Margaret Ross, professor of software quality at Southampton Institute and a BCS fellow, told the group's annual conference that in just one area of disability - blindness or partial sight - there were 1.7 million sufferers in the UK.
"The growth of Internet access means organisations need to look at their Web sites with all users in mind," she said. "In addition to the potential revenue increase, there is a legal requirement for organisations to consider all users' needs. The disability discrimination and rights commission legislation make it unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person - and that includes access to information services."
Her own and other research had found that only 25% of home pages of some leading organisations passed the automated Bobby test. This inspects a Web page for ease of access by disabled users. It uses guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium.
One study by Ross and a colleague of 100 home pages of organisations that had achieved the TickIT IT quality management standard found that only three out of 23 IT and technology companies, one out of 11 consultancies and four out 14 telecommunications companies passed the Bobby test. Only two out of 12 banks passed, and only four out of 21 manufacturing companies. Local and central government home pages came out best, with 70% passing the test.
Ross pointed also to a study of 17 banks and shop chains by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which used the Bobby test and also looked at text legibility, alternative text for images, whether frames were used, and the ease of navigation. "Only one of these well known organisations passed all the tests," she said. "Most only passed one test; some passed none at all. The three major banks did not have sites suitable for blind or partially-sighted people."
Ross said there were several reasons for poor Web site design. "There is often a need to establish or modify a site quickly. Demand for Web design and development specialists has led often to shorter training and less experience than for conventional systems developers. The lack of established methodologies for Web design and the perceived delay in applying conventional systems design to Web development could also be factors."
But she added, "Growth in the number of registered blind and partially-sighted people and of elderly potential customers of Web services should encourage organisations to consider the design of their sites. If the marketing opportunities are insufficient encouragement, the risk of prosecution and the resulting negative publicity could provide the motivation."
Testing site accessibility
What is the bobby test?
- Tests Web and intranet pages for accessibility
- Created by the not-for-profit organisation CASTwhich aims to expand the opportunities for disabled people through IT. Now owned by Watchfire.
How organisations' home pages fared in the bobby test. All 100 sites have the TickIT IT quality standard
- Three passed out of 23 IT and technology companies
- One out of 11 consultancies
- Four out 14 telecoms companies
- Two out of 12 banks
- Four out of 21 manufacturing companies
- Thirteen out of 19 local and central government sites.