The Odeon Web Site
I was just over visiting Andy Budd's blog when I saw a post concerning the Odeon cinema chain and Matthew Sommerville's accessible version of their web site. The Odeon web site has been piss poor, for want of a better phrase, for years.
Basically, unless you're looking at in Internet Explorer, standing on your head, with the wind blowing in the right direction and geese flying overhead, you can't use it. You can see the home page (well, splash screen), but nothing past it. We've complained for years, and their excuse has always been that a new version "was coming."
Two years this has gone on, so Matthew, being an enterprising young thing, built them an accessble version (not the only site he's done either), pulling data straight from the Odeon web site. Unfortunately, it was too successful and now Odeon, who are concerned so many of their customers are confusing Matthew's site for something they own, have demanded he take it down or he faces legal action.
This, as you may have guessed, irked me somewhat.
So, I, like Andy, have emailed Odeon and am asking all those who want an accessible version (and possibly an apology to Matthew), to email them and get everyone you know to email and post about it online. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have written a sample email (amended from Andy's orginal) you may wish to copy and paste for brevity, see below.
I was deeply saddened by the Odeon's decision to force Matthew Somerville to remove his accessible version of your site with the threat of legal action.
I am a movie-goer but I'm unable to use your web site due to my choice of computer platform and browser/browser*. This means that I am unable to book tickets online, or even view large parts of the site, leading to a reduction in the number of times I visit your cinema. It is my understanding that this accessibility problem has been ongoing for nearly two years.
I understand that it's not always easy to fix such problems, however, you do have a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act and an obligation to your customers to make your online services accessible. Matthew has done an extremely good job of creating an accessible version of your site. Rather than threaten him with legal action, wouldn't it be better to work with him in order to comply with your own legal requirements and create a more user friendly customer experience?
* - Delete as applicable - I would add disability here, but as many disabled surfer would be using a different browser anyhow, I think it's covered.
Update: There seems to be some confusion as to what I'm trying to achieve. I understand Odeon's perspective, and their actions, and I don't think they'll agree to allowing Matthew's site back, for good reasons. That's not what I'm after, what I think we should be aiming towards is convincing Odeon to make their site accessible to all, whether that be by working with Matthew or independently. If we can do this, everyone benefits and I think it would be a fitting tribute to Matthew's hard work. So fire up your favoured email application, tell all your friends, and lets get to it. They can ignore one of us, but can they ignore all of us?
Update: One of the places I sent an email to yesterday evening was the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB). Obviously they have something of a vested interest in the DDA, this is the response:
As you'll see I've copied you into an email to Tom Allison, Head Of Operations at Odeon, for him to respond directly to you, copying me in as well. I sit, with Tom, on the Cinema Exhibitors' Association's Disability Working Group, so if you don't hear anything from him, please let me know and I'll chase.
Thanks for your feedback; it's extremely valuable.
With kind regards,
Jill was also kind enough to copy me in on the email she sent to the Head of Operations at Odeon, we shall see what it brings.
Update: Y'know, I was getting a little downhearted about the apparent lack of support by some of the web community towards getting Odeon to make their site accessible. Then I followed a link from Photo Matt to the new Feedster site. While I was there I thought I'd try it and typed in 'Odeon' to find myself lifted by what it returned. So, if you've got a blog or a web site, get posting.
If anyone is doubting how long Odeon's site has been this bad, I just found someone has posted an email they received from Odeon's web team in October 2003 and the Way Back Machine has 'the new' Odeon site when it launched in July 2001.
Update: Still no news from Odeon, but Paul Scrivens of Whitespace fame has written a piece on inaccessible web sites, mentioning Odeon.
Update (19/07/2004): The BBC's Bill Thompson mentions the Odeon site and his disappointment at the way they dealt with Matthew Somerville, he also talks about accessibility law, in his latest column.
Update (21/07/2004): A week has passed since the RNIB forwarded my email to Odeon's Head of Operations. I've just emailed Jill to let her know and ask if she'd be kind enough to chase up a response.
Update (22/07/2004): I got a reply from the RNIB, not exactly what I was hoping for (see below). As I was copied in on the email to Odeon's Head of Operations I've asked if they mind if I contact him directly and put my case. I was going to offer to give them a presentation on the benefits of accessibility, where their site's falling down and what can be done to improve it, doubtful they'll take it up, but worth a go.
