Stephen Fry is backing an ingenious campaign called Fix the Web that has been launched to tackle the problem of inaccessible websites on a massive scale. Fix the Web is an initiative of Citizens Online(i), 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 (http://www.fixtheweb.net) has been launched to provide a quick and easy way for people to make complaints – as well as to introduce 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 email@example.com. There is also a toolbar available on the site for browsers, developed by Southampton University, which includes a reporting button.
Stephen Fry comments:
“We all expect a few glitches when we go on line, but when it comes to accessibility for disabled and older people, the problem is colossal. Fix the Web is doing something about it in a positive and practical way – I urge you to get involved and help get this problem fixed. Fix the Web gets to the very heart of the problem – it’s pure genius!”
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(ii), in purely commercial terms, inaccessible sites are clearly losing out.
Leonie Watson, who is blind, comments:
"I do most of my shopping online, 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, with 80% of sites failing to meet even minimum standards(iii) and despite the fact laws are in place to ensure that we do(iv). Blind users report losing, on average, 30.4% of their time due to web access issues (v).
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.
Fix the Web has been made available as a result of seed funding from Nominet Trust(vi) and is working in partnership with AbilityNet(vii), Bloor Research(viii), Coolfields Consulting(ix) Hanona(x) Learning Societies Lab at Southampton (xi), Nomensa(xii) and RNIB(xiii). 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.
Dr. Gail Bradbrook of Citizens Online comments:
“I believe many techies would be horrified to think that the Web they love so much is excluding 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.”
If you want to offer your technical skills to support the Fix the Web campaign or find out more, visit: http://www.fixtheweb.net.
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Contact: gailATcitizensonline.org.uk 01453 752828
Notes for Editors
(i) Citizens Online is a national charity that believes participation in the digital world is a basic human right. As a result it is committed to promoting digital inclusion. It is their aim to ensure that the benefits of digital technologies can be enjoyed and shared by everybody, so that our society may become more inclusive and just. www.citizensonline.org.uk
(ii) With a potential UK market of 1.6 million registered blind users, 1.5 million people with cognitive difficulties and a further 3.4 million with disabilities preventing them from using the standard keyboard, screen and mouse set-up with ease, e-businesses are losing out on some £50 - £60 billion per year buying power by not having fully accessible web sites, says AbilityNet.
(iii) Despite legislation being in place since 1999, a range of recent reports has mirrored AbilityNet’s findings – confirming that between 80 and 96% of sites reviewed didn’t even meet a minimum accessibility threshold. It would appear that there has been no discernable movement towards accessibility since the Disability Rights Commission investigation in 2004 which put this figure at 81%." From AbilityNet State of the eNation Reports 2007
(iv) The requirement of the Equality Act (that supercedes The 1995 disability Discrimination Act), which came into force as of 1 October 2010, is to make 'information' accessible, not just (nor specifically named) websites. Specifically section 20, subsection (6): 'Where the first or third requirement relates to the provision of information, the steps which it is reasonable for A to have to take include steps for ensuring that in the circumstances concerned the information is provided in an accessible format.' The RNIB is currently pursuing cases involving the accessibility of two airline websites where the date picker on the sites is not accessible to screen readers, a bank website (online banking) where the log-in procedures are not accessible to screen readers and a local authority (housing) website where prospective tenants have to bid for properties online but the site is inaccessible. They are aware of other complaints about airline websites, about certain online retailers and online banks and other Government websites. "RNIB takes website accessibility very seriously and we are keen to ensure that website providers understand their obligations under the new Equality Act 2010. Where we come across websites that are not accessible, we aim to work with the companies to resolve the problems. However, if this is not possible we will consider legal action."
(v) According to a study of 100 blind users published in the International Journal of Human Computer Interaction Authors: Jonathan Lazara; Aaron Allena; Jason Kleinmana; Chris Malarke Volume 22, Issue 3 May 2007, pages 247 - 269.
(vi) Nominet Trust is a charity launched in 2008 to mobilise the internet for social good. To the majority of Internet users, the name Nominet remains largely unknown, but for millions of website owners in the UK, Nominet provides registration and administration support for their .uk domains. For Nominet Trust – the organisation’s charitable arm – it’s the users that are the primary focus, and the Trust funds in distinctive and innovative IT-related projects that make a difference to people's lives, particularly in the areas of web access, education and safety. The Trust also supports projects that use the internet imaginatively to address specific social problems. So the people who have the most to gain from the Internet - whether to overcome isolation, to save money or to find help - are the ones who are missing out. Nominet Trust seeks to redress these imbalances by funding projects that give people the skills and tools to be online safely and responsibly. www.nominettrust.org.uk
(vii) AbilityNet is a registered national charity (charity no. 1067673) with over 20 years experience helping people adapt and adjust their information and communications technology (ICT). Their work is unique, working across the UK and beyond. Their special expertise is ensuring that whatever an individual’s age, health condition, disability or situation they find exactly the right way to adapt or adjust their ICT to make it easier to use.
(viii) Bloor Research is one of Europe's leading IT research, analysis and consultancy organisations. Working to bring greater agility to corporate IT systems through the effective governance, management and leverage of Information, Bloor Research has built a reputation for 'telling the right story' with independent, intelligent, well-articulated communications content and publications.
(ix) Coolfields Consulting specialises in all areas of web accessibility, including auditing, consulting, web design and training. Coolfields Consulting perform accessibility audits of websites and web applications to provide practical and creative solutions. Working in partnership with other organisations, Coolfields offer formal training in accessibility techniques. With over fifteen years of internet and user interface experience, Coolfields design and develop websites and user interfaces that are attractive, accessible to as many people as possible, easy to use and easy to find.
(x) Hanona is a group of specialists in web accessibility and digital inclusion. http://www.hanona.org/
(xi) The Learning Societies Lab (LSL) is a multidisciplinary research group in the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton. The LSL brings together perspectives from computer science, psychology, education and the social sciences, and develops leading-edge technologies and applies them to enhancing formal and informal learning in personal and collaborative settings. http://www.lsl.ecs.soton.ac.uk
(xii) Nomensa is a digital agency, which specialises in perfecting online user experience, web accessibility and web design. Nomensa delivers compelling user experience research and design services that improve how people use the web and digital technologies
(xiii) RNIB: Every day around 100 people in the UK will start to lose their sight. There are almost 2 million people in the UK with sight problems. RNIB is the leading charity working in the UK offering practical support, advice and information for anyone with sight difficulties. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk