A basic guide to PAS 78

As Head of Accessibility at Nomensa, Léonie Watson is a major voice in the accessibility industry who frequently campaigns to ensure that the Internet accessible for all. Before being published, Léonie was invited to join the review panel with provided industry consensus on Publicly Available Specification 78 (PAS 78).

What is PAS 78?

PAS 78 is a best practice guide to commissioning accessible websites. Published by the British Standards Institute (BSI) in 2006, it offers advice and information on a number of key topics around the issue of web accessibility.

Aimed at people who are responsible for buying or managing websites, PAS 78 is useful for people involved in the web, from Web Developers to Communications Directors, who need to know more about web accessibility.

Written in a plain, no nonsense style, it is a non-technical document that assumes no prior knowledge and is freely available from the BSI in a number of formats.

What does it include?

PAS 78 covers all of the key topics of web accessibility. Beginning with simple explanations of common industry terms, it moves on to explain the general principles of web accessibility.

Among the general principles, there is information on:

  • Upholding internationally recognised guidelines and specifications, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG);
  • Typical content formats found on websites;
  • Authoring tools, used to develop websites;
  • Involving people with disabilities in the development process.

There is considerable information on the assistive devices and technologies used by people with disabilities to access computers and the Internet. This is followed by clear advice on developing an accessibility policy, or statement for a website.

Many key web technologies are also discussed, in terms of accessibility, including PDF, Flash, Style Sheets and multimedia.

Testing for web accessibility is discussed in detail, including practical guidance on:

  • Developing a test plan;
  • Determining technical and usable accessibility;
  • Automated and manual testing;
  • Expert review;
  • The importance and practicalities of user testing;
  • Maintaining accessibility.

The impact of PAS 78

Although the names of the BSI and Disability Rights Commission (DRC) give the PAS 78 some prestige, it is not compulsory, so the impact is yet to be seen.

Nevertheless, PAS 78 offers sensible advice on contracting external web design and accessibility agencies. A useful checklist of criteria for selecting a suitable agency is provided which advises people how to approach an agency and how to determine their skill, knowledge and experience.