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Public Money on Inaccessible Web Sites

March 24, 2006

Many countries in the world require that public sector web sites be accessible. We all know that despite this requirement many of these public sector web sites don’t meet these accessibility guidelines, nor are they accessible to people with disabilities. This is not a good thing, but will hopefully continue to improve over time.

My concern today, though, is about sites that are not technically public sector sites, but in all likelihood their construction has been supported by public funds.

I don’t know any of the details behind this iSummit 2006 conference, nor do I know who built their web site. This site came across my radar today because Matt Mullenweg is speaking at the conference next week in Toronto. (Matt, as a fellow WaSP – can you please mention to the conference organizers something about web standards?)

What’s my point?

I won’t go into all the details because you can look for yourself – it is clear that the people that built the site haven’t heard of web standards yet, or if they have, have chosen to ignore them. Fine – we know that happens. We don’t like it, but it happens.

It is the sponsor list that bugs me the most:

  • The Ontario New Media Development Corporation – an agency of our provincial government – is a Platinum Sponsor (providing $20,000 or more)
  • Canadian Heritage – part of our federal government – is a Platinum Sponsor (providing $20,000 or more)
  • CBC (The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) – our national public broadcaster – is a Silver Sponsor (providing $10,000)

So, we’ve spent public money on something that isn’t accessible to all of the public. That is not right.

What if our provincial and federal governments made web accessibility a requirement for actually recieving receiving the sponsorship money? What if organizations that get any funding from the government had to have accessible web sites? Would any of that help awareness? Would it make a difference? Is it simply that accessibility wasn’t a requirement on the project, and so it just didn’t happen? I’m curious to know what happens in other parts of the world, so if you have any experience or thoughts on this let me know… Do other countries have requirements for web sites that are not public sector sites but are supported by public funds?

12 Responses

Comment by Kevin from Canada — Mar 24 2006 @ 8:45 pm

Hi Derek,

I just visited the site, and while the underlying code “ain’t pretty”, I’m not sure I understand what makes this site inaccessible. I’m sure with the nested tables, the usability score of the site wouldn’t be high, but it’d still be theoretically accessible, wouldn’t it?

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Mar 24 2006 @ 8:58 pm

I just visited the site, and while the underlying code "ain't pretty”, I'm not sure I understand what makes this site inaccessible.

Hi Kevin – the most glaring issue is the lack of alt text on the navigation images, and many of the header images. On certain pages even the sponsor images have no alt text whatsoever. Even basic images in the content have none. Not a heading (h1 through h6) to be seen anywhere in the site either.

As I said – I didn’t do a detailed analysis but clearly this site won’t serve blind people well at all.

Comment by Jules — Mar 25 2006 @ 2:51 pm

I have had a similar beef with my employer, the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines who paid for the OMICC Web site. The response I received was that it is not a government Web site and therefore, the ODA rules (based on WCAG Priority 2) did not apply.

For that matter, the government Intranets do not need to comply with ODA and those most definitely are government sites, albet, hidden from the general public (didn’t stop me from complaining about it).

Comment by zara — Mar 25 2006 @ 9:22 pm

This is something we have been asking for for several years in Québec, that governement sponsored projects using technologies in any way, whether as a core component of the project or as a means to dessiminate information about the project, be accessible to persons with disabilities. On very few occasions, the now defunct Information Highway Fund has “encouraged” projects targetting very specific populations, such as the elderly or persons with some type of disability, to keep accessibility in mind. When you consider that the Québec Disability Issues Office’s Web site is not exactly a shining example, it hardly comes as a surprise…

Comment by Edward Clarke — Mar 27 2006 @ 10:49 am

They’ll probably swing me for it but the organisation I am contracted to is EU funded and serves the UK public. My role is in the eBiz Centre working with the Enterprise Hub. Both sites I’ve had a hand in drafting up the spec for, which is then subsequently outsourced to a local provider for development.

The problem is that the orgranisation that oversee these two projects has a brand new website at, a multi-million pound regeneration organisation that was advised their website was accessible. This is half the problem. Whoever is in charge of procurement of such websites, usually marketing teams, have no knowledge of web standards and rely on the wisdom of the hired contractor.

It even has a splash page. I guess it’s retro….

Comment by Christian Montoya — Mar 28 2006 @ 5:58 pm

Derek, this is a very insightful new angle. Often the legal argument is made that any entity that accepts public funds must follow government requirements, especially in cases involving charity organizations and religious groups. This goes along those same lines for web sites, and I think it’s a valid argument.

Comment by Johan — Mar 30 2006 @ 10:50 am

Hi there,

Thought I mention I did a triple interview with Robert Nyman, Jonathan Snook and Dustin Diaz. If you like the article, spread the word by all means.

The link

One of the questions I asked:

Q3: Webstandards and accessibility are both a good thing. Some people think like it is a sort of manifest and others use it in a practical way. Is their government regulation in your country that tells webdesigncompanies to make websites accessible?
Large companies work with eg ASP, JSP and template systems, and they simply haven't got a clue about webstandards and are happy if the website works fine on their machines? Or is it the fault of vendors selling sloppy coded templates and authoring systems?

Have a read by all means!

Comment by nortypig — Apr 04 2006 @ 12:12 am

I also think these are important questions for every country. I’ve recently been saying a few words on a Tasmanian Tourism government funded site that has shocking code and not even made in this state…

if the tax dollars are used for something I think its only fair that the taxpayers can all as best as possible at any time use the facility…

nice points.

Comment by rck — Apr 29 2006 @ 7:05 am

On some sites, used navigation-icons are so small, people with an non-optimal eyesight simply cannot read them. There often enough is even a text-enlargement function, but it only makes stuff about 1 or 2 pixels larger.

My father for example has problems like that with our local health insurance’s web site… Quite odd you might think.

Comment by Nobodys Name — Nov 14 2006 @ 7:53 pm

“recieved” is spelled received. Check your spelling next time you write a site talking about other people and issues.

Comment by feather — Nov 14 2006 @ 9:08 pm

"recieved" is spelled received. Check your spelling next time you write a site talking about other people and issues.

Wow, thanks “Nobodys Name.” I’ve updated the post to fix that spelling mistake.

I’m curious to see if you’ll come back to discuss the main point of the post or not. Something tells me you won’t, and we’ll never find out why you’re so bitter about my criticisms.

One more thing: if you are going to call someone out for making a spelling mistake, then you really should make sure everything you write in your comment is impeccable. I misspelled “receiving” not “received,” and you should have entered your name as “Nobody’s Name” rather than “Nobodys Name.”

Comment by Root — Jan 22 2007 @ 6:02 pm

Hi Derek.

Thanks for your posts. Simplicity in your words.

I work for the Government in the UK and am trying to get my head around accessibility which am studying p/t in college :S .

Will keep looking in.