Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Exiting GAWDS

Sunday, August 06, 2006

These last few months have been awash with changes and movement. Talking to friends at @media 2006 I resolved a number of problems that I felt were holding me back or sapping my energy. And from that I made up my mind to embark on what I feel is the right thing to do.

On the 19th June I requested my membership to GAWDS be terminated. I decided this step was necessary - rather than just quietly ignoring GAWDS. I want a clean separation between myself and the GAWDS membership.

On initially joining GAWDS

I joined GAWDS not long after the Disability Rights Commission published its findings into the accessibility of UK websites. One of the remarks the DRC made was that there was a need for an organisation of web designers that advocated web accessibility - particularly an accreditation scheme as a means of joining commissioners of websites with agencies that demonstrate the skills needed to produce accessible websites.

At that time GAWDS was the best placed organisation to adopt this path and see it through. As I recall, Jim Byrne, the founder of GAWDS, had a formal education path on the objectives for the Guild. I joined on the interest of producing educational materials for informal training - writing articles, tutorials that would be freely available to web developers. With both formal and informal training resources, we'd improve the mediocre situation of UK web developers.

Failure to deliver

Two years later and creating formalised education hasn't got started. Its essentially been stone-walled by the general membership. There's no funding for it, and the introduction membership fees was met by howls of protest and a vociferous discussion that quickly killed that source of funds. (Let it be noted, I was one of the few people who paid the membership fee very soon after its announcement).

With no funds, and no firm basis to seek sponsorship, I consider educational initiatives dead in the water. And with that, my reason to participate in GAWDS is nullified.

Structural failures

GAWDS, as it currently stands is in no position to progress any of the recommendations of the Disability Rights Commission. Its membership is the core problem - its become too much of a self-congratulatory club, rather than an organisation that has an initiative to improve web accessibility, and improve web development as a whole.

Without a drastic change in membership, I cannot see how any constructive and long-term education initiative is sustainable in the current conditions inside of GAWDS.

Volunteering as an administrator of GAWDS does nothing to correct the problems, because its not the lack of initiative that's killed GAWDS, its the core membership. I could have quietly withdrawn from the group, but that essentially does nothing either. So the obvious alternative was to remove myself completely - as a member as well as a participant.


I have no expectations of GAWDS. It would be nice to see an educational initiative take hold, but I shan't be holding my breath.

Jim Byrne is a very kind man, but in GAWDS I feel his kindness is a weakness that is preventing him from moving the organisation forward. Kindness alone will not mobilise GAWDS. Sometimes the only cure for a cancerous limb is to amputate it. Its harsh, but necessary. And I just don't see it happening.

Alternatives to GAWDS

In the last year, progress in web accessibility has been done by lone individuals, perhaps collaborating with others. GAWDS has offered the public nothing worthwhile, and yet, solo developers have pushed forward our understanding of accessible Ajax, how screen readers work, making accessible Flash, making accessible PDFs.

Time for a new direction.

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