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UN reports on dismal state of web accessibility

97% of websites fall short of guidelines

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Ninety-seven per cent of websites fail to achieve a minimum level of accessibility, according to the first ever global web accessibility survey. A new UN convention aims to change that.

UK-based web accessibility agency Nomensa released its report today based on research commissioned by the United Nations.

Using a combination of manual and automated testing against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Nomensa examined the leading website in five different sectors in 20 countries, including its Head of State and leading airline, bank, newspaper and retailer. In all, the survey tested 100 websites.

Only the websites of the German Chancellor, the Spanish Government and the British Prime Minister met WCAG Level A, the minimum recognised level. No site met Level AA or higher.

"Performance across the different sectors was varied, with central government, retail and banking offering the strongest accessibility performances across all countries," said Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa. "While only three websites made it onto the first rung of the accessibility ladder, many websites were in grasping distance of achieving minimum levels of accessibility."

Sites from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa and the United States were among the others examined.

Sunday was the UN International Day of Disabled Persons, this year dubbed E-Accessibility Day. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the day "reminds us of the need to make the internet available to everyone".

"Slowly, governments and the private sector have been recognising the economic and social benefits of making websites fully accessible, and have been putting place changes involving software and hardware alike," he said in a statement.

"The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is expected to be approved by the General Assembly later this month, can give additional impetus to this trend."

The Convention specifies that measures should be introduced to eliminate obstacles and barriers to information and communications, and to promote access for persons with disabilities to information and communications technologies, including the internet.

States that choose to become party to the Convention will commit themselves to taking steps to provide "information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost." The Convention urges private businesses and mass media to do the same with their services.

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