An new campaign called Fix the Web is being launched this week to tackle the problem of inaccessible websites on a massive scale. Fix the Web is an initiative of Citizens Online, a national charity that campaigns for internet access for all.
The internet has been a liberating force in the lives of many disabled people, opening up a wonderful new world of communication, ideas and networks. In theory, it should have created a level playing field.
Unfortunately, millions of disabled and older people are excluded from easily navigating their way around the web.
To compound the problem, it is often difficult to complain about the offending sites.
Fix the Web has been launched to provide a quick and easy way for people to make complaints.
It also introduces a volunteer-led process for those complaints to be reported back to website owners to get fixed.
The reporting process for a disabled person will take less than a minute and is easily done through a form on the site: http://www.fixtheweb.net, via twitter (#fixtheweb #fail, url and the problem) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also a toolbar available on the site for browsers, developed by Southampton University, which includes a reporting button.
Citizens Online believes that disabled people should not be expected to fight their corner alone. For this reason Fix the Web is recruiting a huge taskforce of tech volunteers to champion the cause and report problems back to web owners.
The project aims to have 10,000 volunteers dealing with 250,000 websites within two years of launch. This will ensure that disabled users can make complaints quickly in the knowledge that there will be technical support on hand to take things forward on their behalf.
Volunteers are already signing up, thousands more are needed. Volunteering isn’t time consuming and it’s not necessary to be technically skilled, though you are likely to develop new skills in the process.
Dr. Gail Bradbrook of Citizens Online comments: “Amongst the tech community I notice a tremendous amount of desire to put skills to good use, a belief that code can be cool and can benefit society. Those who don’t understand the issues of e-accessibility will be horrified, I think, to learn that the web they love so much is excluding so many people. I firmly believe that this isn’t a problem disabled people should have to deal with on their own. It’s time a committed group of tech volunteers took charge of the issue and made it their own.”
The majority of websites are simply not designed with accessibility for all in mind, despite the proven business case for inclusion. With around 6 million excluded disabled and older people in the UK with a combined spending power of £50 – 60 billion, in purely commercial terms, inaccessible sites are clearly losing out.
Leonie Watson, who is blind, comments: “I do most of my shopping online, especially at Christmas, as it’s more convenient. I’m surprised by how many retailers just don’t get accessibility. If their website isn’t accessible with my screen reader, I won’t spend my money there. It’s basic business logic really – more accessibility, more people, more potential revenue.”
We expect to see ramps, extra wide doorways and adapted toilet facilities in the built environment. But, what about the equivalent on-line? Do we consider that websites might need their own virtual ramps? Apparently not, despite the fact laws are in place to ensure that we do.
Blind users report losing, on average, 30.4% of their time due to web access issues (iv). The World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines found that only 19% of the websites met the minimum standard for web access, with only two meeting level-2 compliance and none achieving the highest level.
Mandy de la Mare, affected by Thalidomide, was born with no arms and is now blind. She comments: “Many sites are exasperating, despite the fact I use technology that has been adapted to read text and that allows me to use a keyboard. I have tried complaining to various websites but either the forms are not accessible for me or if I do manage to lodge a complaint, I don’t get a reply. This is why I am a great believer in Fix the Web.”
Fix the Web has been made available as a result of seed funding from Nominet Trust(v) and partners such as AbilityNet(vi) and Hanona(vii). The aim of Fix the Web is to introduce cultural change across the web, making it a more accessible and inclusive place where the needs of disabled people are taken into consideration and vital change can be made.
If you want to offer your technical skills to support the Fix the Web campaign or to find out more, visit: http://www.fixtheweb.net.