All aboard the PAS 78 gravy train

With the extensive media coverage following its launch, a large number of businesses, education establishments and government agencies with a stake in the UK online market should be aware of PAS 78 - Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites. Partly due to the cost associated with this document, though, they may not have actually read through it…which is probably what the PR office of BrowseAloud are counting on - otherwise it would be blatantly obvious to any reader that this little news item on the BrowseAloud site, issued two weeks after the official launch of the PAS, is somewhat stretching the truth:

Texthelp is recommended in PAS 78 for their text-to-speech software product Browsealoud, that addresses those with Cognitive & Learning Difficulties.

Now, try as I might I cannot find any particular endorsement or recommendation of their product in the PAS - and rightly so, as it’s meant to be a fairly neutral, non-vendor specific document. There is only one passing mention of Texthelp (developers of BrowseAloud) in Annex A (informative)- Suggested user profiles under the Cognitive and learning section (page 36):

Users with medium dyslexia, eg users who might change site colours and text formatting, and who in many cases might supplement this with text to speech software for reading sections of text (such as TextHelp).

So, is this going to be the new trend for marketing accessibility products and services in the UK for the coming years? Boosting one’s credibility by making references to the PAS, even going as far as claiming a recommendation? Well, I guess it’s a bit more respectable than planting fake users such as Dyslexic Duncan on forums to extoll the virtues of your product…

Incidentally, on both occasions I’ve contacted BrowseAloud for an official response…but to no avail.

And while we’re on the topic, a word of advice to web design agencies: you can stop amending your lists of services to include “websites that are PAS 78 compliant”. The PAS is not a new set of accessibility guidelines. It’s a document aimed at people who commission websites. It’s completely nonsensical for a company that develops websites to claim that their products and services comply with the PAS. At a pinch, you could say that your development processes are in line with some of the recommendations of the PAS, particularly the user testing aspects. But even that is really stretching it, in my not so humble opinion. Stick with claiming WCAG compliance. Heck, the PAS itself has the following to say about companies claiming to create sites that are “DDA-compliant”:

9.1.1 It is not possible to provide a definitive specification for a fully accessible website which will satisfy the requirements of the DDA. Website commissioners should therefore be sceptical if contracting companies declare that they will create websites that are “DDA-compliant” or “compliant with the law”. Conversely, website commissioners should not require a web designer to design a website that is “DDA-compliant” or “compliant with the law”. Until case law has been established such claims cannot be made or honoured.

If that is the general advice given with regards to companies claiming “DDA-compliance”, I’d imagine that site commissioners should be even more skeptical of companies claiming “PAS 78 compliance”.

Cross-posted over on the WaSP. Please comment there.

Filed under: Accessibility
Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Friday, May 12, 2006

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