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Four out of five leading British websites fail even the most basic accessibility compliance standards, testing firm SciVisum claims.

It looked at 105 UK organisations with a major Web presence and 111 companies that claim to be compliant with industry guidelines.

Worst performers were travel and finance sites - all of which failed to reach the lowest standard of compliance. High Street retailers and utilities were not much better - more than 90 per cent failed accessibility tests.

British organisations are supposed to take reasonable action to make their services, including websites, accessible to all, under the 1995 Disablilty Discrimination Act.

Deri Jones, CEO of SciVisum, said: "it is appalling...It is not only a legal requirement and a social responsibility, but also those organisations that are failing to ensure accessibility are slamming the door in the face of a highly receptive on-line market.

There are an estimated 1.7 million blind and partially sighted people in the UK alone, not to mention an aging population.< More than 20 per cent of elderly people shop online, many with deteriorating eyesight.

SciVisum made several recommendations. The most common cause of failure was not providing text equivalents for visual content. An over- reliance on JavaScript was also a common problem.

SciVisum also performed checks on 111 websites which claimed to be compliant with the Web Accessibility Initiative's Web Content Accessiblity Guidelines (WCAG1.0). Forty per cent of these sites failed to meet the standard they claim to follow.

Many failures are down to relatively minor errors but 27 per cent of sites had muliple failings.

SciVisum believes proper independent accessiblity testing, rather than just automated checks, would help counter the problem. Companies should also write and publish an accessiblity policy and make it available online. ®

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