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UK's top web retailers failing the disabled

Accessibility report slaps wrist of online shops

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The UK's top 30 shopping websites exclude disabled users, new research has found.

Usability agency Nomensa tested the retail websites and found that none fulfilled the most basic accessibility guidelines.

Websites from retailers including Ryanair, British Airways, Currys, Apple Computer, and Amazon.co.uk all failed the test. Though John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Tesco also failed, they were commended by Nomensa for showing particular consideration of accessibility.

"These research findings show that anyone with serious physical impairments, the visually impaired or even just people wearing glasses to read would encounter difficulties and in many cases would give up trying," said Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa.

"There are over 10m disabled people in the UK and I believe that each one of those has a right to be able to buy a Christmas present online for a friend or loved one this year."

One of the cornerstones of accessibility is the provision of text descriptions for all images so that those using site-reading software know what is in a picture. Only two of the top 30 sites, those of Apple and John Lewis, provided that text for all images.

"With the online retail market apparently so flush with success, it is hard to believe that every single online retailer evaluated during this research is actively throwing money away," said the report. "There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from the results of this report. Almost without exception, online retailers are not taking web accessibility, customer experience or profitability seriously."

Nomensa has calculated that if the same proportion of disabled people shopped online as the general population, then £376m could be spent over this Christmas period by disabled online shoppers.

The company tested the home page and the terms and conditions page of each of the sites using some automated and some manual tests. They tested the sites against the industry standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 1.0.

Those guidelines rate pages as single, double or triple A rated for accessibility, or as failed. Only three pages tested received a single A rating, and all the others failed. There was no site where both tested pages received an A rating.

"Many of the corporations audited invest millions each year in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes," said Norris. "I am calling on the boardrooms of these retailers to really start to take their online responsibility just as seriously."

To request the report, email info@nomensa.com or you can visit the website here

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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