Website accessibility is serious business. You could be blocking up to 20% of your customers and find yourself in court at the same time.
“Its 2014, what we’re talking about now in simple terms is the digital equivalent of a wheel chair ramp.” Amanda Mackay of REM Consulting says, “You wouldn’t deny people access to a building, so why deny them access to public knowledge.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission states “Individuals and organisations providing information and services via the World Wide Web need to think about how they make their websites and other web resources accessible to people with a disability. One in five Australians has a disability, and the proportion is growing. The full and independent participation by people with a disability in web-based communication and online information delivery not only makes good business and marketing sense, but is also consistent with our society’s obligations to remove discrimination and promote human rights.”
Vivienne Conway from new Perth startup Web Key IT believes that it’s not only the right thing to do and the smart thing to do but it’s also the law. All Australian Government and Business websites need to be WCAG 2.0 compliant under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
I must admit, this all sounded a bit like bureaucracy to me, and I was sceptical. Startups and online business generally have enough to worry about without trying to comply with yet another legislation that can be costly to implement or maintain.
But listening to Vivienne and newly appointed ally Amanda Mackay from REM Consulting I could see other benefits to ensuring compliance.
If your site is not accessible then it’s probably not rating as well in Google for a start, bots can’t see pictures or watch and listen to videos. Then of course there’s the human side, it took a long time for wheel chair access to businesses to become commonplace, and I think website accessibility has a way to go as well.
Here’s a short list of common website accessibility mistakes people make.
- Images should have valid ALT text.
- Skip repetitive links.
- Form controls should have labels.
- Colour should not be essential.
- Multimedia should have equivalent audio descriptions.
Vivienne Conway can be contacted via her website at http://www.webkeyit.com/ .
What are your thoughts? Be sure to comment and give this startup your rating. Watch the interview or read the transcript below.
SN: Please tell us a bit about yourself.
VC: My name is Vivienne Conway and I’m the director of Web Key IT and I’m just finishing a PhD in website accessibility at Edith Cowen University. I started Web Key IT a couple of years ago – about two and a half (2 ½) years ago because I realized that there was nobody or very few people in the field who were qualified to decide whether a website was accessible or not.
SN: So tell me some more about WebKey IT, what does it do?
VC: We audit websites. We also offer consultation. We look at the website; we have a group of testers and we decide whether or not it meets the established guidelines.
SN: What has the response been so far?
VC: A lot of our work – the main part of our work has been the government because the government has a – it’s called the National Transition Strategy to get government to make their website accessible and lead by example so that the corporates, non-profits, etc. will follow suite.
SN: What is the potential for your startup in terms of scale and reach.
VC: Well I think there’s huge potential obviously because it’s something I’ve put a lot of effort into. I think that most people are going to realize that having somebody tell them whether or not they can reach their full audience is going to be helpful because they can get 20% more customers or viewers for their website.
SN: Do you have any investors at this stage, or are you looking for investment?
VC: At the moment the business has been solely funded by my husband and myself. He’s sort of a silent director – so there’s myself and my husband as directors. At this point we haven’t seen a need for it; it may come as we go along but at this point it’s been possible to do things ourselves.
SN: Do you have revenue at this stage?
VC: Yes, we’ve been busy working. The first six months while we were getting set up was very quiet but then we got work with the Department of Finance and that was the start of it and our reputation has been getting out there and we’re getting lots of work.
SN: How did you launch your startup?
VC: I just started working and people that knew me knew what I was doing; the federal government knew what I was looking at doing and they’ve been really supportive.
SN: Is this a full time startup, if not, how do you juggle a job and a startup?
VC: At the moment I’m a full time PhD student until probably the end of this month so I’ve been having to do this with the assistance of employees so I’ve been the director and heading it up and doing most of the face-to-face with clients but I have a team of ten part time staff and they do the testing. I’ve got a business manager and a projects manager and she manages the staff for me while I’m busy finishing my PhD but I expect that as soon as I finish that it will be pretty much full time for me.
SN: What’s the next step for you and this startup?
VC: The next step is really trying to reach corporate Australia with the message. We want them to know that, as I mention, that they can get 20% more business because there’s one in every five people in Australia has a disability that in some way affects their ability to work, study or to get around and these people use the internet, these people use businesses, these people buy products and if the websites aren’t done so they can use them properly then companies are missing out on the business. People vote with their feet; they’ll go to someone whose website works better for them. So we want to reach corporate Australia, to let them get the message and also to tell them there is some litigation risks to them if they don’t do it.
SN: What are you most excited about at the moment?
