Manchester United: Top of the web accessibility league?

by : Trenton Moss

A while ago Manchester United launched a separate accessible version of their website, There's been lots of publicity surrounding this accessible website and it even picked up an award. This accessible version doesn't offer as much content as the main website but it has all the accessibility features you could dream of: resizable text, ALT tags, screen reader optimisation etc.

Wow! Everyone should make a separate accessible website for disabled people, right? Wrong.

Buffet - no one's happy

Last week I went to an all-you-can eat buffet. The tables were on the ground floor but the buffet was situated on the first floor, up a flight of steep stairs. In order to serve their disabled customers, the restaurant had decided to offer an alternative version of the buffet, with most of the main dishes, on the ground floor.

The non-disabled customers weren't happy that they had to walk up and down those stairs just to get some food; the disabled guests weren't happy at not being able to eat any pickles (they weren't deemed popular enough to be placed on the ground floor buffet); and the waiters were unhappy that they had to work so much harder to maintain two separate buffets. Plus, they're being told by their manager that the ground floor buffet should eventually offer all the same food as the upstairs regular buffet, which means even more work for them!

What a ridiculous situation! If only the restaurant had set up a travelator to get to the buffet then the non-disabled guests wouldn't be unhappy about climbing those stairs, disabled guests wouldn't feel marginalised and the waiters wouldn't have to do the same job twice. And from what I hear travelators are quite cheap and easy to install nowadays. - no one's happy

Actually, I never went to this restaurant; in fact, it doesn't even exist, except as a metaphor for the Manchester United website. The buffet on the first floor is their main website, a pain for non-disabled users due to its high inaccessibility: Menus rely on JavaScript (not supported by 5% of Internet users); ALT tags are missing from images (just one in four UK Internet users are on broadband - users on slow connections may turn off images to speed up download time); and usability is incredibly poor.

In the upstairs buffet part of the Man Utd website there are over 100 choices in the navigation menu. The downstairs buffet,, has eight. That's a lot of pickles being withheld.

Then there are the waiters/web developers, having to manage two buffets/websites, and ultimately they're expected to provide the same amount of food/information to both.

Man Utd have got it all wrong

What Manchester United has done goes against the whole concept of web accessibility. The positive press coverage they're getting for their separate accessible website is actually damaging to the promotion of web accessibility as a whole - if companies think they have to go to these extremes to make their website accessible then it will surely discourage them to do so. To top it all off,, although I'm sure is fully accessible to disabled and blind people, doesn't even pass the W3C Priority 2 accessibility checkpoints!

So come on, Manchester United, ditch this ‘alternative’ accessible website and fix up your main website so that it's accessible to everyone, both disabled and non-disabled. It'll save you time and money in the long run and there really isn't that much you need to do. Web accessibility isn't rocket science and doesn't have to be taken to the extreme lengths it's been taken to here. It's often just a case of a bit of tweaking here and there. You certainly don't need to make a whole new website.