Top UK Web Sites Ignore Accessibility for Disabled People

computer keyboardThe survey tested 105 leading UK organisations with a major web presence and a further 111 companies that claimed to be compliant with industry guidelines. Overall, 79% of the leading UK web sites tested failed basic compliance checkpoints. Worryingly, 100% of travel and financial service web sites failed what is classified as the lowest level of compliance and high street retailers and utilities all reached failure rates of greater than 90%.

The best performers were Local Government, with 40% of sites failing, closely followed by Central Government and high street banks and building societies. “It’s appalling that the majority of UK web sites are turning their backs on supporting basic web accessibility,” comments Deri Jones, CEO of SciVisum. “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. Over 20% of elderly people shop online, many with deteriorating eyesight. “There is a strong legal, moral and commercial argument for all organisations to assess their sites for accessibility.

The only way that companies can ensure that they can stand up to the laws in force today and that future web site changes do not invalidate their compliance is to put in place a regular test programme.” The most common flaw identified was failure to provide equivalent text for visual content, which was the greatest error occurring on 68% of sites. Secondly, the study found an over reliance on client side JavaScript to render important content or functionality without providing an accessible alternative.

This can prevent access to important content or services if the user’s browser does not support JavaScript. 63% of web sites used JavaScript in this way, with a further 9% requiring it for users to view the web site at all. Other errors included the failure to use useful equivalent text for images that actually describes the function of the graphic; the use of frame technology without titling the frames, and the lack of provision of basic HTML equivalents to describe Flash content. The 105 leading UK web sites tested included local and central government (25%), high street retailers (14%), eTailers (11%), travel companies (14%), utilities (11%), high street banks and building societies (11%), and financial services providers (11%).

‘Compliant’ sites fail test

In addition, SciVisum tested 111 UK web sites that publicly claimed to be compliant with the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG1.0) by displaying the WCAG1.0 compliance logo on their web site. Overall, 40% of these failed to meet the checkpoints for which they were claiming compliance. The worst offenders were Central Government at 53% failure, followed closely by local government and private sector organisations, with 50% of sites failing.

The best performers were not-for-profit organisations with only 24% of sites failing. Whilst it is clear that many of the sites had minor failures occurring in one or two instances, which are likely to be the result of web site changes implemented by untrained staff or genuine oversights, a large number had more serious failings – in all, 27% of sites failed on multiple checkpoints. “The SciVisum study indicates that either self-regulation is not working in practice or that organisations are relying too heavily on automated web site testing. Semi-automated accessibility testing on web sites by experienced engineers needs to become a standard practice for UK web site owners. Only manual tests can help identify areas of improvement, which are impossible to identify with automated checks alone.

Unless sites are tested site-wide in this way failure rates amongst those that are claiming to be compliant will continue.” added Jones. Sites claiming to be compliant that were tested largely comprised public sector and not-for-profit organisations, with 27% surveyed from local and central government, 15% from not-for-profit organisations, 14% from education and 17% from the IT sector including Internet consultancies. Recommendations Based on the findings, SciVisum made a number of broad recommendations to improve the accessibility of web sites:

  • Train all staff involved in uploading information to the web site in basic web accessibility requirements
  • Write an accessibility policy and make this available on your web site so that users are clearly made aware of which accessibility features your web site supports
  • Perform accessibility tests before and after web sites changes have been made to identify failure areas and validate compliance
  • Adopt a regular test programme to ensure ongoing future compliance
  • Use independent testers experienced in accessibility testing and do not rely on automated test software or services

Methodology UK organisations are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that online services are accessible to people with disabilities, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The SciVisum Web Accessibility Study 2004 tested how far each web site tested met the basic Web Accessibility Initiative’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG1.0). As the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does not refer to a specific set of guidelines, this is widely recognised as the industry standard for Web accessibility. Further details on the methodology are available in the management report.


Take control of your digital performance with SciVisum

Request a demo

Website Performance Monitoring

Measuring user experience at every step...

Learn more


How leading UK brands maximise conversions

Learn more