VC: Launching it to corporate Australia really because at the moment it’s been very much government because they have been told they have to do this whereas corporate Australia have been very slow getting the message and so what’s really exciting is the people that we’ve been working with trying to help us reach out to corporate Australia and to let them know that we can help them to get their websites to work better.
SN: What is your biggest fear at the moment?
Oh, probably landing flat on my face! I think the biggest fear is that people in corporate Australia won’t take it seriously. We’ve heard the attitude “I’ll just wait and see if I get fined and then I’ll do something”. It’s kind of like pirating CDs; people that just did copies for themselves figured “well I’m never going to get sued, it’s going to be ok”. So smaller businesses are the same; they tend to think “well nobody is going to come after me, they’re going to go after the really big guys first” but all it takes is a complaint – it doesn’t matter if it’s Joe’s garage or the Prime Minister’s website because a complaint goes straight to Australian Human Rights Commission so it doesn’t matter what the size is. My biggest fear is that corporate Australia won’t take it seriously.
SN: Who do you see is your biggest competitor?
VC: Vision Australia are in the same field. Vision Australia obviously their primary focus is vision disabilities and we believe that there’s a lot more people out there than just those with vision disabilities. They do incorporate some other testing as well but our idea is a more holistic approach.
SN: Startup News understands you have an announcement to make?
VC: Yes we’re really excited that we’re going to be working with REM Consulting and it’s important that we work with an organization that wants to help us get the message out and to government as well because then we can work through the Common Use Agreement with them but also to corporate because they have a bigger corporate reach and trying to market, as I mention, to corporate is quite difficult and we’re really excited that REM is wanting to work with us.
SN: Hello Amanda Mckay from REM Consulting, how do you feel about working with Vivienne And Web key IT?
AM: I’m incredibly grateful. I’m very excited about the future – I’m eager to work with Vivienne Conway of Web Key IT. The strategic alliance that we’ve formed between REM Consulting and Web Key IT I believe can reach the masses that really need to hear these messages. The thing that tickled my fancies so much is the fact that in this day and age there’s still somebody out there trying to make this world a better place and if I can be a part of that, I’m incredibly grateful.
SN: How will REM Consulting assist Web Key IT?
AM: Part of the ways that REM Consulting will be assisting Web Key IT is through the CUA which is the Common Use Agreement which is in place to facilitate different services that need to be provided to government entities. REM will also be assisting her through publicity, marketing, also through different ideas really and just rallying up the support of the good people within the community who also want to make the world a better place.
Obviously the more successful any business entity becomes, the more of a responsibility that they have within the community so I would love to see some of those great corporate names stand up and recognize this opportunity to be the leaders; to change the world for the better.
I think these corporate entities have an opportunity to gain a great deal of publicity but it’s up to them whether that’s going to be in a positive or negative light.
SN: What are your thoughts on website accessibility?
AM: Well, really – look, its 2014 – what we’re talking about now, in simple terms, is the digital equivalent of a wheelchair ramp. You wouldn’t deny people access to a building so why deny them access to public knowledge.
SN: Back with Vivienne, we want to hear any comments or thoughts you have in general.
VC: One of the things that I have found really, really helpful is using seniors for employees and I think that that’s something we’re seeing a lot more emphasis in our communities now is the involvement for people who are recently retired or have been retired for quite a while.
When I’m recruiting for staff I look for two different things; one is a background with some technical knowledge which is really helpful or empathy for people with disabilities and understanding that it’s just not another government bureaucracy thing gone mad but that this really changes people’s lives. So I look for people that have that empathy and I’m finding that very much in seniors that because of their live experiences and because they’re also getting old and they’re finding that it’s harder to see or it’s harder to get around; they really understand the issue.
I’m not sure if I should mention that situation with one of our user testers and this will probably help demonstrate what is really important.
This lady has been living in South Wales; she has been very disabled all her life – being completely dependent upon other people and she’s never had a job, she’s never been able to take herself to the grocery store, the bank or anything else. She decided she wanted to learn how to use a computer but she has no use of her hands. She took herself to a training centre, the digital accessibility centre where they teach how to use assistive technology; they taught her how to use a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking which is voice activation software so now she’s so good at it that they hired her. So she’s surfing the net, watching YouTube videos, sending emails, researching products, ordering her groceries, doing her banking and for the first time in her life at 62 is earning a living.
To me, that makes it worthwhile getting up in the morning. It means that people’s lives change for as little as less than a thousand dollars’ worth of software – completely changed her life. What would have happened if she would have had that a few years ago?
To me, that’s sort of the reason why we do what we do as people like her that could lead really meaningful lives, who have been stopped up to now because they haven’t had the right technology before.