Web Accessibility In UK Small Businesses

A dissertation evaluating the awareness of web accessibility amongst UK small businesses.

Student Andy Higgs has written an excellent dissertation on ‘Web Accessibility In UK Small Businesses’. While his research has been (necessarily) limited, his findings and conclusions illustrate one thing clearly: that the cause of web accessibility in the UK is failing. It will continue to fail unless serious and immediate action is taken.

Web Accessibility In UK Small Businesses

As he writes in his abstract, Andy set out to learn more about awareness of accessibility issues among small businesses in the UK and questioned thirty such businesses by questionnaire.

Very little is known about the level of knowledge of web accessibility and web design standards in UK SMEs (Small/Medium Enterprises). Thirty small businesses were surveyed to measure their awareness about accessibility issues and assess their knowledge of their legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). The result of the online questionnaire for SMEs was that the majority of businesses are not aware of the current legal requirements or even the concept of website accessibility. It was concluded that the cause could be attributed to three main problems; lack of publicity in the media, poor communication by the government and web developers refusing to update their skills set.

The results of Andy’s survey are frankly not unexpected and as Andy himself concludes:

Following the discussions, the evidence seems to indicate that the current level of knowledge on the topic of web accessibility in UK SMEs is poor. [...] As yet, public opinion does not seem as conscious that discriminating websites are just as bad as discriminating physical facilities.

The failure of government

While web accessibility has the attention of some of the brightest minds in our industry; people who are not only well intentioned but are knowledgeable about the needs of real people and who are committed to solving their problems, our masters in government are doing nothing. To quote directly from our Labour Party’s constitution:

[The UK Labour Party] believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

And yet they are doing nothing to inform businesses or other organisations about their responsibilities to people with disabilities. Nothing to create a wider understanding of web accessibility among the general public. Nothing to help educate the web industry by putting pressure on educational establishments to include accessibility in web related courses. Nothing to help established designers and developers re-train and nothing to help them acquire the testing tools necessary to their job properly.

In an interview for Accessify back in November 2005, I wrote that,

There are now so many web sites, blogs or publications devoted to helping people learn standards and accessible techniques that there are now no excuses not to work with semantic code or CSS. Those people still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.

a comment that started a wider discussion about new professionalism.

I stand behind this comment and also behind my reasons for writing that I believe that there should not be laws governing web accessibility and that such laws hinder the cause of wider web accessibility rather than help it. But now it is time to extend the focus of our attention to the role and responsibilities of government, praising them for their successes and bringing them to account for their failings.

In relation to web accessibility, the UK government should hang their heads. For a government that we elected in 1997 on their social agenda, their lack of action relating to web accessibility is shameful. People deserve better.


  1. #1 On April 29, 2006 02:32 PM Matthew Pennell said:

    I can’t help wondering whether a similar group action to that which was launched against Target under the ADA legislation in the US would help in bringing the issue into the media spotlight.

    I guess though that the trouble with web professionals advocating legal action is that we could just be seen as literally scaring up new business.

    In your position, Andy, do you have any experience of the point-of-view of disability action groups; do they care about website accessibility, or do they also give it less credence than physical access issues?

  2. #2 On April 29, 2006 03:21 PM bongi said:

    i think a site that aint good for accessibility that should be is https://www.house.co.uk

    in fact the payment system cant be used in anything but IE6 on PC

  3. #3 On April 30, 2006 08:05 AM Matthijs said:

    A very interesting and important subject. However: considering the way the data are gathered, the conclusions as they are now can not be drawn. As always with online surveys in which the population who is researched is not controlled, it is not possible to generalise the results to another population. The chances of selection bias are considerable.

    Maybe more people who don’t know much about accessibility and are interested in the subject filled in the survey. Or the other way around: more people who know about accessibility filled in the survey. You never know.

    This does not mean the conlusions could be correct. But you cannot tell for sure.

  4. #4 On April 30, 2006 02:15 PM Andy Higgs said:

    @Matthijs: I agree that the collection of the data is not as expansive as in a larger survey, and therefore the accuracy is not as tight as if there had been a greater number of responses, but that was a constraint of the assignment.

    However, the reliability remains sound. The respondents were a random sample of SMEs; and the replies from people with a web design background were omitted/marked in the statistics as stated in the results section. Even so, there is not a great deal of difference between the two sets of figures, except for the level of awareness of the initiatives and organisations. As a point of interest, the overwhelming majority of responses were from contacted businesses and not via public invites.

    The aim of the survey was to examine a cross section, and being that there are no preceeding statistics, it would have been presumptuos to try and poll a weighted percentage from each group. A random sample is the closest to the best possible result in the circumstances.

  5. #5 On April 30, 2006 02:47 PM Matthijs said:

    Andy, I don’t know your background but anybody who has followed an introductionary course in research methods and statistics knows that results from a survey like this can be biased. And likely are. I am not saying they are in this case. The general conclusions could very well be valid. However, with the method used, you just cannot say that for sure.

    Even if the survey would be very large, say tens of thousands of respondends in a big CNN poll, the results can be biased. The research methods and statistics required to be able to draw general conclusions from surveys is quite complicated, and I understand you didn’t have the time and means to do something like that.

    It’s just that many people will take results like these and see them as reliable ’facts’. And that’s what’s bothering me. I hope you don’t take any offense. I do think you’ve done a good job doing the survey and making the results available on your site. Accessibility is an important issue, so the more people being aware of that the better.

  6. #6 On April 30, 2006 03:20 PM Andy Higgs said:

    @Matthijs: Thanks for your reply. I do realise that any and every study is biased; the key is to limit the effect. However, I do still stand by my conclusions. I would hope that most people are savvy enough to understand the equivocal nature of any statistic, and to review it within the scheme of the parent study.

    Even if we can’t concur on that, I do agree with you that spreading accessibility awareness can only be beneficial to all.

  7. #7 On May 3, 2006 11:53 AM Robert Wellock said:

    Hardly surprising the current government is dragging its heels in the UK it�s nothing new, it often fails to address issues in a sensible practical manner.

    It�s pretty hard to believe several of the companies haven�t even heard of the DDA. Especially since most companies have to fill in forms and have regular checks relating to premises and such anyway. Probably what appeared to be more worrying was the lack of knowledge of the so-called web-designers that many of the SMEs employed.

  8. #8 On May 11, 2006 03:23 AM Randy Runnels said:

    @Matthew Pennell; Here in the US the Target vs NFB suit has, in my opinion, done more to raise the awareness of accessibility issues than any other single event. We Americans have this strange perception that an issue doesn’t really exist until somebody has been sued over it.

    Now that there’s a lawsuit it’s almost as if the precedent has already been set. The perception is that your website should be accessible, otherwise you might get sued.