Public sector websites discriminate against disabled

27 Sep 2004

Accessibility awareness among public sector websites is still noticeable by its absence, today’s Irish Internet Association Internet Congress was told. A survey conducted by Ennis Information Age Services (EIAS) found that a high proportion of public sector websites are inaccessible to a portion of the population and particularly discriminate against people with a disability.

Over 59pc of Irish public sector websites examined either provided no scaling at all or the level of scaling was inadequate. Over half the sites failed to allow users to resize their fonts – essential to people with low vision, cognitive limitations like dyslexia and users who have to view screens for a long period of time. By doing so, the EIAS claimed, public sector websites were failing a Priority 2 checkpoint established by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

“There is a myth around the whole area of accessibility that has led people to believe that developing accessible websites equates to ‘boring’ websites,” said Michael Byrne, CEO of EIAS.

“This report shows that while some public sector websites made direct attempts to improve the overall user experience it is evident from the improper use of certified WAI logos that the awareness is not translating itself into stricter codes of practice. None of the sites that displayed WAI logos were found to be compliant.”

The EIAS ‘Web Accessibility’ report provides an analysis of the standards of accessibility achieved by 27 public sector websites, using eight criteria, all part of achieving WAI compliance ‘A’, ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ respectively. The findings of the research are applicable to government and business organisations and it is aimed at helping them to understand the requirements of current website guidelines and regulations.

Of the 27 sites examined by EIAS almost 75pc of sites did not have access keys. Access keys allow users who are unable to control a mouse as a primary means of navigation and input to use the site more effectively through the use of keyboard shortcuts, thereby the sites failed a Priority 3 checkpoint.

“If Accessibility is to become a reality, it is important that guidelines are understood, processes are implemented and best practice is observed. By doing this, people on both sides of the equation are satisfied and the overall user experience is enhanced,” Byrne said.

By John Kennedy