Thought for the day: Accessibility or accountability?

The government's web accessibility programme has turned into an expensive headache, Simon Moores believes.

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The government's web accessibility programme has turned into an expensive headache, Simon Moores believes.



I almost saw it coming, but even I was surprised at the size of the expensive truck that has slammed into the government’s website plans.

According to a report in the eGov monitor, “More than three-quarters of central government websites may need to be redesigned to avoid discriminating against disabled people."

It goes on to say “... around 800 public sector websites may need rebuilding to comply with accessibility laws requiring government services to cater for disabled citizens."

This isn’t good news for any of us. Not only will the mandatory refit of so many websites cost the taxpayer only a little less than that of the military’s recent excursion to Iraq, but it illustrates what a total mess the entire web accessibility programme has been as standards and compliance issues were ignored by the webmasters.

There was nobody waving a big stick at websites that were inaccessible or "potentially exclusive" of "challenged" groups within the population.

At this point, I feel the shadow of political correctness falling over me but I’m glad to say this is Computer Weekly and not The Guardian. I had a look at a website project last week, which had received more than £100,000 of funding to develop a look and feel which was accessible.

To me, and without my spectacles on, it looked as if my eight-year-old had been trying to design an optician’s sight test with a copy of Word. It was absolutely awful. Worse still, how in heaven’s name could the company, which will remain nameless, justify a six-figure sum to produce what looked like an original Netscape 1.0 Web page circa 1995?

Therein lies the problem. You and I rather like interesting and colourful web pages and so do the webmasters, but last year’s Guidelines for UK Government Websites, published by the Office of the e-Envoy, reminds the public sector that accessibility is a fundamental consideration in web design.

In future, government contracts will demand that companies deliver websites that conform to international web accessibility standards.

There's talk of "a massive shift of mindset within both government and industry to turn theory into practice", and the "problem is finding the people qualified to influence and implement these changes".

It now looks as if the Office of the e-Envoy may have to ride shotgun on the argument over what is to become "correct" web design practice from now on, but one wonders what government services may suffer because of the substantial web redesign bill that needs to be paid.

As for what the new generation of public sector websites will look like, I wouldn’t like to guess, but using certain fonts may, one day, be illegal and every home page may yet have to carry an approved and accessible likeness of the president, ours or theirs.

What do you think?

Do you find it a problem to access government websites?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

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