Big Button Report misses the point?

Via a discussion over at the Accessify forum I stumbled across an article on the British Dyslexia Association site entitled Big Button Report: FTSE and Fortune 500 review.

The report by Serena Thomson - a degree student at the University of British Columbia - attempts to give a fairly reasonable overview of the issues surrounding users with disabilities and corporate web sites. However, already from the summary, the report itself is based on fundamentally flawed assumptions. To pick out a few choice passages:

The Big Button Report, sponsored by the Communication Foundation, highlights just four companies which meet the minimum requirements of text size button which dyslexic people need. This means that the other 96 organisations are failing to meet the legal obligations of the 1995 and 2004 Disabilities Discrimination Act (DDA) which requires companies to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help people with disabilities.

Minimum requirements of text size button? Text resizing is a function of the browser / user agent. Web sites should be built according to best practices, separating content from presentation, thus allowing users to set their own preferred text size, foreground/background colour combination etc in their browser. Not implementing a site specific text resize button or widget is certainly not a failure to meet the obligations of the DDA, and claiming so in the opener to the article is a dangerous piece of misinformation.

The “Americans with Disabilities” Act requires that businesses and organizations make “reasonable accommodations” to provide equal access for customers and employees who have disabilities. To reconstruct a website to make it fully accessible - by giving the option available to increase the font size, or by providing text equivalents for visual content - is certainly “reasonable” when one considers the business itself will benefit from this consumer.

If a site avoids the use of absolute and pixel-based font sizes (which cannot be resized in Internet Explorer), users can employ their browser’s built-in functionality to resize the text size to best suit their needs, without the need for a site-specific option available to increase the font size. Putting text size widgets on par with such a fundamental requirement as the provision of text equivalents is, once again, dangerously misinformed.

The presentation of logical arguments is only so effective in convincing a person to carry out an action. More often the threat of a hefty lawsuit upon his or her failure to execute said action does a better job in half the time. Such was the case in the UK when after years of waiting, consumers who had struggled with inaccessible facilities - both concrete and electronic - celebrated the last part of the Disability Discrimination Act coming into force on 1st October 2004.

A fairly common mistake, but: the often quoted October 2004 deadline related to the provision of physical adjustments (access ramps, for instance). The web was already covered by the DDA prior to that, as it’s arguably not a physical premise.

In the near future a high level of accessibility will be standard in all new technology. It will be integrated into the experience of everybody who uses the internet, instead of added as an afterthought or allocated to a separate page.

The author seems to be confusing the technology (read: browsers) used to deliver web content and the web content itself here.

There are many more inconsistencies and slight errors, but in conclusion, the author’s intentions are obviously valid … however, this report seems to be drawing conclusions based on a set of flawed criteria which make me question the validity of the results.

And certainly only the most cynical among us would draw any conclusion from the fact that the article’s author, and indeed the Communication Foundation itself, has direct ties with Textic, the company whose web based toolbar product provides the text resize widget functionality on the BDA web site itself…(hat tip to Torsten for a bit of web based investigative research)

Filed under: Accessibility
Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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