process.

Regardless, it reasonable to expect an organization to respond to your complaint and reply with some resolution and a time frame to expect to see improvements.

However, many people's experience is that your complaint may be ignored at this stage. Be persistent and try again; you might also consider taking further action.

Follow Up

If they contact you and request more information, that may be a step in the right direction. Do you feel that it should be clear from the information that you first sent? Can you give them any more specifics? Sometimes a problem may be less apparent for someone using a different operating system or browser and different custom settings, or for someone who doesn't have access to the assistive technology that you are using — so they may indeed need more information. Try and be as descriptive of your situation and the problem as you can to help them understand what needs to be changed. Maybe a phone call would help you describe the problem more easily than writing it down; if the organization is not local to you, ask them to phone you.

Remember to keep documenting everything. Your "complaint diary" needs to record all contacts, emails or letters sent, and responses received, in case any further action is necessary.

Further Action

Unfortunately many people find that organizations do not respond to their initial individual approaches about accessibility problems. If an organization has not responded or repaired their website after reasonable time has passed — or if they have responded but still not fixed the problem or advised when it might be fixed, you may want to consider additional approaches. Before undertaking any of these additional actions, make sure that the organization didn't just fix the problem and forget to tell you. You might choose to follow up directly or indirectly.

Direct follow-up actions with the organization could include:

Indirect follow-up actions via other avenues could include:

If you do decide to take additional action, some people have found a combination of getting a disability or older people organization involved, combined with a legal approach possibly through government disability or human rights commission, can be effective.

Permission to Use

The "How to Report an Inaccessible Website" document is copyright© W3C and licensed under the W3C Document License. Additionally, you are granted permission to create modifications of the material.

WAI encourages you to copy, change, translate, distribute, and present the information from "How to Report an Inaccessible Website" as long as you include a reference to this document as source material:

How to Report an Inaccessible Website, A.M.J. Arch, ed. World Wide Web Consortium (MIT, ERCIM, Keio), @@ 2009. http://www.w3.org/WAI/@@/