European information commissioner Viviane Reding has proposed a pan-European law that would ensure website accessibility for disabled people.
"Each member state is going its own way," Reding said. "We have to consider that this is costly for industry because they have to respond to a wide range of fragmented national standards. It also leaves disabled people without a consistent level of service that they can expect."
Reding added that World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), should be adopted by websites on a pan-European scale.
Struan Robertson, a senior associate at Pinsent Masons solicitors, told ZDNet UK on Friday that e-accessibility in the UK is already a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act. However, Robertson added that this was not well-known among businesses.
"At the moment, despite the law being in force, the proportion of highly accessible websites is poor," said Robertson. "If there were a directive, this would raise the profile of a massive problem that has to be addressed."
Robertson said companies should, as a first step, consider commissioning user testing by disabled users. "The company could ask a blind person to try to make a purchase from the site, or find a piece of information from a brochure," he said.
Companies wishing to overhaul the e-accessibility of their sites could go to the WCAG, Robertson added. "In terms of technical standards, the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are an effective blueprint in making a site accessible," he said.