Weblogs: Web Accessibility

PAS 78 Launch

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Disclaimer: The last two paragraphs covering future BSI events about PAS 78, and obtaining a copy of PAS 78 were supplied by the BSI. I've inserted them into this entry as a way of thanking them for the guidance and help they've given me in writing this entry.

Disclaimer: I work for Legal & General who presented one of the case studies in the PAS 78 launch. I do not speak for, or represent, Legal & General in any capacity. The views expressed on this blog are mine alone, and not necessarily representative of my employer.

PAS 78 Launch

March 8th 2006 saw the launch of PAS 78, titled "Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites". It's aimed at businesses that are creating websites, and provides guidance, tips and advice to business people about what they need to do to have an accessible website.

Although it's aimed at businesses, the advice and guidance in the document can be used elsewhere as a best practice document for delivering accessible websites.

One of the big strengths of this document is it's not a one-person effort. Julie Howell, in her role as technical author, has brought together many organisations across a large number of industries and sectors, from disability organisations, to big businesses, to public sector organisations, education institutions, and non-profit organisations, as well as web accessibility organisations and web designer agencies. I don't think I've ever seen so many interested organisations come together and publish one document, in one voice, about building accessible websites.

PAS 78 doesn't reinvent web accessibility. It details the best practice approach of building websites, referencing the key technical standards, such as W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, as well as recommending a foundation based on web standards: HTML for structure, CSS for layout, and an emphasis on usability.

The road to PAS 78

Back in April 2004 the Disability Rights Commission reported their findings about the accessibility of UK websites. In that landmark study, they tested the accessibility of 1000 UK websites, and produced a list of recommendations aimed at increasing the woeful levels of web accessibility.

One of the recommendations, particularly for website owners, was to establish a best practice in how to go about commissioning websites that are accessible, a framework for managing web accessibility. The Disability Rights Commission, working in conjunction with the British Standards Institution have been busy putting that document together, and today, March 8th 2006 saw the launch of the PAS 78 document, titled "Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites".

Still the most compelling argument for web accessibility is a business-related one: Disabled people in the UK have an estimated spending power of £80 billion a year.

Is PAS 78 a standard?

The British Standards Institution has vast experience in developing and publishing standards on a wide diversity of subjects. These publications range from company codes of practice right through to ISO standards.

A Publicly Available Specification (PAS) is not a formal standard, but it is a consensus based document. Publishing a PAS instead of a formal British Standard was a recommendation made by the British Standards Institution because it met the two main goals the Disability Rights Commission set:

The key messages of PAS 78

Web developers must do three main things:

  1. Gain a thorough understanding of users of wide diversity of abilities, and understand how that impacts on what the developer is trying to achieve
  2. Understand the W3C's Web Content Accessibility guidelines, understand the reasons behind each checkpoint, as well as keeping in mind the limitations of WCAG.
  3. Check the received specifications, ensure that while the requirement for building accessible websites is there, also ensure that the words and spirit of web accessibility are carried out.

PAS 78 is scheduled to be reviewed in two years. That means the document lives in today's world, and is updated to reflect today's practices and today's accessibility barriers. The current document looks fit and healthy for its first two years of service.

Understanding the DDA

One interesting point is that come December 2006, another obligation of the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force - a responsibility of public organisations to promote equal opportunity.

Nick O'Brien, Director of Legal Operations of the Disability Rights Commission covered some of the legal nuances of the Disability Discrimination Act. The DDA is one of three Acts that cover discrimination, the other two being sex discrimination, and racial discrimination.

However the DDA takes a different approach than its two siblings. Both sex and racial discrimination legislation require that people are treated the same way. The disability discrimination act recognises that treating disabled people exactly the same way does not solve the discrimination problem, so instead it asks that organisations take extra steps to ensure that disabled people are able to use the same services. This sometimes means taking extra steps in accommodating people with disabilities, to ensure that they are not unreasonably discriminated. However, it's seen that making these adjustments benefit all people.

The US Legal system hasn't got to grips with accessibility of websites. The UK doesn't have this problem, the DDA and the DRC's Code of Practice provide enough information to indicate that it is the intention of the Act to cover websites in its remit.

The main argument about website accessibility is the notion of making "reasonable adjustments". PAS 78 details what can be considered reasonable in terms of creating new websites. PAS 78 leaves an organisation no excuse about having a newly created website that is inaccessible.

Writing the PAS

Julie Howell was invited, by the DRC and BSI, to be the technical author of the Publicly Available Specification. The Steering Group, the authors of PAS 78, consisted of a diverse cross section of organisations from a range of industries and sectors. The organisations (and individuals representing these organisations) involved are:

Reviewing the PAS

As part of the PAS process, a review group typically consists of 50 organisations. For PAS 78, the review group consisted of 120 organisations. This review group returned over 900 comments on the initial draft of the PAS, and every comment was reviewed by the Steering Group. Again, the participating organisations covered a wide range of industries and sectors.

The review of the PAS 78 drafts was not limited to the UK organisations. The PAS was announced in an accessibility conference held in Paris last year, and attendees were given an opportunity to respond and make comments on the document. The longer term objective is to allow PAS 78 to be used outside of the UK.

Although the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative was not directly involved in the Steering Group, they were kept informed throughout the process. Judy Brewer, the Director of WAI, contributed a quote for today's launch event, which demonstrates that the W3C saw PAS 78 as a positive step.

The PAS document doesn't replace or contradict the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and other web standards. It references them, and recommends their usage. PAS 78 brings together a number of documents spread across the globe, and gives commissioners of websites one document they can use as a reference or guide to building accessible websites.

One key section of PAS is the accessibility statement. It's a page on a website that details the accessibility of the rest of the site. Key information is the accessibility level achieved. If the site isn't accessible, the statement should indicate a target date when the website will be accessible.

Business case of web accessibility

In the past, the business cases for web accessibility have been largely theoretical, except for Tesco. Their accessible version of the webstore made a tidy revenue stream of £13 million over a year.

The Tesco case-study told the story of their business case, for a £35,000 investment in creating TescoAccess, they forecast a revenue of £1.61 million. This was based on an average shopping trolley along with an estimate of 1% of disabled people shopping at the site.

The business case was good enough to be signed off with those figures, yet looking at the actual results, of £13 million in revenue, the business case proved to be very conservative - bordering on pessimistic.

The same story came from Legal & General. The investment into making their online life application accessible was recouped in the first five months. The number of applications for life cover increased by 90% within the first month of being accessible. A key factor of that dramatic increase was that accessible content lead to more search engine visibility, which brought in more traffic, particularly those looking to buy life cover online.


Businesses want a clear DRC-approved direction on creating accessible websites. With the DRC's collaboration with the British Standards Institution, businesses now have access to that guidance in the form of PAS 78.

For web accessibility professionals and experts, PAS 78 introduces nothing new. It's based on web standards and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. PAS 78 brings the web standards and disability discrimination act requirements together into one overarching document.

Now it's our turn, as web developers and accessibility advocates, to take the message of PAS 78 to businesses, and incorporate its best practices into our own development techniques. PAS 78 asks web developers to think about web accessibility, think about users of websites. And most importantly, give businesses what they really want - a good return on their investment.

Obtaining and learning about PAS 78

BSI will be running further events to help industry get to grips with PAS 78 - details can be requested from seminars@bsi-global.com.

Copies of PAS 78 (priced at £30) are available from BSI's Customer Service team on +44 (0)20 8996 9001 or orders@bsi-global.com.

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