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Guest Blogger



01/07/2013

Unleashing the Potential of Fix the Web

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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. Project Manager, Gail Bradbrook of Citizens Online, outlines the resources required to keep this project going.

Background

Following an investment of GBP50,000 by the Nominet Trust in early 2010, Fix the Web (www.fixtheweb.net) was developed as a grass roots solution to web accessibility issues. The project was launched in November 2010, in beta version, to test its approach. Fix the Web (FTW) continues to grow in usage and reach despite not receiving further funding since January 2010. FTW has demonstrated its potential to game change the accessibility agenda and has received widespread support as a result.

Citizens Online, a small UK-based charity, has carried the project for two years but has been unable to fully harness the support on offer and thus realize the potential of FTW. This is because some requirements for help have not yet been made available. This article outlines the areas that need resourcing within Fix the Web and calls on the accessibility community and funders to come together in support of this project, for our joint goal of Web and software accessibility. Citizens Online is open to another organization taking over the central management of FTW.

What Does Fix the Web Unlock?
Fix the Web (FTW) is an innovative, crowd sourcing approach to web accessibility. Persons living with disabilities are able to report accessibility issues in less than 60 seconds, using either twitter, email, an online form or a downloadable toolbar. Volunteers acting as complaint handlers ensure the issue is raised with the website or software owners and signposting to expertise is offered. FTW thus raises awareness of the accessibility issue with website owners, commissioners and developers, as well as the volunteers who may be relatively new to accessibility.

Since it has been launched Fix the Web has achieved the following:

  • 2306 Websites reported
  • 837 Volunteers signed up
  • 236 Reporters signed up (+ further reporting anonymously)
  • 128 Fixed websites
  • 187 Website owners agreeing to do something at a later date
  • 467 Website owners having their awareness raised
  • Over 250 items of media coverage
  • 2069Tweets about FTW

Current Strengths of FTW model

  • Grass roots basis - enabling the voice of the user and the issues that matter to them
  • Ease of reporting – one line is sufficient in first instance
  • Crowd sourcing both awareness raising and fixing accessibility, each email from the site raises issues of both business and case (carrot) and legal case (stick) for compliance
  • Low barrier to entry volunteering opportunity
  • Potential to cross fertilise accessibility experts with those new to accessibility who need their awareness raising, training and mentoring
  • Great story – coverage quite easy to achieve, sponsors highlighted in every action from the site, Stephen Fry backs it
  • Support from the accessibility community
  • Generation of data that is useful for companies, the accessibility community and legislators
  • Once completed, site is low cost to run. Feeding back on site is easy.
  • Spin off benefits of raising awareness of potential of disabled people to go online and signposting disabled people online to tech support

Current weaknesses and potential mitigations

  • No senior champion for the project – volunteers or suggestions?
  • Steering group dormant – leadership of project needs to gear up
  • UK focussed / only in English – needs fully globalising
  • Success of project needs evidencing – academic review needed
  • Success of project not shared on website - needs case studies + review
  • Volunteers are lonely – need to connect them to each other and experts directly
  • Volunteers are not currently trained – embed training in the system
  • Site is still in beta – site needs updating and design improving
  • Feedback from volunteers and reporters has not been implemented – review suggestions made, ask for further feedback and implement changes

With partnership working plus a period of development and focused PR, FTW could achieve the following:

  • FTW is a sustainable global project providing tangible benefits to accessibility stakeholders worldwide (disabled people, ICT professionals, online businesses, global and regional bodies, NGO’s and professional bodies)
  • FTW is the global database for the reporting of problems of accessibility, generating quality and quantity of information. 100,000 reports are received annually. 
  • Reports generated are used by large, online organisations to manage their ongoing accessibility
  • Reports also trigger an understanding by the wider online world (commissioners, owners and developers) of the need for accessibility, as a moral, legal and business issue
  • For each accessibility report received: 98% get through to the appropriate owner, 60% trigger an increase in accessibility understanding, 30% are noted for solutions at a later date, 20% result in a fix
  • Through changing the culture around web accessibility, key measures of web accessibility globally improve annually and FTW is seen as a central factor in improvement
  • FTW enables the training of 1000 volunteers, so they have deeper knowledge and skills around accessibility.
  • FTW actively connects those new to web accessibility with specific expertise to extend the network of accessibility enabled professionals by 100% year on year.

The project needs an input of energy to help it realise its potential and Citizens Online (the charity that runs the project) is calling for potential partners to be in touch for information on how they might get involved. Contact gail@citizensonline.org.uk or visit the website, www.fixtheweb.net, for more information.