The Internet has become so ubiquitous it has pervaded our daily life to such an extent that we tend to forget it is there and take it for granted. What is also taken for granted is the ease with which we access sites. But less well known are the people behind the sites who make sure those sites are accessible to everyone, including the otherwise able, the elderly. Generally ensuring a certain standard for sites is also important. In a fine example of cooperation between corporations and research institutions across Europe, researchers have combined their efforts to test web compliance. The study is an outcome of the I2WEB ('Inclusive future-internet web services') project, which is funded with almost EUR 1.9 million under the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
'Web compliance not only means optimising websites so that they can be used by disabled and older persons,' explained Dr Carlos Velasco of the Web Compliance Centre at Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) Sankt Augustin. 'Search engines such as Google also have considerable problems with faulty sites. This may make the sites impossible to find or prevent them from ranking high in search requests. That is why this issue actually deserves a high priority.'
The researchers said web accessibility has never been a priority for companies in Germany, something the project is seeking to rectify. In 2011, the scientists at the Web Compliance Centre used their analysis tools to test web compliance — in other words a website's adherence to international web standards, of the websites of German companies listed on the German stock exchange, the DAX. They discovered that 90% of the websites had substantial flaws. For instance, important data could only be found after much effort, the websites took too long to load, or they were deficiently displayed on mobile devices.
If data cannot be found, or is too difficult to find, it could negatively impact the bottom line of companies and the impact of important public services. As a result I2WEB has attracted a number of companies includingm Hewlett Packard Italia, Public-I Group and Polymedia. Other partners include the University of York (United Kingdom) and the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), as well as the National Council for the Blind of Ireland and the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST). Participating companies offer Internet television, Video On Demand (VOD), online banking services and content management systems. These sites will soon be barrier-free.
To help administrators of websites monitor their sites efficiently and effectively, the FIT computer scientists developed the "imergo Web Compliance Suite" back in 2004. The suite is comprised of a series of tools that can be integrated into content management systems and reviews websites for adherence to certain standards. These standards include accessibility but do not stop there. One could monitor a social network, such as Facebook, for certain word groups that point to illegal activities. A company could also verify if the corporate design standards were being met on all their pages. 'Typically, several content editors take care of large websites,' said Velasco. 'The suite tests whether the logo is located in the right spot on every page, for example.'
I2WEB continues on from the imergo Web Compliance Suite and has expanded into a new prototype. This new prototype contains a development environment for an Expert Viewer. Not all accessibility guidelines can be checked automatically by a software program. For instance, photographs on a website should have a suitable alternative text. While a test tool can detect whether a text exists, it cannot determine if it also 'suitably' describes what can be seen in the image. So the Expert Viewer offers a list of all relevant image texts that editors can review for the correctness of content.
One important part of the EU project is conformity with interfaces, such as when customers wish to use Video On Demand or Internet TV on their televisions. I2WEB ensures that the websites work seamlessly on all devices (if possible), and can be operated with complete accessibility.