UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Web Accessibility – Code of Practice (BS 8878:2010)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Jun 2010

Over the past six years I have worked with a group of accessibility researchers and practitioners in the UK and, in the past couple of years in Australia, in writing papers for a number of peer-reviewed journals which have described the limitations of traditional approaches to Web accessibility, which is based on an uncritical acceptance of the WAI approach to Web accessibility and the emphasis placed on WCAG guidelines.

In our paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” (see HTML or PDF version) presented at the ADDW08 conference myself and David Sloan reviewed the ideas we had described up to 2008.  The paper described the holistic approach to e-learning accessibility which myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift described in our initial paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” (see HTML or PDF version) published in 2004. The paper then described the stakeholder model of accessibility which was developed by Jane Seale and featured in our paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” (see HTML or PDF version). As can be gathered from the title of that paper, we also highlighted the importance of policies covering the approaches taken to Web accessibility within organisations.

Having been involved in this work over the years I was very interested to see the recent draft version of the BS 8878:2010 Code of Practice on Web Accessibility.  I have to admit I was very pleased to read the approaches taken in this document. It was good to see the emphasis on documentation and the escape mechanism given in the second bullet point below which allows for deviations from requirements described in the document if, for example, technological developments supercede the requirements stated in the document:

Organizations wishing to claim conformity with BS 8878 should:

  • address all of the provisions of this British Standard
  • be able to justify any course of action that deviates from this British Standard’s recommendations; and
  • document their decision processes (in hard copy or electronic media) to provide evidence of following the recommendations and guidance in this British Standard

It is good to see, at last, a document about Web accessibility explicitly acknowledging the need to address the resource implications in providing accessible services:

Where organizations do not choose the option which would result in a product which is the most accessible it can be, organizations should be able to justify their decisions for choosing a lesser option based on the reasonableness of this decision, defined as a cost-benefits balance between:

  • the reasonableness of the cost: the financial or time costs of choosing more accessible options, balanced against whether the organization has the resources to meet those costs
  • the reasonableness of the benefit: the number of disabled and elderly users who would benefit from those more accessible options, and the size of the impact on each of these users if the web product excluded them

The document also recognises the importance of context and personalisation and explicitly addresses a learning context in the following example:

Educational establishments, eLearning websites, staff intranets, and any website where users become a member by creating a login (such as social networking sites) are more likely to regard their users as individuals that they have entered into a relationship with. This might set up an expectation of an individualized user experience in the mind of their users. These user expectations, once set up, might extend beyond general personalization facilities like rating or the creation of member pages, to include an individualized approach to dealing with their accessibility needs.

The document recognises that organisations may legitimately address the requirements of individuals or groups:

The organization should choose whether they will aim to regard their users as:

    • individuals; or
    • user groups, each with a set of common needs.


    • More traditional public internet sites are more likely to consider their users as user groups, and not raise user expectations beyond this lower level.

    This choice, which should be documented in the product’s accessibility policy, will fundamentally impact the approach to accessibility for the web product (see 4.4.9).

The document is quite long and may disappoint those who may have been hoping for a simple description of a code of practice for Web accessibility.  However I feel that the Code of Practice correctly acknowledges the complexities in seeking to enhance accessibility of Web products for people with disabilities.  It was also good to see the references to ‘inclusive design’ rather than the ‘universal design’ which, I feel, leads people to believe that a single universal solution is possible or, indeed desirable.

Many thanks to the people who have produced this document which gets my support.


6 Responses to “Web Accessibility – Code of Practice (BS 8878:2010)”

  1. Anon, a mouse cowered said

    I love the way that to see a document on accessibility BSI expects you to create an account first….
    I dislike pointless sign up to sites just to look at 1 document
    I hope the standard says this is a bad idea (I have no idea what it says as I refused to sign up as a point of principle – true accessibility is about more than eyesight)

  2. […] Web Accessibility – Code of Practice (BS 8878:2010) […]

  3. mackland said

    See the Standard has now been published – – download a copy at £100 – I don’t think so.

  4. […] Comments mackland on Web Accessibility – Code…Brian Kelly (UK Web … on University Web Sites Cost…Andy Powell on University Web Sites […]

  5. Matt said

    The document is, however, about as exciting as watching paint dry. Oddly enough, all the spelling is Americani’z’ed, which I found amusing.

    I already strive for AAA validation, however, I now have the unenviable task of reading through and digesting this 80 page BSI document to find out what the BSI expect!

    Is there a short version ? ;)

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