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Disabled accessibility for websites still an issue for UK online retailers

An investigation into the accessibility of 20 of the UK's top retailers websites has shown that whilst most sites achieve a basic level of accessibility for disabled internet users there is still much more that needs to be done to improve standards and meet legal requirements.

The study, conducted by online usability and accessibility consultants Webcredible, discovered that a prevailing failure amongst sites was poor accessibility at the checkout stage.

This highlights the fact that organisations are still failing to maximise the commercial opportunities available by making sites fully available to users with disabilities. In the worst cases, the report shows that websites are failing to meet the legal requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

There are 8.6 million disabled people of working age in the UK, with an estimated combined spending power of up to £80 billion. Furthermore, research indicates that disabled users under 65 use the web as frequently as non-disabled users whilst those under 45 use the web more frequently.

Commenting on the research, Trenton Moss, director of Webcredible said, "Disabled web users of all ages are becoming increasingly savvy and adept at using the internet. Online retailers need to constantly adapt and raise their game to improve accessibility for this hugely influential group of web users. Increasing the accessibility of any ecommerce website will lead to a more commercially successful site and result in increased profits. But more so, retailers should want to improve accessibility to enhance brand strength, build towards CSR objectives and most importantly ensure that they are meeting their legal requirement with regards to disability access legislation."

Webcredible's report 'The Accessibility for Ecommerce High Street Retailers 2007' details where retailers are succeeding in providing good accessibility for disabled users and where they are failing. The report also gives guidance to online retailers and helps them to understand how they can improve their sites and make them accessible to users with a broad range of disabilities. These include: Highlighting links to aid non-mouse users, not assigning descriptive ALT text to a decorative image so that unnecessary text isn't read to blind users and providing 'skip links' to help users get to the main content more easily.

Moss continues, "Some sites have clearly made a concerted effort to address accessibility and an overall average score of 57 is much improved. But some, including some of the best performers, let themselves down through sloppiness. For example, accessibility guidelines are adhered to on most pages but then not on other key sections. Surprisingly, the checkout processes were generally poor. There's no point in a site being accessible if when you get to the checkout there's a 'show-stopper' in there and users can't continue. These retailers have made important progress but need to evaluate their sites and assess how they progress to the next level of accessibility competence and provide a fully comprehensive service."

Moss concludes, "Unfortunately, certain retailers performed very badly, failing to register any points in multiple categories. Seven of the 20 companies surveyed scored less than 50 points which means they are failing to meet the legal requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. These companies need to take a serious look at how they approach ecommerce and whether they are treating disabled access seriously."

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.