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

Editors Draft: 31 October 2009 [changelog] $Date: 2010/01/26 09:03:26 $
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).

[DRAFT] How to Report an Inaccessible Website

Encountering barriers caused by an inaccessible website? Here are some ideas to help you report the accessibility problems.


Some basic considerations for alerting website owners:

Use this page and share it with others.


Some people think that a problem using a website is a result of their own inexperience or mistakes, however most accessibility problems on the Web are caused by poor design or implementation by the owners or developers. Some organizations are not aware of Web accessibility issues, some don't know how to make their websites accessible, some get it wrong, and some just ignore it.

Accessible websites provide business benefits for website owners and improve the experience for people with and without disabilities. In many countries websites are required to be accessible by national policies. Also, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities confirms your right to access information and services via the Internet.

Your feedback can help improve the accessibility of websites for you and many other users who may be experiencing the same problems. Feedback from individuals with accessibility needs, disability organizations, and organizations for older people, have resulted in improvements to the Web for all site visitors. Just knowing that some people are experiencing problems might be the motivation an organization needs to make the changes that will make a difference. While organizations often have many priorities for website changes and improvements, the more an organization hears about accessibility from its visitors or customers, the more likely it is that this will become a high priority.

Identify Key Contacts

The best person to contact initially is the owner of the page or area with the accessibility issue, a good alternative is the web manager (sometimes called the 'webmaster'). If you can't find the page owner or the overall web manager, but have more choices than just a generic email address or feedback form, consider contacting the manager of the publicity or communications section, or the manager of the information technology section, if it is a large organization. These groups are often responsible for an organization's website. In a small organization, the managing director may be the person who can ensure that the accessibility issues you are reporting are addressed.

Some organizations have a specific point of contact for accessibility issues. A link with the word "accessibility" is one place to check. Larger organizations, especially government departments and educational institutions, often have disability officers or coordinators, and these people can be helpful as you advocate for accessibility.

Contact Points on the Website

Some sites will have a link to the 'editor' or 'author' for a page. Many sites will have a "Contact Us" link at the top or bottom of the page, or in the navigation area. These links may provide the email address of the page owner or editor, or the web manager. Sometimes they might include a phone number, or a postal address, for contacting them. "Legal", "Copyright" or "Disclaimer" pages may have appropriate contact details too. Sometimes FAQ (frequently asked questions) pages can also lead to specific contact points for an organization.

Feedback Forms

Some sites have feedback forms - this can be a useful first step. Some feedback forms will allow you to report "problems with our website" — if this option exists, it suggests that the organization welcomes visitor feedback and may respond positively to your input. Even if the feedback form is a simple "contact us" form, it is still worth considering. Before you submit a form, print a copy for your records or save an electronic version.

If you get an immediate "thank you for your feedback" reply, do not assume your comments have been read. These automatically generated responses usually only mean that your input has been received.

Other Sources for Contact Information

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

Alternatives to Direct Contact

If you don't feel comfortable contacting an organization directly, consider approaching a disability or older people's organization — they may be willing to submit accessibility feedback on your behalf. A disability or older people's organization bringing accessibility issues to the notice of an organization can sometimes be more effective than an individual's feedback.

Describe the Problem

When contacting an organization with an inaccessible website, you should tell them where the problem occurred and what the problem was. If you would just like to see how you might write an email or letter, there are some email samples provided at the end of this document.

Where is the Problem

Tell the organization which page or part of the site you were on when you experienced the difficulties, and describe 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 (URL):
Example page description:
"I was on your services page and wanted to get to the XYZ service details"

What is the Problem Encountered

Providing as much detail as you can about what you cannot do, or are having difficulty with; this will make it easier for the organization to understand and fix the problem. Describe the steps you were taking before you encountered the problem as well as the problem itself and the impact on your use of their website.

If you've been able to view similar pages, or access similar services, on another site, you might mention this, including the name of and address (URL) of the site that works well for you. If you have multiple browsers available, you should try to replicate the problem with all of them - this can lend weight to your report regarding poor accessibility. If you are an experienced web user, or have some knowledge of web technologies, you may be able to describe the problem in some detail.

Also, if you can take a screen-capture of the problem area, then this may 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 difficulty.

Example problem descriptions:

Your Computer System

It can be helpful to include details about your computer to help the web developer to diagnose the problem. If you're unsure, maybe a friend, relative, or colleague can help you identify this information. If you don't know any details about your computer system, then ignore this section - clearly describing the problem you are experiencing should be sufficient.

