More on Disqus and accessibility

Disqus sign on wall

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.

Here (and in full consciousness of the irony of using an embedded Scribd document) is the extract of a longer report produced by Nomensa for BIS, detailing all the issues identified with Disqus.

Accessibility of Disqus comments

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:

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.

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Comments

Interesting, and good on you for commissioning it and sharing here.

In terms of accessible fall-back options, have Disqus suggested any ways that the content of their comments database could be queried, presented and submitted to in an accessible way?

It looks like there’s an API, so in theory someone could write an AccessibleDisqus, right?

http://groups.google.com/group/disqus-dev/web/api-1-1

I’m in favour of Steph’s suggestion. I’ve long argued that making an application accessible tends to just result in a compromise. Make the content available in a documented and preferably standardised format, then develop applications that work best for the particular access group. Goes for web apps to word processors, from the visually impaired to the mobile users.

Thanks for sharing the report Neil; interesting to see nomensa’s thoughts as always accessibility. I’m in favour of your suggested disclaimer approach while alternative options are explored – maybe something for a cross government group to consider?

I see Disqus appeared last week on the new Number 10 transparency section as well.

Thanks for sharing this information, i will take a closer look at the slides on Monday. Like many third party tools that are free Disqus applied to a blog or a webpage will never be a snug fit and from your report accessibility is an issue.

Not sure if the VIP version would help resolve these problems: http://disqus.com/vip/

The price for the VIP service could be high and it is intended for use on sites that have a high amount of comments like Mashable. However you could imagine a world where a VIP version of Disqus is bought for use on not one but four government departments blogs and websites. Personally I like Disqus especially the free version. However free tools can have shortcomings and premium/pro versions can give you some leeway to perhaps address issues around for example accessibility and the way the third party tools integrates into your blog or website.

Hey Neil, Thanks for sharing the report! It is interesting to see nomensa’s thoughts as always accessibility. Hmm, I am in favour of your suggested disclaimer approach while alternative options are explored – perhaps something for a cross government group to consider or something?

I see Disqus appeared last week on the new Number 10 transparency section as well. Regards, Brandon

thanks this info

There is no doubt that cheap-as-chips comment engines Echo works really good and is well appriciated.
I wish to read more about your Disqus and it’s effect on SEO means.
Thanks alot
Frank

Hi Neil,

I’m Daniel from Disqus. Thanks for the nice things said about Disqus, but also for pointing out the areas where we do fall short.

We think these issues are important. We don’t have a lot of accessibility feedback, but the surfaced issues give us great places to start.

Thanks,
Daniel

At the launch of the BS8878 Web Accessibility Standard yesterday (7 Dec 2010) Struan Robertson from out-law.com gave a presentation. To paraphrase: they wanted to use Disqus, but after testing and seeing its accessibility problems didn’t go with it as they felt they would be liable under the Equalities Act…

What hosted comment system is best: IntenseDebate, Disqus, ECHO?…

Having once evaluated many of the comment management systems Disqus came out on top. * Disqus is relatively simple to install. * The Disqus Knowledge Bank is a great resource for providing guidance on how to use it. * Once installed, Disqus looks respe…

Thank you for the input. I have been looking at IntenseDebate and the markup seems to be a lot better than that of Disqus. ID has labels for form elements which should make it easier to use.

An interesting fact is that if Disqus was to increase accessibility thousands of websites would become a lot better wrt accessibility in one sweep.

You can vote for that issue here:

http://getsatisfaction.com/disqus/topics/is_disqus_comments_accessible

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