Weblogs: Web Accessibility

SiteMorse criticises DRC's usability stance

Monday, February 14, 2005

SiteMorse have responded to the criticism received over their handling of the DRC. On the surface it looks like an attempt at a calm rational explanation of their actions, with the accusation that the DRC are not doing enough to about web accessibility.

SiteMorse's position

The crux of SiteMorse's argument is the Disability Discrimination Act itself. Nicholas Le Seelleur clarifies SiteMorse's position:

In fact the WAI standards were dismissed as simply just guidelines. Usability to a degree, it seemed, comes higher up on the [DRC's] agenda, even though it is not the duty of the DRC to promote this aspect of good web design and practice. If the DRC is confused, how can anyone else be expected to understand the requirements of compliance?

SiteMorse's point would appear valid if the DDA indeed covered only accessibility, and not usability. It may have a point if the DDA specifically mentioned the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. SiteMorse appear convinced that the DDA covers only accessibility, as evidenced by a comment Graham Jarvis made to my previous blog entry:

Does the DDA require sites to be usable or accessible? Usability should always be considered, but should not replace the legal duty of site being accessible to disabled users.

Disability Rights Commission's position

The DRC are an independent body legislated to stop discrimination and promote equality of opportunity of disabled people. They are the guardians of the DDA and have in that capacity released a series of Code of Practices that seek to clarify and interpret the Act.

A large portion of the DRC's position was formed by the accessibility survey of 1000 UK websites in 2003. Their findings and recommendations were presented as the way to lower barriers on websites, and reduce the flagrant discrimination found on the web today.

Their position centres around people and, not surprisingly, their key recommendations are about getting disabled people involved in website testing, and also empowering them to be independent on the Web. The DRC has consistently stressed the importance of a website both being accessible and usable to people with disabilities.

The Disability Rights Commission's recommendations are:

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Since the crux of the argument is about whether the DDA covers accessibility, or usability, or both, it makes sense to look at the Act itself. Part III of the act covers goods, facilities and services, which includes websites. Section 19(3) defines examples of services covered. Notable are items b and c:

(b) access to and use of means of communication;

(c) access to and use of information services;

The words access to and use of look very much like one-for-one mappings of accessibility and usability.

DRC 2 - SiteMorse 0

It looks clear-cut. The DDA requests both access to and use of services. Both accessibility and usability are required.

The DRC are quite correct in this respect. And their recommended method of testing with disabled people meets the requirements of the DDA. Of course, since the DRC are the organisation that will use the DDA in seeking redress for discrimination, their recommendation carries far more weight.

SiteMorse are wrong in the insistence that the DRC should focus only on accessibility, and not on usability. The DRC has a clear mandate according to Part III, Section 19(3). The DRC are not solely representing web accessibility, they have the mandate to redress discrimination against disabled people.


SiteMorse are asking the DRC to clarify a websites requirements under the DDA. This has already been done - the report from the accessibility audit of 2003 is evidence of that.

I almost get the feeling SiteMorse want the DRC to file a high profile lawsuit against an inaccessible website. The ensuing corporate panic would send hundreds of insufficiently advised managers in the wrong direction in an effort to avoid being next in line. Its snake oil season after that.


SiteMorse's attempted PR campaign is failing. Usability isn't something their automated tools can check. Even accessibility cannot be competently done with automated tools alone. This position isn't a comfortable business model.

At its most fundamental, accessibility is about people. That aspect cannot be automated away.

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