Uni disability site fails accessibility test

A University of Auckland website designed for convenient use by disabled people does not reach even the lowest level of international accessibility standards.

A University of Auckland website designed for convenient use by disabled people does not reach even the lowest level of international accessibility standards.

The site includes information on the services offered by the university’s disabilities office.

But a web-accessibility expert says the “text only” and graphics versions of the site are awkwardly related, and the site as a whole does not reach even the lowest level of international accessibility standards, as its design team claims.

In making the site accessible, the university provides a “text only” version, which can be handled by reading machines synthesising voice for blind and partially-sighted students, and a program to convert input text to animated representations of finger spelling, a very basic form of sign language not encouraged in the deaf community.

The site “complies with international standards for disabled users drawn up by website watchdog w3.org”, says a statement attributed to developer Mark Graham. “Currently legislation is being introduced in the USA to ensure all federal government websites comply with these standards.”

Computerworld asked Graham which of the three levels of W3’s web-accessibility initiative (WAI) standards the site claims to meet, A, AA, or the highest, AAA, considered very difficult to comply with. After referring to a colleague, he said it reaches an A standard, handling all the “priority one” aspects of accessibility outlined in the WAI document. “There are only a couple of areas of the site which do not satisfy priorities two and three,” he says. Satisfying these would have given it AA or AAA classification respectively.

However, Graham Oliver, managing director of specialist web accessibility consultancy AccEase and a member of a WAI working party, says the site does not even fully reach A standard. Some pages do not have links to a text version, and clicking a link in the text version takes the student to a page with full graphics, from where s/he has to click to the text version again.

The university did its own accessibility testing, Graham says, rather than relying on an independent testing agency.

“Our brief was to both comply with web accessibility guidelines, and to add dynamic features to the site, for users with no disability,” he says. “It is very difficult to meet all guidelines and still provide a fully dynamic site.”

He adds that the quote “that you have been provided with was not my actual words. I think our marketing arm have used a bit of artistic licence.”

The W3 guidelines are here.

Disclosure: Stephen Bell’s wife, Robyn Hunt, is a director of AccEase.

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