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Web 2.0 effecting accessibility?

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 13 Jun 07, 07:12 PM

A report published on 4th June 2007 by the Customer Respect Group (CRG) found that as high-tech companies adopt Web 2.0 features, accessibility levels declined by 38% on the websites covered in their survey.

Not surprisingly, the report found that high-tech companies such as Adobe, Sony and Hewlett Packard are leading the way in adopting Web 2.0 features, such as blogs, forums, interactive ways of displaying product information and live chat tools. However, without planning these can have consequences on the accessibility of a site.

For instance, on the McAfee website, users can switch between different sections of product information without having to move to another page. However, if not implemented properly, screenreaders can’t detect that content has changed, thus causing major accessibility problems e.g leaving a screenreader user to miss out on important system requirements information or the product description.

The irony is that Web 2.0 features are usually introduced to make websites more user-friendly. This is not proving to be the case for all user groups. The SonyStyle website scores very well on the CRG report for usability, yet when I visited it with my screen-reader, it was virtually impossible to navigate and use because the website is built using Flash and inaccessible Web 2.0 features such as those used to compare products. It was scarcely any better than looking at a blank page.

A similar problem is found on the Sun Microsystems website. Sun allows its customers to rate and review its products. Yet it is not possible to read the reviews if you are trying to do so with a screenreader, or using a text browser like Lynx because the functionality depends on scripts not compatible with these tools.

The CRG believe that the increase in high-tech company innovation and accessibility levels falling is not coincidental. They claim that, “when new web development occurs there is limited attention paid to making those changes accessible.” This is because many corporate web development teams are still not giving accessibility issues the importance that they deserve.

When you also consider that there is an increase in video content, which in many cases excludes the sight and hearing impaired, and the use of CAPTCHA’s, (images of jumbles words and numbers) it is becoming harder to comment on blogs, sign up for email accounts, purchase goods or get involved with online communities when it should be getting easier.

The main revelation to rise out from this report is that previously accessible websites, are less so now. This is a worrying trend. It would be a disaster if wholesale adoption of Web 2.0 features made the internet even more difficult to use when it could be an opportunity to create the opposite affect.

It isn’t a completely bleak outlook, however. Some Web 2.0 features can be made accessible. For instance, on the BBC News site, the same feature used by McAfee, to hop around the content on a page, is applied to allow users to toggle between a list of most read and most emailed news stories The difference is that everyone can use this feature on the BBC site because it was developed with accessibility in mind - this has been overlooked on McAfee site.

In the end, developers must pay due diligence to how they implement new technologies rather than implementing them for the sake of keeping up with an emerging Web 2.0 world, and make sure that what they do is of equal benefit, and enjoyment to everyone.

Comments   Post your comment

You've really misinterpreted the sense of “accessibility” used in the report. It means responsiveness, availability.

Hi Joe

As I read the report, (page 4 of the PDF) accessibility is covered by the CRI sub-index of 'attitude'. Whilst some websites did well for things like ALT tags on images, use of CSS, etc, CRG recorded that 38% of the websites tested "demonstrated a significant drop in their attitude (accessibility) score."

Online ommunications was measured by the Responsiveness sub-index...

You’ll need to quote more than a sentence to prove to me that you aren’t completely misinterpreting the word “accessibility.” Sort of like how you misinterpreted “affecting” in the headline.

  • 4.
  • At 01:43 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Marcus Tucker wrote:

Sorry to be a pedant, but the correct word is "affecting", not "effecting", and there is a BIG difference between meanings of the two words.

Not only would I expect a content writer for the BBC to not get this wrong in the first place, it is also important because in this particular context, the use of the word "effecting" confers virtually the opposite meaning intended - since "effecting" means that something is being successfully implemented, the title therefore actually implies that Web 2.0 is *helping* accessibility, whereas the truth is the opposite - Web 2.0 is (negatively) affecting accessibility!

So, please change title accordingly but leave the URL the same, since it's linked to from all over the place, and it's otherwise an excellent news post!

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