Who pays for Accessibility


Are we all doing the right thing with respect to web standards, and accessibility?

Well, Nomensa recently released the full report on United Nations global audit of web accessibility. This report while only taking a very quick snap shot was damning on the application of web accessibility across the board.

The report, which has been only available as an Executive Summary since it was released on 5th December 2006, reveals that 97% of websites tested fail to achieve the minimum web accessibility level.

Now if you consider the way they measured this you may not think that it’s all that bad. They took the top sites from five sectors over 20 countries. But the sad fact is only three, yes 3 out of a 100 even obtained an A+ rating. That’s a single A, on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (V 1.0). These web sites (the 100) are all big business and government agencies, places that frankly have no excuse. Reminds me of the State of the web that John Allsopp conducted in 2005, except he wasn’t as damning and it was on standards compliance. Still its a sad state of affairs. We think we have come so far, when in fact its just beginning.

Who pays for the application of web standards and accessibility (yes I know they are not the same thing) , who pays for the separation of content, design and functionality.

  • Does the web design firm bare the cost and automatically retro fit standards and accessibility compliance into all it’s client web sites / CMS and web applications. Surely it’s their responsibility as they build the web site or are managing it. So they should do the convert for free, right. Why should the client have to pay for something that they can’t see any really benefit for in the outset?
  • Or does the client pay when the site has a makeover, given that maybe 2-5 years between makeovers. It’s their site after all, they own it (well the content anyway), they get the benefit from it. They should take some responsibility for the site and bare the cost in the makeover, even if it isn’t directly stated in the specification for the makeover.

This also raises the point about selling standards and accessibility.

I work on the basis that standards and accessibility compliance on new sites or makeovers is a given, its not a feature, its the baseline, the place to start. If you make it a feature it can be crossed of the list. But what happens when:

  • Firm A quotes on a site makeover, full standards and accessibility compliance, most of it will be hand coded, hourly rate is the same as Firm B. Design is basically the same. Functionality is slightly different, as it’s using a unobtrusive javascript combined with an allowance for no javascript at all by having backend scripting too as a fall back.
  • Firm B quotes on the same makeover, using automated site generation tools, no standards and or accessibility compliance (client didn’t ask, why bother doing it), Design is basically the same visually. Functionality works the same as far as the able bodied client is concerned on their computers.

Firm B, is cheaper than A, both appear to be quality firms. Firm B wins the job. Business reality – standards and accessibly loses.

End of the line, who pays for standards and accessibly compliance? The client or the web designer?

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  1. Firm B will eventually pay for *not* being standards compliant over the course of the following makeovers. For example to improve cross-browser functionality, to support mobile devices, or to reduce maintenance costs. Even a simple visual redesign (because the marketing folks want a new corporate appearance) may be more expensive for Firm B’s tag soup than for Firm A. Standards compliance is an investment, accessibility even more so.

  2. @nightdog, Oh I agree.

    However, some clients don’t think in the long term they think of the budget they have here, today. They will worry about the costs in the future when it arrives. They live for this financial year only.

    But what does firm B care, they have been paid, the client has moved on. They are onto the next cookie cutter project, churning out the web sites making lots of money, expanding etc. You see they have a different mind set, its not for the long term.

  3. @Garry -agreed, sadly most clients don’t tend to think long-term at all but at the end of the day, they pay for not complying with standards.

    I think clients should be more aware of what they are acquiring and (contractually) require certain standards from the designers. The clients will be paying the costs initially but will be getting a higher quality site in return.

    The questions is how to empower the clients technically? How does a client know they actually got an accessible and standards compliant site? Certification?

  4. If you have a tech gadget savvy client, show them it works on their phone. Print a page out show them the print style sheet result.

    Ask them to try and access their own site with just the keyboard. But these are accessibility issues (some are).

    General Standards, the results come when they say “I want to change the menu from vertical to horizontal”. Snap easy.

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for asking the question. I think clients should pay, and they should know what they are paying for and why.

    I guess in some cases, if a Web designer feels there’s a good chance they’ll be doing more work (makeovers) for the client, I guess they could take the gamble and use accessible, standard code, charging a lower rate with a reasonable expectation that it will pay off in the long run?

    Clients should pay – that good feeling when you turn CSS off and it all still works probably won’t put your kids through school!

    Dee (who actually knows people who use adaptive equipment! And yeah, that’s how clients can test to see if a site’s accessible, have people who use adaptive equipment check it out.

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