Describe your computer system, in particular:

Explaining the impact your disability or impairment has on the way you use a computer and browse the Web can help the website owners understand the problem. If you can discuss specific ways you use your computer when accessing the Web, developers will be better able to repeat your experience and understand the difficulty you are having. In particular:

Example computer system descriptions:

Provide Pointers to Resources

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

Follow-Up as Needed

Sometimes an organization will follow-up with you; sometimes you might need to follow-up with them.

Be Available for Follow-up

If the organization contacts you to request more information, that may be a step in the right direction. Sometimes a problem may be less apparent for someone using a different operating system, different browser, and/or different custom settings, as well as for someone who doesn't have access to the assistive technology you might be using. Be patient since web developers or other relevant staff may need more information than you originally provided. Describe your situation and the problem as clearly as you can in order to help them understand what changes are required.

Maybe a phone conversation will help you describe the problem more easily than continuing to write. If the organization is not local to you, ask them to phone you.

Keep Records

Good records are useful if you need to follow-up further or want to lodge a more formal complaint in the future. Retain printed or electronic copies of all correspondence and any forms you submitted online. Keep notes about any phone calls. Recording the dates you interacted with the organization and the names of all contacts is ideal.

You should also keep printouts or screen-captures of the pages causing difficulty to refresh your memory in case the site changes but doesn't improve.

Getting a Response

Different organizations have different cultures and different systems for managing correspondence and handling feedback and complaints. Some organizations can respond quickly, while others take longer because of their size or internal processes.

There are three different levels of response that you might receive:

  1. An acknowledgement that your feedback or complaint has been received. If you submitted an online form, then an acknowledgement is likely to be immediate. Otherwise, a week is a reasonable timeframe within which to expect an acknowledgement. Remember that an acknowledgement is not a resolution of your complaint.
  2. Advice about their proposed action, which may include a follow-up request for further information. Any reply should include a proposed resolution and a time frame for when improvements can be expected. Many government departments and large organizations have a policy of responding to correspondence within four weeks; this should be the maximum response time for any organization.
  3. Notification that the issue has been resolved and accessibility improved. Many organizations will not notify you of this, especially if they provided advice about their proposed resolution of your complaint. However, you should monitor their website to be sure that the improvements are made and are appropriate. When improvements are made, consider sending a 'thank you' to the organization.

However, many people's experience is that their complaint is ignored. If you are not receiving a satisfactory response, be persistent and try again — or consider taking further action.

Further Action to Consider

Unfortunately, many people find that organizations do not respond to their initial 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 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.

follow-up actions with the organization could include:

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's organization involved, combined with a legal approach, possibly through a government disability or human rights agency, can be effective.

Sample Emails

We have prepared an email template and some sample emails — adapt these for your feedback, or write in your own style. If you are contacting the organization by email or letter, consider also sending a copy to a relevant disability or older people's organization.

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 as possible of the accessibility problem you encountered, the difficulties you are experiencing, and the impact on your use of the organization's website.

start of template:

Subject: Accessibility of ... (XYZ website)

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

I recently visited your website but had difficulty with ... (provide the web address (also called URL) or describe the page where the problem occurs)
when I try to ... (describe what you were trying to do on their site).
The problem I experienced was ... (describe what doesn't work for you or what doesn't work the way you expected).
This meant I was unable to ... (describe what you had hoped to do on their website).
I have no trouble 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 changed, 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:

Subject: Accessibility of Citylights' ticket page

Dear Citylights Marketing Manager,

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

I recently visited your ticket offers page (http://www.acme-cl/tickets/acme.html) 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.

Regards, John

end of sample letter 1

Sample Email 2

start of sample email 2:

Subject: Accessibility of Citylights' news page

Hello Citylights Director,

My colleague told me that you had some heat wave information on your website, so I went to the news page (http://www.acme-cl/news/acme.html), 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. Maria

end of sample email 2

Sample Email 3

start of sample letter 3:

Subject: Accessibility of Citylights' surveys

Hi Citylights,

Love your stories, but not your surveys! I'm a person who has trouble using a mouse and keyboard - I can use a mouse but only for very short periods of time, and only with much difficulty. Usually I use a mouth-stick to tab around web pages. Anyway, on your survey page I was only able to get to the question about how many cars we have when I tabbed around. When I did try using the mouse to answer the 'where do i live' question, I couldn't click on the words like I can on many other sites' forms.

By the way, I have a WinXP laptop with Opera, and have sticky keys set to help me type.

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

Please tell me when you've fixed this problem. Happy to help you further.


[Cc'd to the Spinal Cord Injury Association]

end of sample email 3

Using this Document

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), @@October 2009. http://www.w3.org/WAI/@@/

Further to the W3C Document License, you are granted permission to create modifications of these materials.