UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Will The UK Government Shut Down The Queen’s Web Site?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Dec 2007

In a post on All UK Government Web Sites Must Be WCAG AA Compliant I recently warned of the dangers that the UK Government’s blunt instrument of mandating that all UK government Web sites must comply with WCAG AA accessibility guidelines could be counter-productive as the current WCAG 1.0 guidelines are widely felt to be out-of-date and government departments which seek to comply with the guidelines may well result in Web design patterns which are now widely felt to enhance the effectiveness of Web sites but which infringe guidelines released back in 1998 being discarded.

I recently viewed the Official Web Site of the British Monarchy (don’t ask) and spotted a visible <FONT> tag preceding a news item about the Queen’s speeches in Uganda.

Her Majesty's Web Site

Surely the Queen’s Web site isn’t using <FONT> tags, I thought? The Queen can’t possibly have employed a self-taught Web coder who hasn’t updated their skills in over five years? But looking at the source code and validating the page my worst fears came true: 36 HTML errors, no DOCTYPE, spacer GIFs, unclosed <FONT> tags (as I had spotted), <IMG> tags with no ALT attributes, a mixture of XHTML and HTML elements, …

Now this page clearly fails to comply with the UK Government proposed accessibility requirements. What, then, will happen if these proposals are accepted and the Queen fails to correct the errors by next year’s deadline? Will the Government attempt to shut down Her Majesty’s Web site? Will the Government take the Queen to court? But won’t “Regina vs Regina ” lead to a constitutional crisis? Will this lead to the demise of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic? Or will such a vindictive move by pedantic civil servants lead to a backlash, with the possibility of the Tower for the more extreme of the ‘accessibility standardistas‘?

More seriously the British Monarchy Web site probably does provide a good example of a service (perhaps not quite a public-sector service, though) which would be improved by simply following the WCAG guidelines.  So maybe my concerns would only apply to those Web sites which are seeking to be more interactive and user-focussed than the brochureware approach which the British Monarchy site provides.

4 Responses to “Will The UK Government Shut Down The Queen’s Web Site?”

  1. Excellent point Brian which just demonstrates the nonsense CoI are spouting. They say any Gov site not meeting AA standards will have their domain removed. However, no one is policing this and is unlikely to. I suspect unless a site receives loads of complaints (and CoI get wind) and the owners do nothing about it (highly unlikely) only then will threats be made. In other words this will never happen.

    In NI Gov my team audit all Gov sites against AA and corporate standards before they go live. As a result we have a raft of sites that are of a much higher quality than their GB counterparts. Ok so they’re not strictly AA compliant but by and large (excluding legacy sites) we have something to be proud of.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I see that you have commented on this topic previously on your blog.

    BTW when you say the your Web site in the Northern Ireland Government are “not strictly AA compliant” do you mean that you are happy to ignore the WCAG guidelines which don’t work or you don’t implement guidelines which may be excessively costsly to implement and provide only marginal benefits – or a combination of both?

  3. By not strictly what I mean is my team can only report on issues, it’s up to the site owners to rectify them. Having said all sites must be at least single A compliant before go live.
    It’s fair to say most sites are somewhere between A and AA. I can provide site owners of issues but I can’t force them to fix them nor can I provide them with resources to do so which is another issue. You also have to take into consideration staff changes etc and when you’re talking about content managed sites across, in some cases, 100s of authors it’d be near impossible to maintain AA standards.

  4. Excellent article thank you

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