An online service helping web users with disabilities report accessibility problems by linking them with thousands of tech-savvy volunteers is to be launched later this year by digital inclusion charity Citizens Online.
A trial version of ‘Fix the Web’, sub-titled ‘crowd-sourcing e-accessibility’, was unveiled at this week’s Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010 by Dr Gail Bradbrook, the charity’s lead consulant.
Web users will be able to report accessibility problems directly to the service using Twitter, email or online forms. Members of a pool of registered volunteers will then take responsibility for finding the correct official path or website owner contact to lodge the complaint on the user’s behalf, follow up any response and feed back to the user.
The project’s initial goal is to sign up 10,000 volunteers to cover 250,000 websites a year, Bradbrook said. Eventually she hopes to sign up 1.5 million volunteers worldwide.
Research has found that people with disabilities face many access issues, but do not often complain about them, Bradbrook said. “This isn’t surprising – if so much of your time has already been wasted, why would you spend further time trying to communicate with the website owner?”
Benefits of making it easier for people to complain could include greater pressure for accessibility; feedback that website owners can work with or use to justify changes; and increased knowledge and skills for volunteers, she said.
Generally, volunteers would simply be raising awareness of accessibility issues, but if some major companies repeatedly ignored requests for help the project might consider working with campaign groups to lobby for action, Bradbrook said.
One business manager present welcomed the project, saying it could save firms like his money by providing valuable user feedback. “We want to make our websites as accessible as possible to everyone, so we would put your link on all of our sites, and I don’t see why anyone else wouldn’t,” he said. However, a web developer delegate said he was worried that unfounded complaints passed on by volunteers with insufficient technical understanding could be used to criticise web developers unfairly.
In response, Bradbrook said volunteers would be given guidance, and the project would be monitored for potential problems. “We are not asking them to be experts in e-accessibility – just to go to the website and log the problem formally. We hope it will open up communication which can be carried on by the volunteer so that proper understanding can be reached.”
Anyone interested in helping develop a trial version of the system is invited to visit:
NOTE: Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010 was organised by Makayla Lewis at City University London: