Posted in Discussion Questions

Web Accessibility Statements: Failure of Corporate Social Responsibility within Businesses

Chapter nine of Meloncon’s Rhetorical Accessibility has to do with Web Accessibility Statements (WACs) and how some businesses get away with providing minimal to sometimes nothing to meet with requirements of the law. The issue began in 2006 when the UN drafted the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Included in the document was the requirement for full accessibility of the world wide web. This would mean that businesses would be required to provide accessibility sections of their webpage to assist PWDs with the navigation and use of the webpage. A study in Europe comparing 55 government webpages with 55 corporation’s webpages showed that these regulations were far from being met. The study found that there were “considerable differences in the presence, execution, and quality of accessibility statements between the two sectors.” Businesses were not being held to the same standard that the governments had been placing on themselves.

To tackle this issue you need to begin with the definition of a Web Accessibility Statement which the text describes as “declarations on a website, produced by the web developer… about the accessibility of the website to disabled people and others with accessibility needs.” WACs are meant to serve PWDs. Some WACs from different companies fail to do just this but are still being passed by regulation. Testing of the WACs on companies was found to have been done poorly or incorrectly. This allowed many of these companies to have nonexistent or noneffective WACs on their webpages. In a study of 20 random Fortune 500 companies it was found that 55% of the companies possessed a WAC on their webpage, while three of these companies excluded the WAC from their United States webpage. Farther examination of these companies showed that their WACs were failing regulation even when they were passed.

These companies examined in the study were failing in three categories required to provide an effective WAC. These requirements are as follows: audience awareness, navigational design, and relevance of the content. The WACs examined did not speak the same language as the audience it was intended for. The writing on the pages resembled that on the rest of the webpage including over extensive information about the companies pride and history. The needless information alienates its intended audience and thus does not establish consubstantiality within the rhetoric of the statement. These WACs would also be located on the homepage in hard to find locations making navigation for PWDs extremely difficult. Those suffering from poor vision or arthritis, for example, would be forced to take longer finding the link and thus getting the aid they need. Navigation is key to providing accessibility. Only 10% of the webpages looked at had the accessibility statement on their homepage and none of them were found on the header of the page. The last requirement, relevance of content, was most commonly failed because the WACs were not user orientated and lacked instructions for using assisting technologies. The WACs they found seemed to be written solely to apply to the laws regulating WACs and not assist those PWDs wanting to access the sites.

The Chapter calls for businesses to fix the issue by incorporating rhetorical boundaries on the writing of these WACs. Developers are being targeted to write WACs more effectively. Some of the ways that I have found they are doing this is through open education on how to write these statements. By searching “web accessibility statements” online, anyone can learn from an array of universities and public education sites that address these very issues and teach developers the rights and wrongs of writing WACs.  Below is a link to an online generator that removes filler writing from the WAC and only includes necessary information to suit both the requirements of the law as well as those of PWDs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is at fault for this issue? What needs to change, the businesses or regulations?
  2. Ineffective WACs make accessibility to these webpages an issue for PWDs. If rhetoric is involved in corporate social responsibilities and public relation standards, shouldn’t the unethical and illogical use or non use of WACs break the requirements placed upon companies by not only the government but also by the company itself? How do we as scholars of rhetoric address this issue and hold these companies accountable to their own standards?
  3. This is a great example of professional writing changing the business and legal world through the use of rhetoric. Can you think of any other instances in which professional writing influences change such as this?



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