Ignoring disabled web access will lead to legal action, warns DRC

UK businesses risk facing legal action from disabled users unless they ensure their websites comply with equal access laws, the...

UK businesses risk facing legal action from disabled users unless they ensure their websites comply with equal access laws, the Disability Rights Commission warned yesterday.

 

At the end of a comprehensive year long examination into accessibility – covering 1,000 government, business, leisure, web services and e-commerce sites – the DRC said the majority are ignoring the needs of disabled users.

 

Only 19% of the websites met the minimum standard for web access as outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, with only two meeting level-two compliance and none achieving the highest level.

 

Website operators are leaving themselves open to legal action under the Disability Discrimination Act, under which organisations are required to make reasonable adjustments to their systems to allow people with disabilities to access them.

 

Bert Massie, chairman of the DRC, said, “The investigation was never about naming and shaming but we have had cases in Australia and sooner or later it is going to come over here. If necessary we will fund such cases. If you are going to spend money in court you may as well spend it on your website.”

 

Making sites more accessible will have wider benefits than simply meeting legislation, Massie said. “It should not be viewed as an add-on for disabled people as our research showed that making sites accessible improves usability by as much as 50%,” he said.

 

The investigation also showed that website developers have very little knowledge of accessibility guidelines, with only 9% claiming any expertise. The government should promote a formal accreditation process for website developers, Massie said.

 

Organisations should also be given help to meet the guidelines, according to Martin Greenwood, programme manager at local government association Socitm Insight. An independent testing service for website accessibility should be set up, he said.

 

Research findings and recommendations:

 

Problems commonly cited by disabled people using the web were: cluttered and complex page structures; confusing and disorienting navigation mechanisms; failure to describe images; inappropriate use of colours and poor contrast between content and background.

 

The steps that online service providers are expected to take include converting text into speech, making forms accessible via assistive technology and providing text equivalents for important images.

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