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Many Websites Fall Short of Basic Accessibility Standards, Study Shows

New York, Dec 06, 2006

A United Nations-commissioned survey released yesterday revealed that many websites do not meet minimum accessibility standards for people with disabilities. The study looked at one hundred widely-used websites from twenty countries considered to have well-established Internet infrastructures in place; the vast majority fell short of offering basic accessible design functions that help to make the World Wide Web available to roughly 600 million people with disabilities worldwide.

The survey studied popular websites from the travel, government, retail, media and finance sectors. All sites were measured up against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of accessibility standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WCAG are part of a series of standards published by W3C to promote Web accessibility for people with physical, auditory, cognitive or visual impairments.

The guidelines provide recommendations for Web developers on how to make websites more understandable and navigable to this sector of the population. Included among the many guidelines are general principles for auditory and visual content, language usage, as well as context and orientation information.

To meet the W3C standards, websites must provide textual descriptions of graphic content so that the visually impaired can “read” information via screen reader software that translates text into electronic speech. Ninety-three percent of the websites studied failed to meet these guidelines.

Another ninety-eight percent did not follow programming code standards, which lay the framework for accessibility. Nearly three-quarters of the sites fell short because they relied heavily on JavaScript for functionality, which does not work with some screen readers. And eighty-nine percent did not use document structures that facilitate easier navigation for visually impaired people.

According to the survey, government, retail, and finance sites consistently offered the highest level of accessibility, although only three sites—those of the Spanish government, the German chancellor, and the British prime minister—achieved a basic level of accessibility.

The twenty countries profiled in the study were: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The study was released in conjunction with the International Day of Disabled Persons, observed annually by the United Nations. The theme of this year’s observance, “e-accessibility” will form the basis of the U.N.’s disability efforts throughout coming year. Later this month, the U.N. General Assembly is expected to approve the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls for States Parties to promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies, including the Internet. The document also urges the private sector to implement similar measures.

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