Disproportionate Burden (Webchat) Statement

  1. Introduction
  2. The case for disproportionate burden exemption
  3. Extent of site accessibility and cost to fix defects
  4. Accessibility issue (Web Content Accessibility Guideline)
  5. Impact on Associate Lectures of not making the required accessibility fixes
  6. The Accessibility Statement


Webchat is a feature available on a discrete number of web pages that allows students, or in some cases those considering becoming students, to interact with advisors via text about the subject on the page where the webchat option is available. This service is available during limited hours and currently only during certain times of the year and will vary by host page.

Webchat is only ever offered as communication channel in addition to email or telephone contact. Therefore, individuals who may have difficulties using webchat will still be able to use email or telephone to access the same level of service and support.

Back to top

The case for a disproportionate burden claim

The University’s accessibility audit has found that there are a number of areas where the webchat function is not meeting the requirements of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications (No. 2)) Accessibility Regulations 2018. The webchat function is provided by a third-party supplier, Comm100 of Canada, with whom the arrangement has been in force since late 2017, i.e. before the legislation came into force.

Just prior to September 2020, the Open University had commenced a new three-year contract with Comm100, to provide webchat. To cancel the contract at this stage would result in a disproportionate financial burden for the University, and with no guarantee that a more compliant equivalent webchat service was either currently available or could be procured.

The basis of the claim for disproportionate burden, therefore, is that given the reliance on a third-party to supply and maintain the software, it would be excessively expensive and time consuming to identify an alternative suitable supplier who was able to provide compliant software. In addition, it is important to note that no student would be disadvantaged by the continued use of webchat, given that the University’s primary methods of communication are email and telephone.

An upgraded version of the Comm100 webchat software is to be deployed April 2022, and the University will check whether accessibility has improved. Comm100 confirmed in early September 2020 that the accessibility defects listed will be added to their roadmap but cannot offer guarantees that these will be fixed. If Comm100 has not been able to remedy the situation by the end of the current contract, the University will consider alternative (compliant) suppliers for webchat.

Back to top

Extent of site accessibility

The Webchat function underwent an accessibility audit to assess the degree of compliance with WCAG guidelines, and hence the legislation. Where webchat has failed the guidelines, these are summarised further down this page.

As mentioned, the University has spoken with the suppliers and they may be able to fix some of problems, but no specific timescale or guarantee has been given. We will continue to request these changes, but until the supplier can complete this work, the disproportionate burden exemption will remain in place.

Back to top

Accessibility issue (Web Content Accessibility Guideline)

Keyboard access

Once a user is in the ‘Type a message’ text box, if they tab forwards, the link ‘Powered by Comm100’ is focused and if they tab again then the cursor disappears. The only way to get back to the ‘Type a message’ text box or links posted in the chat, is to tab backwards (Shift + Tab) which is confusing (WCAG 1.3.1). Reference W1.

The link ‘Powered by Comm100’ opens a marketing website in a new window (without any warning for keyboard users). This action takes the user away from the chat discussion and makes it difficult for them to return to the chat interface using the keyboard (WCAG 1.3.2). The supplier added fix request to their roadmap. No date given. Reference W2.

There is no way to activate the ‘End Chat’ button by keyboard, so users remain trapped in the interface until the agent finishes the chat. It is possible to close the interface using standard browser controls (Command-Shift-W) but this prevents the user from submitting feedback or requesting a transcript (WCAG 2.1.2). The supplier added fix request to their roadmap. No date given. Reference W3.

The ‘Rating’, ‘Transcript’ and ‘Send File’ buttons are not keyboard accessible (WCAG 2.1.2). The supplier added fix request to their roadmap. No date given. Reference W4.

Once an agent finishes the chat, the user moves to the next screen to submit feedback and request an email transcript. However, there is no way to rate the chat discussion from 1-5 stars using the keyboard. The ‘Submit’ button to submit feedback and the ‘Send’ button to send the email transcript don’t have any visible focus, preventing the user from seeing these buttons and knowing they are ready to activate. The supplier agrees that the submit and send button focus need a fix. Reference W5.

High contrast settings (Windows)

Using Windows high Contrast settings, the post-chat ‘Rating’ feature is not working because the user cannot select stars nor change their colour to represent ratings (WCAG 2.4.7). Supplier requested more information. Reference W6.

Colour contrast

The introductory text (Agent has joined the chat…) and confirmation text displayed after the chat is completed (e.g. Rating submitted successfully… etc), doesn’t pass colour contrast requirements (WCAG 1.4.3) Supplier may be able to provide a fix. Reference W7, W8.

Enlarged text settings

When text is resized by 200%, there are some problems with layout, text legibility and horizontal scrolling (WCAG 1.4.4). Supplier requested more information. Reference W9.

When text is resized by 200%, in Firefox the ‘End Chat’ and ‘Close’ buttons are truncated and the user can’t read the text. Microsoft Edge and Chrome display longer text messages as one character per line which makes them difficult to read. In Chrome, the ‘Send transcript’ popup is truncated within the chat window which requires the user to scroll horizontally to enter their email address (WCAG 1.4.4). Supplier requested more information. Reference W10.

Screen magnifier

The ‘End Chat’ and ‘Close’ buttons shown at the top right of the webchat window need to be shown next to the ‘Type a message’ text box. Users may not realise these buttons exist when using a screen magnifier, as they are relatively distant from the ‘Type a message’ text box where the user is focusing their attention (WCAG 1.3.1). Reference W11.

Screen reader

Users can’t access the ‘Rating’, ‘Transcript’, ‘Send File’ buttons using the keyboard. The ‘Rotor’ menu is used to provide shortcuts to lists of useful landmarks on a page like links, form controls, and headings. These buttons are not displayed within the VoiceOver ‘Rotor’ menu either under ‘Links’ or ‘Form Controls’ (WCAG 3.3.2). Requires further assessment by supplier. Reference W12.

The label for the ‘Type a message’ text box is the ‘Submit’ (arrow) button. This button has no descriptive text so when the user navigates to it, nothing is read aloud making it invisible to screen reader users. The ‘Type a message’ text box should have its own descriptive label and the ‘Submit’ button should be labelled appropriately (WCAG 3.3.2). Requires further assessment by supplier. Reference W13.

It is clear that some users will have difficulty using webchat under certain circumstances. In these instances, users will be directed to use the University’s default communication channels (email and telephone).

Back to top

Impact on students and enquirers of not making the required accessibility fixes

All potential webchat users will always have the option of contacting the University via email or telephone to access the same level of service and support. However, some users who follow a link to webchat may be impacted when trying to use this service because it is not fully accessible, resulting in a frustrating experience. Therefore, it is proposed that such links are tagged to say that this facility is not fully accessible.

In the longer term, the University hopes that any replacement webchat service procured at the end of the current contract, will be fully accessible. This is dependent on there being third-party suppliers who can provide an accessible and compatible webchat service that also meets University needs.

Back to top

The Accessibility Statement

From the above assessment, it has been determined that for the University to ensure webchat compliance with the accessibility requirements would result in a disproportionate burden. This will be explained in the student support local accessibility statement, which will list those accessibility requirements that could not be complied with. This statement will outline what accessible alternatives are available.

Back to top

Version control

This Disproportionate Burden (Webchat) Statement was updated 4 February 2022.

Back to top