Last week I attended the launch of BS 8878, the British Standard for Web accessibility. The launch event was a mixture of talks and panel sessions held in central London.

What is BS 8878?

BS 8878 is a standard intended to help those commissioning or building Web sites/apps/content ensure that the output is accessible to all. The key difference between BS 8878 and documents such as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is that BS 8878 provides guidance on the process of producing accessible online content/services rather than details of the actual technical implementation. BS 8878 also provides guidance on how to take, justify and record decisions that may impact accessibility within the design/production of Web content/services and, importantly, how to communicate those decisions to users.

The main content of the standard has 16 steps categorised in to three different areas:

  1. First stage: doing the right research & thinking before you start…
    1. define the purpose of the web product
    2. define the target audiences for the web product
    3. analyse the needs of the target audiences for the web product
    4. note any platform or technology preferences and restrictions of the web product’s target audiences
    5. define the relationship the product will have with its target audiences
    6. define the user goals and tasks the web product needs to provide
  2. Second stage: making strategic choices based on that research
    1. consider the degree of user-experience the web product will aim to provide
    2. consider inclusive design and user-personalized approaches to accessibility
    3. choose the delivery platforms to support
    4. choose the target browsers, operating systems and assistive technologies to support
    5. choose whether to create or procure the web product in-house or contract out externally
    6. define the web technologies to be used in the web product
  3. Third stage: production, launch and maintenance (lifecycle)
    1. use web guidelines to direct accessible web production
    2. assure the web product’s accessibility through production
    3. communicate the web product’s accessibility decisions at launch
    4. plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product

The standard provides a good, practical framework supporting the process of creating accessible Web content. My only concern is that, for a document that should be widely read and adopted, a £100 price tag may unfairly and inappropriately limit its exposure.

Sound bites from the launch event

I was surprised how "embedded" accessibility has become in some corporates and think that the approach of getting buy-in from the top is something that the HE sector could learn a lot from. The power resulting from this buy-in can’t be underestimated in order to create products and services of exceptional value to all. What became evident is that it released the "champions" to just get things done.

Other interesting things I got from the day were:-

  • The Equality Act 2010 (which replaces the Disability Discrimination Act) makes it possible for a Web developer to be sued if they follow a client’s instruction that resulted in inaccessible content (since you’ve built a site/service that discriminates).
  • If you take steps to optimise your site for mobile devices then there is a stronger legal argument that you must make it accessible on all mobile devices than if you had not taken those steps and it just worked on some devices by chance/accident (but not specifically through design/development effort).
  • I suspect many of us know this anyway but Struan Robertson (Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM) said that compliance with any level of WCAG would not protect you from a legal challenge. The best way to demonstrate your site is accessible is to have evidence of use by users with disabilities (ideally through testing with these user groups). That said, he thought that complying with WCAG2 AA would mean that not only would you be less likely to be sued but, if you were, the case would be less likely to succeed.
  • The talk from Nomensa and BSkyB was also very interesting. After launching Sky TV Accessibility (built using Nomensa’s accessible content management system, Defacto) Sky saw a 20% reduction in calls to their help centre. In addition, the complexity of the calls they did get increased.