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UK ‘must redesign’ e-gov sites

Leaked e-Envoy report

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Nearly 80 per cent of UK central government Web sites need to be redesigned before they can be fully accessible to users with disabilities,judging from a leaked report from the e-Envoy's office.

According to eGov Monitor Weekly around 800 public sector Web sites may need rebuilding to comply with accessibility laws requiring government services to cater for people with disabilities.

The claim is based on details leaked from an internal report carried out by the Office of the e-Envoy (OeE), the cabinet office unit responsible among other things for improving the accessibility and usability of UK government Web sites.

The OeE report draws upon the findings by the National Audit Office investigation, which examined the accessibility of 65 central government Web sites and concluded that nearly all were potentially excluding users.

EGov Monitor estimates that to fix the problems, government departments may need to spend at least 10 percent to 15 per cent of their total annual budget for Web sites. Editor Ian Cuddy told ElectricNews.Net that it was difficult to put a precise figure on the total cost of the redesigns required because the OeE has refused to release further details of the audit, but it is expected to run into millions.

The OeE has now warned the Web design industry that future government contracts will demand that companies deliver Web sites that conform to international Web accessibility standards. Current responsibility for adopting these standards rests with individual government webmasters, not designers, and compliance is not centrally monitored.

"The responsibility for accessibility is not isolated to the supplier," said Cuddy. "The people in government looking after the standards have also got a responsibility. The report doesn't reflect very well on them."

Some of the government Web sites may just require just front-end changes, but others may need a more extensive re-working of their architectures. The high cost involved in these more serious redesigns highlights the fact that it is much cheaper to design in accessibility from scratch rather than add it on at a later stage, said Cuddy.

The news comes at a time when the government is planning to downgrade the office of e-envoy, something that looks set to be strongly opposed. © ENN

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