Most UK Web sites break accessibility laws

Most UK Web sites are breaking laws designed to make the Internet more accessible, says the latest research

Most UK businesses are failing to meet the government legislation designed to make Web sites accessible to people with disabilities, according to new research.

The Web Accessibility Study 2004 found that 79 percent of the 105 UK Web sites tested failed basic compliance testing, with financial and travel sites doing the worst job. Local government fared better, but 40 percent of these sites also failed to meet accessibility standards.

If most people are breaking a law it often means there is something wrong with the legislation, but Deri Jones, chief executive of SciVisum -- the Web site testing firm which commissioned the study -- said that the gap between the legislation and the real world is because the entire area is still so new.

"Most people simply aren't aware of the issue," said Jones. "There is a gap between the law coming in and people catching up, so there is nothing to panic about, but people are going to be more aware of accessibility in Web site design."

Under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, UK organisations are required to take 'reasonable steps' to ensure online services are accessible to people with disabilities. The main issue for Web designers is to ensure that people who are visually impaired can use text-reading software to convert Web pages to sound, and hear Web content being read to them.

The high rate of law-breaking is at odds with the rate of prosecutions, which is still zero. "There have been no cases where the law has been followed up," said Jones. "The people trying to steer that are the RNIB. Six months ago they said they were looking for large companies. None of those test cases have come up, so they may be finding it tricky to get a good test case. If the guilty party changes their site, there's no case," said Jones.

The RNIB has an Accessible Website Consultancy is part of the EuroAccessibility Consortium, which is designed to harmonise the way accessibility standards are applied to Web sites throughout the European Union. The initiative could lead to the development of a European-wide "e-accessibility" mark or logo for Web sites, similar to the RNIB's See it Right Accessible Website logo, but applied throughout Europe by members of the Consortium.