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.