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Vivienne Conway, Edith Cowan University, Web Key IT Pty Ltd


website accessibility, accreditation, certification, usability, standards, compliance, certification, accreditation methods


(draft note: the introduction section should define the term and scope of the research topic note only)

Website accreditation is a process leading to certification that a website conforms to a defined standard and is a helpful management tool for efficient and effective implementation of legal, economic and social requirements.

Related Terms

Some of the terms used in the context of accreditation include:

  • Accreditation is the declaration of competency which enables a body to make declarations, in this case about the accessibility of a website. The term 'accreditation' is often used where 'certification' would be more correct.
  • Accreditation may also refer to accreditation or certification of organizations or people who evaluate websites, of the software used (authoring tools, user agents, media players etc.) and of processes such as the web development process, and quality assurance process.
  • Conformance is a state, such as the level of WCAG 2.0 to which a website conforms
  • An Accessibility statement declares the website's conformance to a particular standard, or progress towards conformance with a standard and may include other information about the website
  • Website certification is a statement that:
    • the website has been evaluated according to a prescribed method
    • states what level of conformance to a particular standard is evident
    • may state when the website will be re-evaluated
    • may describe the qualification of evaluator awarding the certification


(draft note: The background should provide historical information about the topic including in this case legal context in different countries)

The benefits of certifying the accessibility of a website include raising the awareness of accessibility and enabling public recognition of the efforts taken by a website owner to make their website accessible to the widest possible group of users. However website certification has limitations including the accuracy and validity of the evaluation of the website, as this is subject to the expertise of the evaluator.

There are different approaches to website certification. One approach is that of self-evaluation, where the owner states the website is compliant with a specific standard, e.g. WCAG 2.0 to Level AA. These certification statements are made using different methods, some of which call into question the credibility of the evaluation.

Another approach is to employ the services of an expert or third-party website evaluator who provides some certification of a standard reached. The validity of these results will depend upon the expertise of that evaluator. Also, methods for certification raise a number of issues including the misuse of labels (e.g. W3C logo), inaccurate declarations, third-party evaluations where the validity is challenged, and the over-reliance upon specific categories of tools (e.g. over-reliance upon automated tools).

Other approaches may relate more to how the website was created. Evaluating a website by people with disabilities and seniors provides a personal usability dimension to an evaluation and may be conducted on its own or in conjunction with a technical evaluation according to a specific standard. The evaluator might state that specific groups of users would not be disadvantaged and the website has been tested to ensure this is accurate e.g. has been tested for users with vision-impairments using a specific screen-reader.

A symposium on the use of accessibility metrics was held by the Research & Development Working Group in September 2014. It was concluded that (insert conclusion).

Additionally, it needs to be recognized that there is a difference between certification as stated above and a report on guideline conformance. Certification used in this context means that the website has been tested and is certified to conform to a standard, e.g. WCAG 2.0. While technical compliance or conformance involves a knowledgeable website evaluator testing a website using a methodology such as the WCAG Evaluation Methodology to ensure that the pages tested technically meet compliance with the standard.

The fact that a website carries an accreditation certificate, does not necessarily mean that the website is accessible at a specific point in time. Historically, certification methods have included the use of the ‘Bobby-Approved’ mark and also the use and misuse of the W3C logo. Past schemes have generally not worked well because of a number of problems in determining the level of accessibility of web pages in general. These attempts often fail because they did not accurately reflect the real quality of the web pages and their standards of accessibility.

The idea of accreditation should not dismissed as being without merit however. In looking at the historical perspective we can see the value that they provided by raising the awareness of accessibility. Both the ‘Bobby Approved’ and RNIB ‘See It Right’ schemes demonstrated a corporate effort to promote accessibility and corporate social responsibility. Certification of websites plays a valuable role in demonstrating conformance to legislative or procurement requirements, for example Section 508 in the United States.

The purpose of an accreditation should look to the benefits it may provide to users as well as to the organization seeking the accreditation. While there are obvious business benefits to an organization who seeks accreditation, it needs to be the user who obtains the benefit. Does the ability to see/hear an accreditation mark indicate that this will be a website they will be able to use?

Current Situation

(draft note: this should include what is actually happening at the moment)

One of the incentives for providing certification of the accessibility of websites include policy, both government and corporate. Some of government policies include:

(draft note: do we include the above as discussed, and if so, how many countries should we include?)

Work has been conducted by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI) to develop a business case for the incorporating website accessibility into an organization (

Some of the issues being encountered at the moment include the fact that most labels tend to focus on products and services offered by people. Some website owners feel they should not be obliged to get a certification label because they are sufficiently able to self-assess, others feel they should be able to acquire these services because they don't want to pursue the work of doing it themselves. Consequently,while there is a market need, other organizations have publicly said they do not want this to be a mandatory requirement such as seen in food labeling.

Challenges and Research Opportunities

(draft note: add in information about papers which discuss the accuracy of certification, particularly those of self-evaluation and over-reliance on results of automated testing)

A number of papers have been written which discuss the accuracy of certification, particularly those websites that carry self-certification of meeting particular standards, and those that make statements as the result of automated testing alone.

Challenge: The concept of display of certification labels for a website is subject to the strengths and weaknesses of accessibility testing in general. There are a variety of motivations for organizations pursuing accreditation including that it:

  • provides a means of displaying the external validation they have sought on the accessibility of their website
  • provides a method to display some form of self-certification or accessibility compliance claim
  • provides some justification for the additional cost they have incurred pursuing accessibility and accreditation provides evidence of corporate social responsibility or technical awareness of standards

Research Opportunity: How does a website owner determine whether pursuing certification of a website is of commercial/reputational/legal benefit? Does this change depending upon the purpose or classification of the website, e.g. is it more beneficial for corporate than for government websites?

