Websites are widening the digital divide through lack of accessibility

Most websites don't meet the minimum criteria set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) according to a UN-commissioned survey

Most websites are ostracising disabled people by failing to adhere to the most basic accessibility standards, a United Nations (UN)-commissioned survey has revealed.

Just three per cent of websites, including Tony Blair's online presence, passed minimum web accessibility guidelines in the first ever global accessibility survey carried out by usability expert Nomensa.

The study was launched following this week's, International Day of Disabled Persons, which focused on the theme of e-accessibility this year. It examined 100 leading sites across five sectors and 20 countries, measuring them against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), using both manual and automated testing methods.

"Access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities," said Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a statement issued to observe the day.

"As the development of the internet and these technologies takes their needs more fully into account, the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of participation."

In addition to the British Prime Minister's website ranking in the three that aren't creating a digital divide between those with disabilities and those without disabilities, the websites belonging to the German Chancellor and Spanish Government also proved disability-friendly.

"This is the first ever global survey to measure the extent to which people living with disabilities are able to benefit from technological developments online," said Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa.

"With online information linking people increasingly together, it is vital that sections of the global population are not alienated and left out as innovation continues apace... 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."

Nearly all sites (98 per cent) analysed didn't adhere to industry standards in terms of programming code, while 97 per cent of websites made it difficult to re-size pages or re-scale content.

Some 93 per cent of sites studied failed to provide adequate text descriptions pertaining to graphical content, 89 per cent featured awkward navigational structures and 78 per cent used foreground or background colour combinations with poor contrast, all leading to problems for visually-impaired people.

Just under three quarters (73 per cent) relied on JavaScript for important functionality, meaning for around 10 per cent of net users, accessing key data is out of the question.

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