Take a few minutes to encourage web accessibility. You can make a difference.

What do you do when you come across an inaccessible website?
(I admit that I often yell at the computer.)
What about after that initial outburst of frustration?
(I sometimes send an e-mail encouraging them to fix it.)

WAI encourages you to tell organizations how important it is that their websites are accessible. Especially when you come across accessibility barriers, tell the organization about it!

To help make this easier and hopefully more effective, WAI just published:
Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites. It walks through steps, provides lots of tips, and includes sample e-mails.

Just yelling at your computer isn’t going to get the accessibility barriers fixed. Just complaining on a blog or other place where the organization won’t see it isn’t likely to help.

Instead, consider what approach will get the results you want. An encouraging e-mail is often a good first step. Sometimes organizations are not even aware of accessibility issues, and don’t know how web accessibility is vital for equal rights, required by law in some cases, and has strong business benefits. See Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites for more.

WAI would like to hear your ideas for this document and your experiences dealing with inaccessible websites. The WAI Interest Group (WAI IG) hosts a public discussion e-mail list; comments on specific documents are collected through the publicly-archived wai-eo-editors@w3.org list; and we’ll watch for comments to this blog post.
(Please send comments by 3 February 2010 for consideration in the next version.)

Thanks! ~Shawn

Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites is edited by Andrew Arch, Shawn Lawton Henry, and Shadi Abou-Zahra; developed by the WAI Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) as part of the WAI-AGE Project.

20 thoughts on “Take a few minutes to encourage web accessibility. You can make a difference.

  1. One problem I have seen is, even when issues are described well, well-meaning companies don’t have enough knowledge about accessible design practices to fix them.

    I work with a woman who is blind who frequently contacts website and web application makers about accessibility barriers. Some companies respond in a very open manner – but they need very specific instruction on how to resolve the issues. (For instance, a page wasn’t keyboard accessible – and the company thought it might be resolved with a stylesheet change)

    It’s insufficient to hand these companies a link to the WCAG guidelines – they wouldn’t know where to start.

  2. Janna: Good point. The document encourages those reporting inaccessible websites to point to introductory resources instead of directly to WCAG. We also mention that the organization might need more information to help them diagnose and fix the problem. It’s great when you can provide specific guidance on how to fix the problem. However, we also encourage people without specific knowledge of fixes to go ahead and report the problem.

  3. Often, when I contact an organisation to explain why their website is difficult to use with my screen reader, the first point of contact isn’t equipped to help. Escalating the discussion can sometimes be a hurdle, particularly for people less confident with giving technical advice.

    These resources should really help people feel more confident when they contact website owners. A really positive step. Great work!

  4. Hello. I have been employed by The Disability Network, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities, since 2008. One of my duties is to become educated on web accessibility and to ensure our website is accessible to everyone. I have done this as our website maintains a Level-A compliance. During my time here, I also encourage and teach other Centers for Independent Living (CILs) to become more web accessible. As I now have vast knowledge of web accessibility, I also encourage other businesses I am close with have a website that is accessible to all, especially those businesses who promote or provide services for people with disabilities.

  5. For me,one hurdle to ensuring my sites are fully accessible is testing. Everything can be good in theory, but theory can break down in real life. The thing is, all the testing I do is based on what I can see. I can’t tell what happens when a real user hits a page using a screen reader or dynamic Braille display. I’d go the extra mile to optimize my sites for these devices if I knew someone who used these devices and could provide feedback.

  6. it is really frustrating to know the website you are looking at is inaccessible. however there are 2 reasons for it. one as mentioned in this article could be a problem by the designer while the other could be that the system you are working on is not supporting the website. Recently i have come across lot of websites which are perfect on certain browsers while error prone on other. There are lot of websites which also want to have some objects or components installed on the client system. THis is very annoying and i am surprised why this issue is not been checked and addressed while making the website go live.

