UN Gives Failing Accessibility Grades To The Planet's Top Web Sites

The problem of Internet accessibility for the visually-impaired is global, with a United Nations study finding only three leading web sites around the world--out of 100 studied--meeting the needs of "persons with disabilities," according to a U.N. statement issued Tuesday.

The study, commissioned by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and conducted by the British firm Nomensa, examined what the study team considered the world's leading web sites in 20 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Kenya, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

Of the 100 examined, the only three that were considered to have met the standards were three government sites: the German Chancellor; the British Prime Minister; and the Spanish Government.

Thomas Schindlmayr, a policy specialist with DESA, said in a United Nations statement that the survey shows that ?we?re not close to reaching the Internet?s full potential for use by persons with disabilities. Webmasters around the world ? including at the United Nations itself ? should be aware that they are losing a significant portion of their intended audience by not being fully accessible to all people.?

The study relied on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (established in 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium) that require users to be able to easily adjust text size, navigate through the site, differentiate between colors, allow keyboard shortcuts and offer an alternative to JavaScript, which prevents many people from accessing key information, the report said.

According to a Canadian Broadcasting Company story on the report, 93 percent failed to provide adequate text descriptions for graphics, 73 percent relied on Javascript or Flash for important functions, 87 percent used pop-ups, which cause problems for those using screen magnification software, 97 percent did not allow people to alter or resize pages, 78 percent used colors with poor contrast and 89 percent offered poor page navigation.

The challenges of making robust comprehensive E-Commerce sites fully accessible to all users is nothing new, with Target being the latest major retailer to face the music with a National Federation for the Blind lawsuit centered around violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The accessibility challenge has impacted Web site performance ratings, which tends to get the attention of E-Commerce execs. When doing the right thing can also accelerate a site's page delivery, the industry typically takes notice.