Although not specifically introduced for websites, the 1995 DDA legislation can still be applied to online publishers. A recent survey by the UK's Disability Rights Commission (DRC) showed that as many as 80 per cent of the UK's websites could be inaccessible for disabled users - who account for around one in seven of the population.
"There is a lot of information around on web accessibility, but the difficulty for web publishers is deciding what information is applicable and carries the most authority," said Alex White, head of the AOP.
Senior AOP solicitor Duncan Calow met with Trenton Moss, managing director of accessibility consultants Webcredible, and representatives from the Guardian, Associated New Media, Condé Nast, the Economist Group, IPC, and News International.
The group discussed the legal technical and commercial implications of the legislation, including how multimedia content can be made accessible, dealing with advertising content and what kind of disabilities require added accessibility.
Publishers are often confused by the difference between usability and accessibility. Usability is concerned with design and ease of navigation, whereas accessibility refers to technical elements of sites that allow users with disabilities to access content. One example of this is changeable font sizes that allow visually impaired users to read text more easily.
"Accessibility is about following technical guidelines and it is about enabling not just disabled users to access the site, but also enabling people using new devices like mobile phones, interactive TV and PDA to access the content. It can therefore improve search engine ratings as an added benefit," Ms White told dotJournalism.
International guidelines – the Web Accessibility Initiative or WAI – have been published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international group that aims to improve the interoperability of the internet.
"It's possible to have a site that meets accessibility guidelines but is still provides poor usability, so it's important to consult user groups as well as ensure compliance with WAI accessibility guidelines," said Ms White.
The cost and technical demands of adapting websites to meet accessibility guidelines can also be daunting for publishers, particularly those that might have to improve the accessibility of large archives.
Trenton Moss also led a web chat on 6 August to answer the concerns of some AOP members, suggesting examples of good web practice and 10 quick ways to test sites for accessibility.
AOP advises web publishers to comply with at least the first level of the WAI guidelines and with the codes of practice issued by the DRC. The association is also writing to the DRC to seek clarification on how the DDA legislation applies to websites.
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