When DDA Accessibility Doesn't Mean Accessible

Note: The content of this page is very much out-of-date and may no longer be relevant or correct. It is kept here for little more than archival purposes. Please bear this in mind before reading on.

Posted on: 31 July 2003

Whilst browsing the Internet, I came across a UK based design company who specialise in accessibility. At first glance, I was encouraged to read that a design agency was taking accessibility issues seriously. A couple of sentences in, and something seemed to be amiss.

"We are the only UK design company to pass all W3C html,css and accessibility tests. We are also Bobby approved."
I am aware of quite a few UK based design agencies that pass W3C tests, and also take accessibility seriously. A few minor spot checks of the HTML 4.01 Transitional nested table layout, and it became apparent that the claims made were generous to say the least.

"Unlike other 'accessible' design companies, we at DDAA believe that the only way to prove to you our pedigree is to create our own website as if it were for a client. That's why at the bottom of every page you'll find the complete selection of compliancy icons. You may notice that other design companies accidentially miss this off!"

They do indeed, and others claim for accessibility conformance without performing user checks. Wouldn't it be nice if someone went out of their way to highlight the misleading claims? Obviously, small mistakes can be overlooked, as they could be introduced unintentionally. Excessively wild claims should be exposed, to avoid people being misled. Accidentally has been misspelled, but that's an easy mistake to make isn't it?

The site claims conformance to Level "AA" with the W3C's accessibility recommendations, and Level "AAA" from Bobby. Bobby is a validation service to test conformance against the W3C's recommendations, so the two should match. Becoming more intrigued, I decided to look deeper. I tested the index page against Bobby, and sure enough, the automated tests confirmed that the page could qualify for Bobby AAA approved status if the Priority 1, 2 and 3 issues listed below did not apply to their page. A cursory glance at the user checks indicated that the Priority 1, 2 and 3 issues did apply to the page, and hadn't been addressed. Automated tests are useful, but there are certain issues that cannot be automated, and need to be checked by hand. Despite claims that they constantly read accessibility guidelines, it was clear that no attempt had been made to ensure the document was truly accessible.

"At DDAA we are constantly reviewing the UK, W3C and Bobby accessibility guidelines to ensure that you don't have to. Every step of our design process is geared towards ensuring that your website is as accessible as possible, from conception to completion - accessibility is key."

Probably the most noticeable issue was putting their phone number in an image, without specifying appropriate alternative text. As far as Bobby is concerned, something has been entered for alternative text, but it couldn't be sure it was appropriate for the image, as that would require a user check. This means that some visitors to the site will have no idea that a telephone number is displayed on each page. The number isn't accessible to them. Many other accessibility issues had also been overlooked, including defining abbreviations, and providing navigational aids.

None of these issues alone would cause me to write about a design agency. I am obviously aware that there are many companies that are unable to fulfil their claims, as well as companies that are able to deliver. The thing that really caught my eye was the name of the company, DDA Accessibility. DDA is an abbreviation for the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK. Of course, the initials could stand for anything, but I strongly suspect that it has been chosen to imply an association between the design agency, and the disability discrimination act. Awareness of accessibility issues is on the increase. Wherever an opportunity exists to make money, people will jump on the bandwagon. This is a lesson for managers responsible for accessibility issues to be cautious when choosing companies to aid their development, as there will always be so called "experts" willing to take money, and leave them short changed.

This article was written by Gez Lemon and originally appeared at his developer's resource site, Juicy Studio ("Our goal is to exceed your expectations"). The site has recently been running a number of accessibility tips, so why not go on over and take a look.