Thursday, December 07, 2006

Leading Websites Disabled Unfriendly, says U.N. Study

The U.N. marked the International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3 with an interesting report that should give most webmasters and e-salesmen around the world to do bit of rethinking before presenting their estimated target figures. The report revels that most leading websites around the world do not meet the accepted international standards of web accessibility, therefore losing a significant portion of their intended audience by not being fully accessible to all people. Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the www.

The survey, conducted by the British accessibility firm Nomensa, used the globally recognized benchmarks for accessibility adopted in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Websites, according to the guidelines, must allow users, particularly those who used web readers, to easily adjust text size, to easily navigate through a website, to easily differentiate between colors, to offer an alternative to JavaScript that prevents many people from accessing key information, and by allowing keyboard shortcuts.

Nomensa studied 100 leading websites for travel, finance, media, Government and retail shopping in 20 IT savvy countries and found that only three met the basic standards for accessibility. And all three are non-commercial sites – the German Chancellor's, the Spanish Government's and the British Prime Minister's websites. But hopefully, the survey found that a quarter of the websites investigated could easily be brought into conformance with the standards for accessibility. The 20 countries that the firm studied are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Kenya, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.

The survey revels the fact that many websites are not even close to reaching the Internet’s full potential for use by persons with disabilities. An accessible website does not necessarily require great expense. But the report also found that many of the websites under review were within “grasping distance” of the minimum standards.

This study should come as an eye opener to many Indian website development companies, specially the .ORGs and the ones surviving on click revenues, to tap the never-given-a-thought audience the chance to be an active part of the www. Moreover, as an U.N. official commented, fully accessible websites are not only good for persons with disabilities, they are good for everyone. Commercially speaking, there’s a glittering pasture of greens out there to be ‘mowed’. Persons with disabilities shop, they travel and they need information just like everyone else. And socially, allowing people to exercise their human rights and play their full part in the economic, social and political lives of their societies just makes good sense all around.

(Facts taken from U.N. report)