COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Charity web sites beat firms in disability study

Gideon Burrows

Charity web sites are more accessible than corporate ones to people with disabilities, according to a study by disability charity AbilityNet.

AbilityNet revealed the findings of its audit of web sites, which included those published by Help the Aged, Relate and Citizens Advice at a seminar on disabled web access last week.

The survey focused on the accessibility of sites for people with visual impairment, dyslexia and physical disabilities.

Robin Christopherson, web access consultant at AbilityNet, said: "We have found that charity web sites are better, probably because budget restraints have meant most charities are more interested in content than the bells and whistles on web sites which companies go for," he said.

"Charities also tend to have a greater desire to be inclusive than the commercial sector."

But he added the voluntary sector still had room for improvement. He suggested many would still benefit from simple changes to make sites more accessible, such as ensuring clickable areas were not too small or close together, which might prevent someone with physical disabilities from selecting them with a mouse.

Christopherson added that complex language on web sites, with little space between lines of text, makes them more difficult for people with dyslexia to read.

AbilityNet has linked up with the Employer's Forum on Disability to publish a CD-Rom and a series of booklets, advising charities and others on how to make their web sites more accessible.

Though the Disability Discrimination Act requires companies, charities and others to make their goods and services accessible to disabled people by 2004, the legislation does not mention web site access. However, the Disability Rights Commission's code of practice does specifically call for improvements in web access for disabled people.

The commission announced in March that it was to launch a formal investigation into 1,000 web sites, which will be tested for compliance with world standards on accessibility.

AbilityNet is also to launch a series of audits of web sites published by different industries, starting next month with airline companies and then newspapers.

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