  7. Great idea to give people guidance on how to complain and give quality feedback.
    I agree with Ken’s comment. You can meet the standards and still have a web site which is difficult for disabled people to use. We use a panel of disabled testers to ensure that sites we test work in the real world.

  8. First, congratulations for this initiative! Will follow some criteria for planning and evaluating sites for automatic validators are enough to make a site accessible? I believe that the participation of a User with disabilities is fundamental to this. However, this can be a difficulty for companies. I think some research related to the satisfaction of the interaction of users with disabilities should be developed. Att. Capra (Brazil)

  9. Good initiative!

    Moaning or blaming ‘the internet’ or ‘my computer’ are not good solutions when faced with a broken website – (whether that is due to restricted browser support, poor QA, or a lack of planning for impaired users) – but this is often what web users do.

    As a developer I totally agree with Ken. Downloading and testing in screenreader X is a poor substitute for a real-life user who uses that same screenreader every day.

    Given that developers are potentially missing out on real-life test data, maybe a centralised bug-capturing system could be helpful here? A disadvantaged web user could fill in a W3C-hosted form which would capture the kinds of information that developers would find useful, then the web user could email the site admin a link to the form data. All going well the site admin would then pass this on to a developer who, budget allowing, would be able to act on implementing a fix. At the very least the developer should be more aware of this issue in their future work.

    Subsets of the captured data might be also recycled by the W3C to form a picture of the areas that need addressing by developers and site administrators, and to inform education initiatives in the area.

    My 2c :-)

  10. This page is great and I feel that it would help users with disabilities with reporting inaccessible websites. Here are some of my thoughts:

    1 – From my experience, not many individuals with disabilities know what organizations to contact – especially in other countries than USA, Canada, UK. Not many of them are even aware of their rights. This brings to a question about how to guide them to that page?

    Maybe that page could be linked to various organizations for people with disabilities?

    2 – I think it would be easier if an individual with a disability has a backup from an organization before contacting a website owner to better explain their rights and solutions to their problems. Many of them are not aware of their rights and even if they know about laws, they do not know the details. For example, here in the USA some Deaf people tell to hearing people about their ADA law rights, but cannot explain what exactly the law states and hearing people get scared and confused about what needs to be done. ADA is not the only disability law in the USA, there are other disability laws for various situations. Even for me, it took me a while to understand the rights of people with disabilities and the disability laws and how to better explain my communication and audio accessibility needs. It is not just people with hearing loss, but many people with various disabilities are not aware of their rights.

    3 – It would be good to have a page in WAI that lists various organizations in various countries with links to their websites’ contact pages (not home pages to reduce the number of clicks). Or link to a special page on a disability organization’s website that focuses specifically on web accessibility.

    Some sites (a regular one, not related to organizations with disabilities) have “Accessibility” pages – they could use that link on top to go to the “report inaccessible page”. Their homepages could have a well visible link saying something like “How to report an inaccessible website”.

    4 – An online form might be helpful to ask a user a few questions about the nature of disability, the country the user is located in and a general solution to one of general disabilities.

    5 – It would also be good to have some kind of form that would have selected answers to general questions about a solution to the problem and link to an existing paragraph about how an user with a specific disability uses website.

    6 – Another question to consider is non-English speaking audience – such as French, German, Russian, etc? Unless WAI is targeted only to English speakers?

  11. The discussion is going on well and your contribution has helped to bear and resolve some situations. However it is good and conducive for website working enviropment to be set right from the beginning and to keep on updating otherwise the business may suffer due to poor mix of the the systems.
    This is an excellent work. Cheers!

