IT professionals need to ensure they have the skills to develop websites that are accessible to disabled users, according to the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).
Commenting on a report by the commission into website accessibility earlier this month, DRC chairman Bert Massie also called for a standard for web development to ensure organisations comply with equal access laws.
The DRC survey of 1,000 government, business and leisure sites found that the majority of websites fail to provide for the needs of disabled users.
Common problems cited by disabled people using the web included cluttered and complex page structures and confusing navigation mechanisms.
"The government should consider some sort of accreditation for web developers," said Massie, who warned that UK companies face legal action if they do not ensure their websites comply with equal access laws.
"Web developers should be consulting disabled people throughout the process of creating sites," said Massie. "This campaign is going to work, and over the next few years the developers not prepared to look at access issues will not get work."
The steps that online service providers are expected to take include converting text into speech, making forms accessible via technology to guide users through sites and providing text equivalents for important images.
Although there are guidelines for web development, such as the World Wide Web Consortium's Content Accessibility Guidelines, the DRC has called for these to be updated and for better training to be given to IT staff.
Recommendations in the DRC report include incorporating modules on disability awareness in training courses for website developers; involving disabled users at an early stage in the design consultation process; and companies encouraging good practice on web accessibility.
Lisa Halabi, a usability and accessibility specialist at consultancy The Usability Company, called for IT staff to be given more training to ensure compliance with equal access laws.
"Many web developers have heard about the guidelines and may already be familiar with them to a degree," she said. "However, the guidelines can be vague and are not prescriptive enough at an implementation level."
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