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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 12:46 GMT
New standards for website access
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website age & disability correspondent

Image of an internet search page looking for 'disability access' (BBC)
Many sites are inaccessible because of confusion over best practice
New guidelines on how to make websites more user-friendly for disabled people have been developed by the British Standards Institution (BSI).

The work was sponsored by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) after an investigation in April 2004.

The DRC's report into web accessibility found that more than 80% of sites posed barriers to disabled people.

Called PAS 78, the guidance is intended for any organisation that has a public-facing website.

PAS - or Publicly Available Specification - 78 describes itself as a guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites.

It is particularly aimed at the people responsible for commissioning and maintaining public-facing sites.

UK organisations with websites have been legally obliged to make them disabled-friendly since 1999.

By following the new guidelines, site owners are likely to be on the right side of the law.

The DRC also points out that businesses with accessible websites are in a much better position to tap into the estimated 80bn spent by people with disabilities every year.

"We need to ensure more websites can be used by disabled people," said DRC chairman, Bert Massie.

"This document will play a key part in making that happen."

Mr Massie says that businesses and the web industry need to ensure that the web is barrier free.

BSI director, Mike Low, described PAS 78 as a "win-win situation" for the industry and for end-users.

"BSI is delighted to have had the opportunity to work with the DRC to develop best practice guidelines for commissioning accessible websites, and to help provide disabled people with increased access to information, products and services online," he said.

PAS 78 covers a number of different areas:

  • Commissioning, building, publishing and maintaining a website
  • Defining an accessibility policy
  • The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines - why they are important and which ones to follow
  • How to check that a site conforms to best practice
  • Additional measures that go beyond WAI guidance

The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) - which had a hand in developing the guidelines - says PAS 78 should help to clarify what is required.

"Many website commissioners have a lot of goodwill to disabled customers," said Julie Howell of the RNIB.

"However, confusion over how to implement best practice has meant the number of usable websites is very low."

Although not legally binding, the guidance could well be used in a court case in which someone is seeking to force an organisation to improve the accessibility of its website.

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