In February 2012 the RNIB held a Hackathon event. Android, iOS and HTML5 developers came together to find out more about the importance of accessible apps and to talk to blind and partially sighted users to find out what really matters to them when it comes to mobile apps. The developers worked through the night to collaboratively build programmes and applications that could make a difference in the app market. Watch this video to see some of the outcomes. As Steve Jones from the RNIB Innovation Team says – for people with visual impairment the outcomes of events like these are life transforming.
The Web Access and Inclusion for Disabled People A Formal Investigation was conducted by the Disability Rights Commission in 2004. Amongst its findings were 81% of sites failed to satisfy the most basic Web Accessibility Initiative category and website designers had an inadequate understanding of the needs of disabled users and how to create accessible websites. Many websites had characteristics that made it difficult, if not impossible, for people with certain impairments, especially those who are blind, to make use of the services provided.
Not much has changed. Working with people with sight loss I would say all the websites we try to access are, if not fully inaccessible (like iTunes) have sections (such as payment pages) which remain inaccessible to screen readers. In 2005 the RNIB issued this statement
“A disabled person can make a claim against you if your website makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access information and services. If you have not made reasonable adjustments and cannot show that this failure is justified, then you may be liable under the Act, and may have to pay compensation and be ordered by a court to change your site.”
The Act they were referring to was the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now superceded by the Equality Act 2010). To date there have been two cases of website inaccessibility which the RNIB have taken to court – each one settled out of court and the names of the companies not revealed.
Last week the RNIB launched a case against Bmi-baby for their inaccessible website. It’s unusual for the company to be identified in this way – but it’s what needs to happen. Until there is a test case and inaccessible websites are shown to be illegal then people will carry on with bad practices and users of assistive technology will continue to be digitally excluded.
The Digital Britain Report was published on 16 June; the 245 pages necessitating some form of summary version. The BBC ran an At a Glance page and Comments from Experts, none of which addressed this missed opportunity to ensure those to whom affordable, efficient Broadband connection could have the greatest impact in terms of quality of life were given priority.
The RNIB response was a lone, but essential, voice.
“We are concerned however that neither people with sight problems nor disabled people in general are specifically mentioned at any point in the interim “Delivering Digital Britain” report.”
I’ve extracted some quotes that have particular resonance for the work I do supporting people with visual impairment to use computers and access the Internet.
In response to Action 17: Unless a service is affordable, it cannot be deemed accessible. Affordability is a particular concern for blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are among the poorest of the UK’s citizens.
In response to Action 19: This means that the issue of equipment accessibility has to be tackled. Too often inaccessible equipment, that assumes that the user can read on-screen information without providing a voiced alternative is the main barrier to uptake of services by blind and partially sighted people.
In response to Action 21: Many disabled people rely even more on public services than their non-disabled peers, for a variety of reasons. A blind person might well have greater difficulty in visiting their council, for instance, and would therefore benefit greatly from being able to access the council’s website. However, a recent EU wide survey found that only some 5% of public websites are accessible. RNIB therefore urges the government to take urgent action to improve the accessibility of public websites.
The need to address the accessibility of cost, equipment and content is a triple whammy that yet again fails to support the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of society. I struggle to understand how those with sight can so totally ignore the reality of those without this most fundamental of human rights.