On 1 October 2007 the three equality commissions merged into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission:
- Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)
- Disability Rights Commission (DRC)
- Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
The websites of these commissions have also been incorporated into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission website: www.equalityhumanrights.com.
The UK Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is concerned about the current inaccessibility of websites to disabled people. In April 2004 we published the results of a Formal Investigation (FI) into the issues that disabled people face when using websites. The findings of the investigation led us to work with the British Standards Institution (BSI) to produce a set of formal guidance on website accessibility.
The Disability Rights Commission’s investigation discovered that many disabled people find many websites difficult to use. However, this hasn’t always been their experience of the web. When Professor Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (WWW), he expected it to provide a level playing field for disabled and non-disabled people alike: ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone, regardless of disability, should be an essential aspect.’
This was the case for the first few years after the invention of the WWW. Disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, deaf and hearing impaired people, people with conditions that resulted in limited use of their arms and people with cognitive disabilities, were able to use the Web with relative ease. This was largely due to the creation of access technologies that would, for example, convert web text into audible, synthetic speech that blind people could hear. Access technologies worked relatively faultlessly because most websites were hand-coded using the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) HTML standards.
Since the inception of the Web, it has been a potential new means for disabled people to find information and use services on the same terms as everyone else. For those disabled people who found it difficult to leave their home, the Web could have been an alternative means of accessing services.
Unfortunately, accessibility has never been properly understood and addressed by web authors and development tools.
Web authoring software tools hit the market, but most of them did not produce W3C-compliant code, which meant that the web ceased to be based on standards-compliant mark up. Many disabled people found their access technologies and themselves isolated from a significant number of web services.
The DRC addressed this situation in 2004 in our report ‘The Web: Access and Inclusion for Disabled People’. The report revealed findings of a large-scale study of 1000 British websites and made a number of major recommendations.
The report was based on research, undertaken by City University, which looked for compliance with guidelines published by the W3C and included testing by disabled users. The findings were discouraging: 81% of websites failed to meet the most basic criteria for conformance to web accessibility guidelines.
The FI report, which is available on the DRC website, makes for vital reading as it includes a list of the most common problems faced by web users. It also includes the results of a survey of website commissioners and developers. 97% of large organisations claim to be aware that web accessibility is an important issue and 68% claim to take accessibility into account when designing websites. Yet, 81% of the websites tested by City University lacked evidence of any attempt to make their content accessible.
The report highlighted a huge gap in knowledge of website commissioners and developers which needs to be addressed.
As a result of this, the DRC has commissioned the BSI to produce new guidance to plug this knowledge gap. The guidance will take the aim of informing website commissioners and developers of their obligations and of good practice in this area. This guidance takes the form of a Publicly Available Specification (PAS).