Making Internet Shopping Accessible
Posted on 30 Aug 2001
by Julie Howell (juliehowell)
Rated 4.18 (Ratings: 3)
- More articles in IA/Usability
- The legal case
- The business case
- Access campaigns
- Research findings
- RNIB's recommendations
- Further information
Blind and partially sighted people are being excluded from one of the mostimportant technological breakthroughs of recent years. The ability to use the world wide web to meet personal, education, information and shopping needs is being denied to blind and partially sighted people by a lack of inclusive design and a general ignorance by businesses and webmasters of the simple steps that can make websites accessible for all.
There are 1.7 million people in the UK who are blind and partially sighted.Research shows serious sight loss often curtails independent mobility and the ability to get the information needed to participate fully in society. The opportunities the world wide web provides for distance learning, shopping and communication could revolutionise the lives of blind and partially sighted people. It could reduce dependence on others and it could give a community that is often excluded, a voice in the 'information society'.
The technology exists, and is becoming cheaper, to allow people with no sightto use computers, using speech synthesis and braille displays. However, many websites are inaccessible for blind and partially sighted people as they are not properly designed.
RNIB believes there should be a legal requirement for web services to be accessibleto disabled people within the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). The introduction of the first DDA provisions in 1996 and then again in 1999 put accessible information on the agenda of many companies, in some cases for the first time. Section 21 of the Act, introduced on 1 October 1999, placed a duty on service providers to make information about their services accessible for blind and partially sighted people. This has significant implications for company websites.
As many websites are set up in the USA, another important development in thelegal case is provided by Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Act mandates that all federal electronic and information purchases made after 7 August 2000 must be made accessible to people with disabilities.
Making websites accessible to blind and partially sighted people, and all disabledpeople, also makes good business sense. RNIB is approached by an overwhelming number of commercial organisations looking to make websites accessible for financial reasons. The main business obstacle remains ignorance: ignorance of the potential purchasing power of disabled people, and ignorance of the ease with which inclusive design can be introduced.
In 1993, RNIB launched the See it Right initiative to make companies and organisationsaware of the need to make information accessible to blind and partially sighted people, and offered practical advice on doing this. In May 1999, RNIB launched a campaign for Good Web Design. This report is part of that campaign.
RNIB carried out research for this report in August 2000, testing the websitesof 17 high street stores and banks against a set of accessibility criteria, in order to establish the accessibility of their sites to blind and partially sighted people.
The results were extremely disappointing. All companies in the study failedto meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people. No company achieved a 100 per cent pass rate against the five criteria. Some websites even failed every aspect of the test.
Of the three high street banks we visited online, all failed our assessment,even though banking is regarded as a universal essential service. Setting up a current account or paying bills is not currently an option for many blind and partially sighted people.
Online supermarkets performed particularly badly in the research. Three majorchains failed four out of the five criteria. We know that blind and partially sighted people find getting to the shops, and reading food labels, very difficult and now it seems they cannot even benefit from shopping delivery.
RNIB found little attempt made by pizza delivery companies to provide accessiblewebsites.
Clothing and retail stores
Three of the four clothing stores failed miserably, passing only two out offifteen criteria between them. Poor design made entry into the sites very difficult for people using access technologies. The clothes on sale lacked text descriptions, leaving blind customers wondering if the beaded satin mules would match the easy-fit trousers!
The most common cause of inaccessibility was poor or inappropriate coding ofHyperText Mark up Language (HTML), the programming language of the web. Careless coding included: image files that were not supported by alternative text, upon which access technology is reliant to convert the image into something meaningful to blind Net users; poor implementation of frames; and a failure to provide a screen design that was easy to read. This rendered the pages useless to blind internet users.
Based on the findings of this research, RNIB sets out the following recommendations:
- RNIB urges all designers to take responsibility to ensure everyone, regardless of ability or disability, can read their designs.
- RNIB recommends use of the Web Accessibility Initiative's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a set of standards which ensures websites are accessible for all customers (see Chapter 3). While this report does not explore all of the technicalities of web design in any depth, designers will find sufficient guidance and references to set themselves on the right path to accessible design.
- RNIB encourages companies who have websites, or who are planning to launch them, to recognise the needs of blind and partially sighted customers. If businesses fail to do so, they are potentially losing out on 8.5 million disabled customers, not to mention their friends, relatives and carers.
- RNIB strongly encourages blind and partially sighted people to contact organisations whose websites are inaccessible and to raise the issue directly.
- Finally, we hope the companies featured in this report will realise that the discrimination created through inaccessible websites is unacceptable and unnecessary. RNIB urges those companies to take the necessary steps to improve the design of their online services.
A printed full copy of the report is available for UK£5.00 from RNIBCustomer Services on +44 (0)845-702 3153, and you can get an electronic copy free of charge from firstname.lastname@example.org