Thursday, 17 May 2007

Access to information

I thought long and hard about whether it was appropriate for me to comment on web application issues given my job, but I'm sure everyone will understand that this is just my personal opinion and not sales pitch.

Somewhere in Sheffield City council there has been a process failure that means you cannot make full use of the planning portal on a Windows XP machine without IE or in most browsers on the other operating systems.[1].
The fact that they have bothered to ensure they are at least W3C-WAI AA compliant and have gone and got the Bobby badge, suggests that they take the concept of access to data by as many people as possible at least a little seriously and it is a QA issue rather than a conscious decision to exclude people.

So what is the issue?

If you view Sheffield City Council's Planning Applications online, search through until you find the application you are interested in and pull up the details page, you get a page with a series of tabs. These tabs are produced by some javascript that rolls up the different sections of the page and this appears to work in a wide range of browsers, if you have javascript disabled, you just get the page unrolled, nothing wrong so far. The problem is the "View associated documents" button, which fires a javascript powered pop-up to give you the list of documents attached to the application (all the actual interesting bits, that if you are looking for a planning application you probably want to read).

I am failing to resist the temptation to type "why oh, why oh, why" at this point; why is it a pop-up, why is it javascript and why haven't they got it working in other browsers, apart from as previously mentioned the KHTML set. What possible reason is there for it not being a simple link to the list of files (mostly PDFs) which, pretty much by definition, will work in every web browser on the planet.

[1] I couldn't be bothered to go and try it on Vista, interestingly there is specific code to fix this specific problem for KHTML browsers like Konqueror and Safari

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