The UK Disability Discrimination Act states that all organisations "must make reasonable adjustments" to their services so that they are no longer impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to access. The act comes into full effect in October 2004.
Most of the UK’s biggest broadcasters are members of The Broadcasting & Creative Industries Disability Network (BCIDN), including the BBC and Channel 4. The network was founded by broadcasters in 1997 to address disability issues in the media industry.
Web sites, which are included under the organisation's definition of 'broadcasting', can present several obstacles to users with visual impairment or restricted mobility.
To be more accessible, sites need to be designed to take into account the use of tools such as screen readers, which read text to blind users, and be navigable with the keyboard alone. This allows users with limited movement to navigate through links on a page using the tab key, for example, instead of a mouse.
"BBCi has a commitment to making its output as accessible as reasonably possible to all audiences to fulfil its public service remit and to meet its requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act," said Jonathan Hassell, editor of standards and guidelines for BBC New Media.
"In February 1999, BBC Education, in conjunction with the RNIB, created Betsie - a tool that automatically creates text-only version of web pages. This has provided a text-only version of every page on bbc.co.uk since that time."
In February this year, The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) began a year-long investigation into web accessibility, sampling 300 websites across the country. Assessment is based on universal standards laid down by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) in their detailed Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
In mid-2002, the BBC commissioned a study from usability consultants System Concepts to review the accessibility of the BBC web network, and is now implementing more than 50 recommendations.
"A pan-BBC New Media Accessibility Working Group is in the process of reviewing all BBCi Web Standards & Guidelines to update them to comply, where possible, with the WAI guidelines," Mr Hassle told dotJournalism.
"This study has been made available to the public (at http://www.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/bbci/websites.shtml) to inform and help other companies that are engaged in similar work."
Channel 4 has also just begun a six-month project to bring its websites in line with WAI guidelines.
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