I'm sorry, I have had a response from Tom actually and haven't got round to forwarding it to you (partly because my computer has recently been dismantled!), but it doesn't say anything new, just that the alternative site is illegal because it was collecting peoples' personal details. To be honest this is all a bit beyond me; it's been picked up by the British Computer Association as well and I suspect there'll be all sorts of legal wrangling, which, as I say, is far beyond my scope of experience. I've attached Tom's response, but as I say, it's more of a response to me personally than an official Odeon response. However concern about this is obviously growing, so something will be done I'm sure.
Yesterday I forwarded details of both RNIB's web auditing service and that offered by Headstar, the service used by E-Access Bulletin (if you'd like me to forward a copy to you, please let me know; it's an email newsletter about IT issues for blind and partially sighted people.
With best wishes,
Incidently, Jill very kindly attached the response from Odeon:
I have passes[sic] on your feedback to our web teams.
The substitute website was illegal and we were getting a number of complaints from customers who thought it was the official website. Personal details were being collected under the "Odeon" banner, a clear breach of the data protection act and very worrying.
In addition, Mr Somerville is clearly "whipping up " support so I am sure this will not be the end of it.
Our web team is addressing the problem but in the meantime can I suggest that customers can ring our contact centre on 0871 22 44 007.
One thing, it's not Mr Somerville, Tom, it's me (and the rest of the web community) whipping up support, Matthew just left a nice polite notice on his site for those people who have now been deprived of using it.
What I'd like to know is who are the Odeon's 'web team' and what have they been doing for the last three years? They must be about in the wider web community - I appeal to you, to your sense of professionalism, FIX THE DAMN SITE.
Update (03/08/2004): Having cleared it with Jill, I decided to email Odeon's Head of Operations myself and see if I could get some answers as to the state of play. The email I sent:
Dear Mr Allison
I received your response regarding my email to the RNIB from Jill Whitehead. I, like many others, have been trying to raise awareness of Matthew Somerville's accessible Odeon site closure and (more importantly) the outstanding lack of accessibility provided by the official Odeon site. (Incidently, I would like to point out that Matthew has done nothing but display the reason for the site closure, it's been people like myself who have made some noise about it - or '"whipping up" support' as you state it).
I'm well aware and undestand Odeon's reasons for asking the site be removed. What none of us can fathom is why it was done after a year of letting it pass, and why you didn't allow Matthew to keep the remaining part of the site and just disable this functionaility.
Another thing that nobody seems capable of answering, including Odeon, is why this design has remained, largely unchanged and despite numerous customer complaints, in its current state since July 2001. Instead I note that, in your response to Jill, you state that your 'web team is addressing the problem.' This is remarkably similar to a response one of my readers had in October 2003, and a number of others have tales of similar excuses dating way back.
I have heard rumour that Odeon have indeed hired an accessibility consultancy, can you confirm this? Bearing in mind that I estimate a single designer of sufficient knowledge (the industry average) should be able to convert your exisiting site to an accessible, standards compliant form in a month or less, is there a timeline for when the new site will be launched? Perhaps you (or your design team) would care to consider working with Matthew Somerville as he has accomplished a significant part of this work already.
Incidently, there are a number of excellent benefits to making your site more accessible, not least making it easier for people who use alternative browsers or suffer from any one of a number of disabilities to use the site. It could help to cut costs in running and maintaining your site, allow for easier updating, make it compatible with future browsers, open it up to different browsing platforms (such as web TV, PDAs and mobile phones). Obviously the negatives are kind of the inverse, plus the rather large issue of an inaccessible website being illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act. I would be happy to give a presentation detailing the pros and cons, areas where the current site falls down and suggestions for how to improve it to you and/or your web team if you feel this would help.
I look forward to your response
PS - Please pass this to the appropriate person if you feel unable to respond accurately.
Update (11/08/04): Still no word from Odeon. He could be on holiday...
Update (21/09/04): Still no word from Odeon, despite a few more emails. However, I did send the Today show an email in response to a spot they did on website accessibility (see comments for more info). If you have the time and inclination, why not head over and drop them a line to try and encourage them to dedicate some more airtime to website accessibility?