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The Act they were referring to was the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now superceded by the Equality Act 2010).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.