UK airlines fail to make websites accessible

The UK’s top airlines are missing out on millions of pounds of revenue and risking legal action by failing to meet minimum...

The UK’s top airlines are missing out on millions of pounds of revenue and risking legal action by failing to meet minimum accessibility standards on their websites, a survey has claimed.

According to computing and disability charity AbilityNet, which carried out the survey, not one of the nine airline websites checked for accessibility using both manual and automated tools satisfied the criteria required to facilitate access for users with visual impairment, dyslexia or those unable to use a mouse.

The selected airlines - EasyJet, British Airways, Ryanair, Bmi, British European, Monarch, Virgin Atlantic and Mytravelite - are preventing up to 15% of the population from enjoying the benefits of booking their flights online and the associated advantages that this offers in terms of price and availability, AbilityNet said.

With a potential market of 1.6 million registered blind users, as well as a further 3.4 million with disabilities preventing them from using the standard keyboard, screen and mouse set-up with ease, the airlines are missing out on their share of an overall £50bn to £60bn per year buying power, the charity said.

Companies failing to address accessibility issues are also placing themselves at risk of legal action, said Shuna Kennedy, chief executive officer at AbilityNet.

"From October 2004, when extensions to the Disability Discrimination Act come into force, websites will have to be accessible as a matter of law," she said.

EasyJet’s website came out as the most accessible of the sites tested, but, in company with BA and Monarch Airlines, it could only manage a two-star rating on a five-star scale.

The remaining six were given a single star rating and dubbed "very inaccessible" by AbilityNet, with the Virgin Atlantic website deemed to have "the most serious issues of accessibility of all those tested".

AbilityNet's report said that much of the Virgin site’s content and critical functionality is embedded in interactive presentations, so that visitors to the site who cannot use a mouse, are vision impaired, or use speech output or voice recognition software, would be unable to use the site at all.

Virgin Atlantic admitted it had problems on its site but said it was working to improve accessibility.

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