Citizens Online calls for digital accessibility education, encouragement and enforcement

Published: Apr 7th, 2015 | Author: Laura Simpson

coverCitizens Online [1] has released a digital accessibility report (accessible pdf) summarising the state of play regarding web accessibility [2]. The report looks at policy and standards as well as demographic and technological trends, and finds:

  1. Progress is being made [3]
  2. The majority of websites nonetheless fail to meet minimum requirements for accessibility [4]
  3. Standards, guidelines, technologies and policies are well-established and available for use in North America and the EU
  4. The main barriers remaining are education and encouragement of developers and users, and enforcement of law and policy – currently very low.

Digital Accessibility is defined as the ability for all individuals to easily use information technology products and services regardless of any impairment. In other words, it means that disabled people can perceive, navigate, interact with and contribute to the Web, apps, software programs and documents such as e-books and PDFs.

Grant Broome, of Dig Inclusion [5], a business which provides consultancy and training in digital accessibility: “Fewer disabled people are online partly because they face multiple social exclusions – disabled people are more likely to have lower incomes or lower quality internet connections, for instance. However, even once they are online, many disabled users face accessibility frustrations due to the way in which websites and software are built.”

The UK’s Equality Act [6] is one of the furthest-reaching pieces of legislation in the world regarding accessibility, but there is no case law precedent yet [7], and no significant pressure from government on service providers who do not make their sites or apps accessible. There is a global standard, the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), and a proposed European Commission directive but as well as suggestions the latter may exclude apps [8], standards and guidelines tend to focus on code rather than design and compliance rather than positive user experience [9].

Progress is being made, however, with technologies like text-to-speech and screen magnification now available for all major browsers and operating systems. An obstacle is education: informing users of their options. 57% of all computer users (aged 18-64) are likely or very likely to benefit from the use of Assistive Technology (AT) to help their computer use [10], but only 6-8% of web users use AT to access the Internet [11].

One of the authors of the report, Francis Barton, said: “Society is not divided into two clear groups, disabled and non-disabled people. Everyone is likely to journey from relative disability in childhood, through periods of greater ability and then in later life back to relative disability again, as for instance eyesight, memory or dexterity deteriorate. We are all, at the very least, not-yet-disabled, and it is the ‘standard web user’ – adult, fully-able-bodied, and literate which is really the minority group.”

Citizens Online will be launching the release version of their pilot project Fix the Web [12] in 2015 which is based on real user feedback. The project aims to crowd-source digital accessibility fixes and raise awareness with developers and commissioners of digital products by challenging inaccessible products and sites and looking for opportunities to fix issues that have an impact across the web.

The full report is supplied with this press release and includes an executive summary. Notes for editors follow.


Notes for editors:

  1. Citizens Online is a national charity that believes participation in the digital world is a basic human right. As a result it is committed to promoting digital inclusion. It is their aim to ensure that the benefits of digital technologies can be enjoyed and shared by everybody, so that our society may become more inclusive and just: Citizens Online will be launching the release version of their pilot project Fix the Web in the coming months. The project aims to crowd-source digital accessibility fixes and raise awareness with developers and commissioners of digital products. The report makes clear the need for this work.
  1. There are 11 million disabled people in the UK, 76 million across the EU and more than 550 million worldwide. There are many reasons why a person might be disabled, some permanent, and some temporary. But particular groups within society are particularly likely to struggle with low-accessibility web resources. These include:
  1. Developments in Assistive Technology, including Apple’s VoiceOver text-to-speech technology and Siri voice control, and touchscreen features that benefit those impairments such as pinch-to-zoom have become popular even amongst those not affected by impairments. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have not been very accessible in the past, but have made improvements. A small team at Facebook recently championed accessibility for the site, and their accessibility support is now extensive. Skype is generally very accessible, and while Twitter and YouTube are less so, third-party tools exist to enable better access. The blog creation tool WordPress is highly rated for accessibility.
  1. Reviewing various measures of web and software accessibility over the last decade suggests a figure of at least 80% of sites failing to meet minimum requirements for accessibility, while a 2006 UN audit found only 3 of 100 sites in a global sample met basic accessibility requirements. Only one third of 761,000 EU public-sector and government websites are accessible. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative puts it simply: “most Web sites and Web software [browsers etc] have accessibility barriers”. The report contains references for these statements.
  1. Dig Inclusion worked with Citizens Online to ensure the PDF of the report is accessible
  1. In the UK, web accessibility is covered by the Equality Act (2010) and the associated Code of Practice (2011), though direct reference to it in the Act is minimal. The Equality Act superseded previous relevant legislation, and created the Equality and Human Rights Commission (incorporating the old Disability Rights Commission) whose role is to oversee the implementation of the Act. The Act creates a duty on both public and private service providers to make anticipatory adjustments to their services to ensure that people are not discriminated against.
  1. Two cases supported by the Royal National Institute of Blind (RNIB) were settled out of court:
  1. The European Blind Union “are concerned that [a recent progress] report is not supportive of the European Parliament’s decision to extend the scope to cover websites published by private entities providing essential services, such as utilities, transport, banking and so on. We believe that these websites should be accessible to all citizens, including blind and partially sighted people… [and] shocked to see that the European Commission is actually arguing for the removal of apps from the scope of the proposed directive
  1. For instance, about half of the problems blind users actually encounter on websites are already covered by the WCAG 2.0 criteria. Power, C. and others, 2012. Guidelines are only half of the story: accessibility problems encountered by blind users on the web, SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.433-442:
  1. Microsoft/Forrester Research, 2004, Accessible Technology in Computing—Examining Awareness, Use, and Future Potential:
  1. Office for Disability Issues/DWP, 2008. Experiences and Expectations of Disabled People: (pdf).


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