Challenge: While most certification involves the end product (website), there is little research describing the process of developing an accessible website i.e. the process rather than the end result.

Research Opportunity:

  • How can certification be applied to the method of creation of a website i.e. process versus end-result?
  • What schemes are available to determine whether a new evaluation is required?
  • How do we keep evidence of the state of the website at the time it was evaluated or accredited, for example black-boxing?


  • There is little evidence regarding the required experience, training and expertise of those who evaluate websites and thus award accreditation. In looking at the process, there appears to be some research that the accreditation level awarded does not always relate to a reflection of the accessibility of the website when tested by others.

Research Opportunity:

  • What is the relationship between how the website was evaluated, who performed the evaluation and the purpose of the evaluation and the certification that the website carries? Often these questions form part of the statement at the time of accreditation, however further research may determine the relationship between the expertise of the evaluator and the reliability of the end result i.e certification.
  • What methods are available to evaluate the expertise level of individuals conducting third-party or 'expert' evaluations?
  • How do we determine if the accreditation level awarded relates to a reflection of the accessibility when tested by others? In other words, is the testing replicable by others with a similar result?


  • How long should a certification be current? While it is acknowledged that due to the fluid nature of websites, it could be certified as accessible against a standard one day and after the website owner adds new content the next day, this certification is no longer true.

Research Opportunity:

  • The time coverage for the accreditation is important, due to the ever-changing nature of websites. The certification should state at which point in time the website is due for re-evaluation. It should state who has declared the website to be accessible and to what level, what evaluation they are basing the claim on and what level of expertise they have to make such a statement. There is an opportunity to research the optimum time period for re-evaluation, how it can be decided when a website is due for re-evaluation e.g. tracking changes, incremental evaluations, incorporating constant partial evaluations into the life-cycle of the website.

Challenge: Does the fact that a website carries a certification imply that this website is more accessible for people with disabilities or seniors than a website that does not carry such a certification? There are unanswered questions in how useful an accreditation is to users with disabilities and whether the accreditation means that this website will be more usable for them. These areas are worthy of further research.

Research Opportunity:

  • What empirical investigation has been conducted into the impact of accreditation on accessibility performance?
  • Are websites that have undergone accreditation reflect a better user experience for people with disabilities?

Challenge: Certification of the accessibility of digital material may not only involve websites, but also different products and services.

Research Opportunity: How can the accessibility of products and services be certified? Does this involve the process of the development or end-result testing?

Challenge: : In this age of silent/nightly updates of browsers and continuous "authoring", including user generated content, what does it mean to certification? What is valid and conformant one moment may be invalid or broken (thanks to a technology update).

Research Opportunity: How can certification be applied to websites with dynamic content where the user in effect becomes the author? Does the certification only apply to the original content before the user interaction? What effect does this have on the value of the accreditation?

Challenge: There is anecdotal evidence that websites that meet an accessibility standard tend to be better built and tend to have better infrastructure because they have been built by developers more aware of the ins and outs of accessibility as well as other aspects of the technology. The benefits are probably not always going to be particularly noticeable, but may include better response times for downloads for example. The websites actually run better. It’s difficult for users to actually say that this is a superior site, but the reality is that they are often better created.

Research Opportunity: More research could examine the benefits of accessibility such as better modularity of pages, hence reduced server bandwidth and better indexing by search engines. which are issues of accessibility rather than accreditation but which could be reflected in accessibility assessment, increasing the awareness of the importance of website accessibility.

Related W3C Activities

  • Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (WCAG WG)
  • Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG)
  • Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
  • User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)
  • WCAG Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM)

Other Related Standards

  • ISO/IEC 40500:2012 (WCAG 2.0)
  • BS:8878 - Web Accessibility Code of Practice (UK)

Further Reading

  1. "Specifications for a Web Accessibility Conformity Assessment Scheme and a Web Accessibility Quality Mark" CWA 15554. ICS 35.240.99 obtained from:
  2. "UWEM, Unified Web Evaluation Methodology version 1.2" 2007, WAB Cluster; obtained from:
  3. "European eAccessbility Certification: CEN Workshop Agreement: How to assess Web Accessibility Conformance" obtained from:
  4. "New EU legal framework for accreditation"
  5. "Europa : Web Accessibility Policy"
  6. "WebAIM: Accessible Site Certification"
  7. "5 things you should know before buying accessibility audit and accreditation services" / Prof. Jonathan Hassell, Hassel Inclusion 14 January 2013.
  8. "BCS disability charity and RNIB offer website access accreditation" / British Computer Society - December 13, 2005 link:
  9. "Guidelines are only half of the story: accessibility problems encountered by blind users on the web" Proceeding CHI '12 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Pages 433-442 ACM New York, NY, USA ©2012 table of contents ISBN: 978-1-4503-1015-4 doi>10.1145/2207676.2207736 obtained from:
  10. "Benchmarking Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools: Measuring the Harm of Sole Reliance on Automated Tools" Vigo, Markel; Brown, Justin, Conway, Vivienne. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 10th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  11. "The Expertise Effect on Web Accessibility Evaluation Methods". Brajnik, Giorgio; Yesilada,Yeliz; Harper, Simon. Human-Computer Interaction; Vol.26, Iss.3, 2011 obtained from:
  12. "Beyond Conformance: The Role of Accessibility Evaluation Methods" Brajnik, Giorgio. S. Hartmann et al. (Eds.): WISE 2008, LNCS 5176, pp. 63–80, 2008.c?. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008, download from: .