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‘Fix The Web’ In Struggle For Survival

A ground-breaking project to enlist the power of volunteers to fix web access problems for disabled people is at risk of closure, after failing to secure government funding.

Fix the Web was launched in November 2010 to allow disabled internet users to complain quickly and easily about inaccessible websites using Twitter, email or online forms. Members of a pool of registered volunteers then take responsibility for contacting the website owner on the user’s behalf, following up any response and feeding back results to the user.

Since launch, the project has recruited almost 700 volunteers who between them have handled more than 1,000 website reports and helped to solve problems with several high profile sites including the Coventry Building Society, various BBC sites and the online scheduling service Doodle. A major rise in activity was triggered earlier this year after actor, writer and technology lover Stephen Fry posted a message of support for the campaign.

However, despite gaining £50,000 of initial funding from the Nominet Trust, and receiving publicity support from organisations including RNIB, the project has failed in attempts to raise further cash and has now been running for a year without any external funding.

After it emerged that a recent bid for funding from the government’s new £10 million Social Action Fund has failed, Fix The Web founder Gail Bradbrook, director of programmes at Citizens Online, told E-Access Bulletin the project would struggle to survive.

“The government asked for charities to innovate, and that’s what Citizens Online has done – we have raised multi-millions across all our projects over the years, with not a penny from central government. So we’re not a cap-in-hand charity, but equally we can’t run on fresh air.

“Fix The Web still has a huge amount of potential, but it needs some design work and some funding to oversee the work by volunteers. Come the New Year, if there isn’t a clear plan for the project, Citizens Online might have to withdraw because our brand will be associated with something that isn’t being looked after properly.”

The project could eventually be sustained by small donations from multiple sources, but in the short term needs around £150,000 over the next 18 months to help it reach a sustainable level, Bradbrook said.

Citizens Online managed to raise pledges of services worth some £270,000 to use as “in kind” match funding for its recent Social Action Fund bid. “This shows the level of support and commitment to the project. The issue is securing money, when so few funders fit to the aims of this project. Times are really hard for the voluntary sector, competition is steep,” she said.

Ironically, the project has attracted interest from organisations in other countries including Canada who would like to replicate it, Bradbrook said. The intention had always been to expand the work internationally, but this vision is now also in jeopardy.


  1. Roger Wilson-Hinds FRSA | December 16th, 2011 | 3:54 pm

    This is very sad indeed and an indicator of a huge difficulty re organisations helping blind people.
    Nominet Trust in good faith backed a great idea and 700 volunteers have declared their willingness to help us with our web challenges.
    It looks as though major blindness organisations cannot help so what is needed is a fundraiser, voluntary or paid, to rescue the situation.
    At, we understand the frustdration well. For years we have struggled to deliver our free talking software. Nominet Trust have recognised our efforts and supported what we are doing.
    Let’s hope 2012 will be a good year for organisations working together and supporting worthwhile ventures even when ‘not invented here’.

  2. Geoff Madge | December 23rd, 2011 | 10:40 am

    This is sad news indeed. I wonder if they have approached the more enlightened private sector pioneers like Mark shuttleworth at Canonical? this might fit well with the ethos that has produced Ubuntu.

  3. Gail Bradbrook | January 10th, 2012 | 5:45 pm

    thanks for your support!
    Roger I am a fundraiser as part of my job- have raised £millions in the past. Geoff if you can do an introduction please do (via Dan)

  4. Dave | February 22nd, 2012 | 5:32 pm

    This project is great, so this is sad to hear.

    I’m curious, though…where does the money go? There’s the website, which I could see having some initial development cost that should have already been covered. Then you have hosting and perhaps some light on-going maintenance. I’m not seeing any need for staff. I’m only seeing a couple thousand/year in terms of on-going expenses.

    I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that setting up the organization, some kind of insurance, accounting/legal, etc costs a lot…maybe account 10,000/year for that at the high end for an organization like this with such low risk surface.

    Adding that up, rounding way up, I come up with £30,000 at the very high end for the next 18 months.

    But you’re saying £150,000? It makes it sound like someone wants a full-time industry-competitive salary and pension and benefits to oversee something would work just as well as a volunteer-led project. The project is great, so I know I’m missing something…where does the money go? :)

  5. Gail Bradbrook | February 23rd, 2012 | 4:31 pm

    Hi Dave,
    in response to your comment (and please be in touch if you want more details).

    Current Fix the Web
    The site appears to be functioning OK, we have the odd technical glitch that needs dealing with and new volunteers coming through “Do-It” most days that need signposting on. There are a few emails a month about the project to be dealt with. Citizens Online is resourcing this and that is OK, but it means the site is just ticking along rather than developing. SO the question is why does it need developing?

    Developing the site
    The site had a small grant to get off the ground and we have developed our prototype and tested it. Prototypes need improving and this is no different. Currently we are unaware of how well the site is functioning at a detailed level, because it needs auditing and managing- there seems to be an awful lot of “reports in progress” we need to check on volunteers and the status of reports. We think some of the fixes might be incorrectly filed- this all needs checking. We are getting some feedback about a low rate of response from website owners (unsurprising, we have a battle here). We feel this could be dealt with to an extent by implementing the many changes suggested for the site, for example:
    -allowing reporters access to volunteers
    -stopping anonymous reporting
    -sign posting volunteers to training-embedding this in the system
    -creating a tier of expert volunteers as mentors
    -implementing a chasing regime
    -giving more guidance on different ways to chase up site owners- how many times to do this before closing a report
    -sharing data with bigger organisations like the RNIB on major sites who are not compliant

    Fundamentally though, my absolute instinct here is that volume will make all the difference- we need a turn-around of reports in the 100’s of thousands, per country, globally- so that the message of web and software accessibility hits home. People may ignore a one off email but when they know non compliance will lead to a complaint, when we get strength in numbers, when we can gather data and partner, then we are a force and we can drive change across many levels. Volume comes from partnering, growing oversees, PR and striking the fine balance between reports coming in and volunteers to deal with them. Errant volunteers or reporters need dealing with, communicating about the project takes time. Volunteers may come from a variety of sources, such as CSR, youth volunteering, professional volunteering- you have to tap into many schemes as well as generally getting the message out there. We also need to improve the design on the site.

    So bids I have put together cover a strategic direction for the project, a coordinator for the project, coding of the site to make changes and time to decide on changes, design work, PR and partnership development and resourcing time, reviewing progress, making changes based on reviews. I am happy to share the details of bids with people- please contact me through the site or Citizens Online. I also have a business plan which discusses a sustainability strategy- so getting to the steady state place where the project is working well and just needs overseeing of various types of volunteers- a much less costly thing.

    We aren’t in steady state in my view now- we are in limbo and reporters and volunteers may tire of the project which isn’t being looked after properly for lack of resource. Though the good news is we are still looking at a number of options for going forwards- these are difficult times of course but we haven’t given up.

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