U.N. Gives Failing Accessibility Grades to the Planets Top Web Sites

A United Nations study finds that only three leading Web sites around the world-out of 100 studied-meet the needs of "persons with disabilities."

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 Dec. 5.

The study, commissioned by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs and conducted by British firm Nomensa, examined what the study team considered the worlds 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 Web sites examined, the only three that met the standards were 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 "were not close to reaching the Internets 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, use keyboard shortcuts and use an alternative to JavaScript, which prevents many people from accessing key information, the report said.

According to a Canadian Broadcasting Co. story on the report, 93 percent fail to provide adequate text descriptions for graphics; 73 percent rely on JavaScript or Flash for important functions; 87 percent use pop-ups, which cause problems for those using screen magnification software; 97 percent do not allow people to alter or resize pages; 78 percent use colors with poor contrast; and 89 percent offer poor page navigation.

The challenge 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 tend to get the attention of e-commerce executives. When doing the right thing can also accelerate a sites page delivery, the industry typically takes notice.

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.