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UK Government Guide on Acces­sibility

The UK government has issued a consultation document on Delivering Inclusive Websites it rehashes PAS 78, recognises that the only way to find out if a website is accessible is to test it and it says that the minimum acceptable level of ac­ces­sibi­lity is Level-AA of WCAG 1.0—so valid, semantic code becomes mandatory:

The minimum level of acces­sibi­lity for all Government websites is Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines. Any new site approved by the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Public Engagement and the Delivery of Service must conform to these guidelines from the point of publication.

Continuing standalone sites must achieve this level of acces­sibi­lity by December 2008. Websites which fail to meet the mandated level of conformance shall be subject to the withdrawal process for .gov.uk domain names…

If these requirements are ever policed, there are huge ra­mifi­cati­ons for their suppliers. For example, those who manufacture Content Management Systems will be required to ensure that their products produce valid, semantic code and comply with authoring tool acces­sibility guidelines (ATAG) so that members of staff with disabilities can publish with them:

In order to build an accessible website, authoring tools must produce content that upholds web content accessibi­lity standards. This is especially important if the organisation will be using a Content Management System (CMS) to produce content auto­mati­cally. This must be taken into account during the procurement of authoring tools and CMS.

So that content authoring is possible for people with the widest range of abilities, it is also important that the interface to the content authoring tools or CMS is also accessible. Acces­sibi­lity criteria must therefore be specified in the choice and procurement of these systems, in the same way that ac­ces­sibi­lity is taken into account when com­mis­sioning websites.

This will see a dramatic change in governmental websites, but it does give an indication that the more clued-up people in the UK government understand that grudging compliance with WCAG 1.0 level A does not constitute “ac­ces­sibility”.

It should also cause a few discussions within vendor orga­nisa­ti­ons. Microsoft have been commendably open in a discussion about Sharepoint 2007, ac­know­ledging that it won’t be WCAG level A or ATAG-compliant out of the box until the next release in 2009 or 2010.

How many other CMS vendors can really claim to be ATAG-compliant or produce valid code without significant custo­misa­ti­on?