A scheme that accredits websites as usable by disabled people has been launched by BCS charity AbilityNet and the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB).
The See it Right with UseAbility scheme involves human testers with a variety of disabilities rather than just automated testing. Organisations that act on all the recommendations from the assessment can display an accessibility logo.
AbilityNet said organisations with sites inaccessible to disabled people are in effect turning away 15% of their potential UK customers - eight million people - with a total spending power of £50bn a year. They also risk being taken to court.
In addition, research by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has shown that sites that are difficult for disabled people to access also turn off non-disabled visitors.
The RNIB has assessed websites for use by visually impaired people since 2000, and AbilityNet has offered services as part of its work on advising disabled people, employers and carers on IT. Both will continue to provide these services separately if asked.
"We are confident that the new See it Right with UseAbility service and logo will increase awareness of the issues and satisfy a growing demand for independently assessed user testing of websites as part of an accessibility audit," the partners said.
The scheme was welcomed by the DRC, which last year examined 1,000 websites run by UK organisations and found 81% failing to meet the basic guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative, which have become an ad hoc international standard.
"The DRC welcomes initiatives such as See it Right with UseAbility award," said DRC chief executive Bob Niven. "We believe the inclusion of disabled people in evaluating accessibility sets an example of good practice. Our own investigation into web accessibility found that nearly half the issues encountered by disabled testers would not have been identified by an automated audit alone.
"The inclusive approach used by the new See it Right with UseAbility award scheme therefore builds on these findings and makes a positive contribution toward improving web accessibility for disabled people."
Niven's views were underlined by existing users of AbilityNet's services. Adrian Barclay, project manager at the Citizens Advice Bureau, said, "AbilityNet carried out disabled user testing on our corporate website and it was so beneficial that we intend to extend this testing to all our sites."
Mark Bowman, head of electronic media at BAE Systems, said, "A range of interesting and useful issues arose from the disabled testing which have enabled us to make significant improvements in both accessibility and usability."
AbilityNet said many of the accessibility issues boil down to thinking about users - disabled or not - rather than clever design. AbilityNet's web consultancy manager, Robin Christopherson, said, "When we seek information, services or goods online we are not seeking a life changing experience but speed and efficiency."