  12. I have been searching for a way to address the issue of accessibility on the website that I’m currently developing. It is a social enterprise and one that is designed to bring together people who cannot currently afford to access services they require and also potential service providers who, are in a financial position whereby they need to increase their level of income – potentially, just to make ends meet. This website (http://www.taskedo.com) is very much a reaction to the state of the World economy and the fact that there is an apparent disconnect between these two groups of people. We’re hoping that technology can bring them together in a way that will benefit society. The design of the website (I apologise for its rather crude stayed at the moment – it is currently being used as a working document for development, prior to being handed over to the web designers) will be crucial to the chances that this initiative reaches as many of the people who need it as possible. We have talked long and hard about the various ways in which users might access the website, also, how they might access the services of the website if they didn’t have access to the Internet, or indeed a web enabled mobile phone. There seems to be a conundrum between the very obvious requirements to make a website that is both attractive and easy to use, but at the same time being extremely accessible to as many people as possible – simple issues such as flashy or style rich content may prove a hindrance to those accessing over slow bandwidth (maybe in the Third World), over a mobile network perhaps (potential homeless people). By way of example: if we place a heavy emphasis on large and readable type to help the partially sighted we might lose the opportunity to fill the website with useful content – indeed content that might help the user access the various services on the actual site itself. There are a myriad of issues I’m sure you will agree and I would welcome any comments that you have, the team is still a couple of weeks away from handing the design over to the designers and any constructive criticism around the area of accessibility would be most welcomed (there’s a contact form on the website).



  13. I can understand why many inaccessible websites don’t get reported.

    Fix the Web (http://fixtheweb.wordpress.com) is an innovative project from Citizens Online to try and find a grass roots solution to e-accessibility. The project has now mapped out a volunteer enabled approach by which disabled people can report issues with websites in under a minute, using either a browser extension, email or twitter. This will then be logged with a volunteer who will go through the process of reporting the issue to a website owner. The project is aiming to have 10,000 volunteers dealing with a quarter of a million websites.

    The majority of websites have e-accessibility issues and the EU have signed up to a “Riga” target that says by this year, 2010, 100% of public sector websites will be accessible. We will fall way short of this target- at last count in 2007, only 5% of websites were accessible. People with visual impairments have been shown to waste 30.4% of their time trying to work with inaccessible websites. Web developers are either unaware of the issues or don’t focus on it with sufficient attention, so culture change is needed amongst the technical community. The great thing about Fix the Web is that it is reaching out to the technical community to ask them to be volunteers and through that process the community will become better informed. Disabled people don’t tend to complain about web inaccessibility to website owners, because it would take up so much time, through this process, it could take as little as 30 seconds. The internet would then be subject to a kind of mass user testing and that is how Citizens Online and their partners from AbilityNet, Nomensa, 9010 and BT (amongst others) are hoping to Fix the Web!

  14. Another suggestion would be to submit the website to http://www.AccessGrade.com
    This way, algorithms that try to make the whole web accessible can also benefit from this experience, turning a negative into a potential positive.

  15. To add to Janna Cameron’s comments, for organisations in the UK, a very good document to point them to is the BS8878 standard. This is a non-normative standard designed to help British organisations implement accessibility properly and it is written in very clear language: definitely one of the best standard documents I’ve ever seen. In fact, even though it is meant for the UK, I’m sure any organisation would find it a useful resource. If you want to have a look, you can download the 2009 draft (PDF) for free.

  16. I believe there is a lack of knowledge in this subject rather than disregard for those that may be effected. We assist in doing what we can to assist individuals and business as often as we are able to provide our services to those who are in need. Chittenden Builders would be happy to update our site if we knew how to approach this change.

  17. Bruno – as the lead-author of BS 8878, many thanks for your kind comments on our Standard.

    For other people who wish to benefit from BS 8878 for free, you can find the official slides on BS 8878 from its launch, together with other free information including, case studies of organisations using BS 8878, detailed blogs on its use by SMEs, tools and training for applying the Standard, and news on its progress towards an International Standard found at BS 8878 web accessibility and inclusive design standard – introduction and news.

    And, to bring this discussion around to original topic, BS 8878 advises that all websites include a link to W3C’s great Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites document in the accessibility statement it suggests all sites include at their launch (at step 15 of BS 8878’s process – for more details, see: Communicating accessibility decisions at launch).

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