Web must simplify for the blind, urges group

The Web ought to make access to information and services easier for all, but it is becoming ever more difficult for disabled people to use. The claim is made by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and is mirrored in its latest work, some of which is released this week.

The campaign is calling on companies and the government to make Web sites and other information sources fully accessible to the disabled.

At a separate event today, RNIB campaign officer Julie Howell called on the government to puts its back into forcing Web site designers and owners to meet even the most basic of access guidelines.

“It’s shallow thinking,” said Howell, speaking of how the Web has become increasingly image-heavy. “It’s definitely become more difficult.”

Section 21 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires ‘service providers’ to make information about their services accessible for blind and partially sighted people. But so far there hasn’t been a U.K. test case and companies cannot be forced to code sites for the disabled.

“In the United Kingdom [companies] are not required by law [to conform],” said Mike Alderton, U.K. managing director of software vendor and content management company Reef.

Alderton claimed any company could reap benefits from adapting sites for disabled people. But this isn’t necessarily so, as Howell admits. “There’s 25 per cent unemployment for disabled people,” she said. And she and the RNIB admit that disabled people generally earn ‘significantly’ less than their able-bodied counterparts, meaning their spending power is also significantly lower than other users’.

Companies may have to rebuild their sites or at least use new software to adapt existing sites, meaning there’s a real disincentive to conform to the act’s guidelines. In other words, disabled people earn less, spend less, but cost more to reach. So, says Howell, legislation and government action is needed.

“The government needs to do a lot more than it’s doing presently,” Howell believes. She says blind people don’t stay away from the Web because of cost, “they just don’t see the point”.