A couple of months ago I posted in praise of cheap-as-chips comment engines Echo and Disqus – then followed up pointing out some of the potential downsides. Chief among them was accessibility, and I promised to share the results of an audit commissioned by BIS. Those results are now in, available on Scribd, and are already the top ranked result on Google for ‘Disqus accessibility’ – so this ought to get their attention.
You can also grab this as a straight Word doc if you’d rather.
The full audit of the BIS website found stuff wrong with both Echo and Disqus, but I’ve chosen to focus on the more prevalent of the two plugins here. (As well as being favoured by BIS, Disqus is now well ensconced into the blogs at the FCO and, more recently, cropped up on Stephen Hale’s blog at the Department of Health).
While it came as no surprise that there were issues, I confess to being a bit surprised by just how many. Clearly little or no consideration has been given to accessibility in Disqus’s design: it just wasn’t a priority for the developers compared to, say, usability and interoperability – on which counts it wins big.
So what does this mean for the use of Disqus by public sector web managers, whose sites have to be squeaky clean on accessibility?
In my view it means we can still use it, but with care, doing the following as an absolute minimum:
- limit its use, thinking carefully about when and where it is appropriate to use it, and for how long
- ‘fess up, with a clear note of non-conformance in the site’s accessibility statement and wherever the plugin is used
- provide accessible alternatives, both for reading comments from others and submitting your own
I still stand by the fact that the benefits of these kind of tools are considerable, and the drawbacks are worth living with compared to the alternative – about a teacher or nurse’s salary worth of development costs to implement the equivalent functionality on an enterprise CMS.
I’d welcome your thoughts, as ever.