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Deaf not leading the Blind

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The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is to conduct a formal investigation to focus on web access, writes Peter Abrahams, of Bloor Research. One thousand websites spanning the public and private sectors are to be tested for basic compliance with recognised industry accessibility standards. According to the DRC, Britain's disabled comprises one in seven of the population - 8.5 million people.

A site which is not accessible could be considered to discriminate against disabled people and so could be illegal. (The UK would need a test case to establish this with private sector organisations such as, err, us -Ed).

A key aim of the DRC investigation is to identify recurrent barriers to web access and to help site owners and developers recognise and avoid them. In addition, 50 disabled people will be involved in in-depth testing of a representative sample of these sites for practical usability. This work will help clarify the relationship between a site's compliance with standards and its practical usability for disabled people.

The research supporting this Formal Investigation will be conducted in collaboration with a team from the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University London, led by Professor Helen Petrie. The findings of the investigation are expected by the end of this year.

The commercial benefits of an accessible site, let alone this investigation, suggests that all firms should develop standards and procedures for ensuring accessible sites.

Different people have different difficulties such as: inability to position a mouse accurately, reading small print, distinguishing print from the background, and total blindness. I consider myself to be able bodied, but moving towards silver surfer status, and I find some sites frustratingly difficult to read and use.

Websites can be made accessible to all these disabilities but it requires thought and planning.

A tool called Bobby is available to report on the accessibility of a site. A straw poll of sites tested using Bobby suggested that 'could try harder' is the state of our industry at the moment. © IT-Analysis.com

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