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UK.gov makes bizarre threat to throw self off internet

Curtains if sites not accessible by 2009

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The UK Government has given itself until the end of next year to get its act together on accessibility, after which any .gov.uk site failing to achieve the minimum, Level Double-A of the W3C Guidelines will have its domain withdrawn. This brave, nay, foolhardy commitment could conceivably result in carnage across national, local government and miscellaneous hanger-on .gov.uk sites - and we can perhaps look forward to a more overtly outsourced future containing sites such as homeoffice.tv, mod.cn and basildon.eu.

Or not. UK Government web sites may not generally be a great deal of use when it comes to basic objectives such as communication, reference, organisation and consistency, but the major sites generally either achieve the guidelines or come sufficiently close for them not to find the December 2008 deadline particularly challenging. So they're accessible already, and we can all be confused by them on a level playing field.* But a Southampton University study last year found that 61 per cent of Government and local council web sites did not comply with the guidelines, and it seems reasonable to expect that quite of number of sites beyond the major central Government ones still fail to make the grade.

So unless they've pulled their socks up by 2009, they all get culled? Again, probably not. The threat of withdrawal appears in the "Minimum level of accessibility" section of a consultation on Delivering Inclusive Websites, available at the Cabinet Office site. This states: "Continuing standalone sites must achieve this level of accessibility by December 2008. Websites which fail to meet the mandated level of conformance shall be subject to the withdrawal process for .gov.uk domain names, as set out in Naming and Registering Websites (TG101)."

And what and where is TG101? This is not immediately obvious, not even to the public sector web gurus, who (you'll note from the discussion at this link), do however manage to turn up this page, also at the Cabinet Office and clearly labeled out of date and archive only. But hey, it's all we've got. In essence, it seems to suggest that if a web site is complained about, and if it fails checks made three times in 90 days, then it gets the push.

Which probably means there will be no widespread massacre, and that the worst that will happen is that a couple of sites will have a shot put across their bows, but will clean up their acts before the axe falls. The upside for the Government here is that the users will help it find .gov.uk sites it had to all intents and purposes forgotten about, and identify all of the non-compliance issues it had missed for it. Web 2.0 participative Internet in action.

The consultation was posted on the Cabinet Office site in the last week or so, and runs until November 13th. Check the authorship date on the document and you'll find it was 14th May. e-Government in action. ®

* Example: Google cabinet office accessibility and you get this link top, www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/e-government/ resources/handbook/introduction.aspx, which at time of writing bounces you straight through to a page that doesn't just tell you that the page is missing, but that the page that's supposed to tell you the page is missing, is missing. Or at least that's what we think the 'can't find custom 404' 404 page is telling us. We'd guess that the Cabinet Office paid large amounts of money to bring you news of this multi-tiered failure.

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