The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has begun the UK's first formal investigation into web accessibility for people with disabilities.
The aim is to help the DRC and similar organisations to develop clearer guidelines and could not have come at a better time, according to charity AbilityNet, which told vnunet.com that 90 per cent of sites pose access problems.
Even the government isn't immune. Its own investigation earlier this month estimated that 78 per cent of public sector websites, around 800, failed to meet the standards required by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995.
This states that companies and organisations must make "reasonable efforts" to ensure that services can be used by disabled people, and this includes web access. Failure to comply could have serious repercussions.
Martin Greenwood, programme manager at local government IT group Socitm Insight, pointed to the case of Bruce Maguire, a blind person who was unable to access the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games website.
He won his case against the Sydney Organising Committee under the Australian DDA.
But the DRC would rather avoid legal confrontation, according to its commissioner Michael Burton.
"The investigation will give us a measure of the scale of the problems and what is causing them," he told vnunet.com.
The DRC will use software to test 1,000 websites, spanning both the public and private sectors.
In addition, 50 disabled people will be involved in testing the practical usability of a representative sample of these sites. The findings are expected by the end of 2003.
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