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). Recently published guidelines from the British Standards Institute (PAS 78), endorsed by the Disability Rights Commission, mean that the legal responsibility of businesses is now clearer than ever.
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. Four high profile designers with access backgrounds were questioned to help understand the reasons. 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.
Designers and SMEs were both split over who should be taking responsibility for ‘substandard’ sites, but it was established that a joint responsibility was the most pragmatic solution. The data gathered on the awareness of the DDA was compared to government data from 2002 and it was discovered that there had not been any improvement in four years. It was also concluded that the profile of web accessibility in the UK needs to be raised for social, economic and legal reasons, but designers were keen to see this occur through clarification of the existing laws rather than by tightening them. The poor level of knowledge about accessibility initiatives and organisations was deemed be unimportant, although it was discussed that a raised profile could generally help to raise the profile of ‘good practice’ in web design.