Popular “instant site” platform breaks accessibility law

 

You know those adverts for “instant site builders”? The ones that make you throw things at the telly? I take the position that they’re not all bad: after all, they skim away the kind of clients who think that a web site is worth less than £100 per year. You would not want to work with them anyway.

Sadly, “instant sites” become a problem when publicly funded organisations, such as government agencies or third sector groups, decide to use them. Many of us have turned away publicly funded prospects who wanted all sorts of advanced functionality added on to their £5 per month “instant site” and would not take “I’m sorry, what you want is not possible on the platform you are using” for an answer. As always, those rejections are not sour grapes on the part of professional designers. Where public money is concerned, accessibility compliance is a factor, and you are exposing yourself to liability by taking on a development role for a site which cannot be made legally compliant. When the organisation is inevitably pulled up for a lack of accessibility compliance, they will no doubt blame the developer who could not accomplish magic rather than themselves for choosing an inadequate platform.

Recently “instant site builder” Wix ran a poll on whether to add accessibility to future iterations of the product. The poll was a response to a number of growing concerns about the platform’s lack of basic accessibility compliance. These concerns stretch back at least two years. We are not talking about advanced coding wizardry here: this is a matter of asking Wix to use basic, simple, standards-compliant code. Yet apparently that’s not possible, and they continue to frame accessibility as a feature which could be included in future “in priority according to demand”, as if disabled access was a popularity contest.

Wix’s stance caused disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold to correctly observe that any public sector organisation, or group receiving public funding which is covered under disability law, should not be using Wix, or any similarly deficient “instant site builder”, for their web sites.

For their part Wix said “We assure you that we treat this issue very seriously. Our developers are devoted to finding a solution & incorporate these features into our service.” That of course is customer service jibberish, not a promise to comply with their legal obligations as soon as possible.

Lainey’s observation holds true for any country which has an accessibility law on the books, and not just the US where Wix is based. If a web site is paid for out of the public purse, and/or serves a function which qualifies under disability law, it needs to be accessibility compliant. If the cheap-and-simple “instant site platform” in use cannot be made compliant, its owners need to find another platform – ideally a self-managed one which has built in basic accessibility compliance from the start.

Accessibility is not a bolt-on feature, it’s not a premium extra, and it’s not a difficult endeavour. It’s how your web sites should be built from the start, and a legitimate professional developer will help you to accomplish that. Blocking disabled users from access to taxpayer-funded web sites for the sake of a cheap platform is as illegal as it is callous.

About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.