Most of the leading websites around the world are failing to provide the most basic accessibility standards for people with disabilities.
Tony Blair's website was one of few to make the grade
Ninety seven percent of websites did not provide even minimum levels of accessibility, a new survey has found.
Accessibility agency Nomensa tested the leading websites in five different sectors across 20 countries
Only three websites, including the British Prime Minister's site, achieved the minimum standards.
The report, commissioned by the United Nations as part of its International Day of Disabled Persons, will make depressing reading for anyone committed to the idea of equal web access for all.
93% failed to provide adequate text descriptions for graphics
78% used colours with poor contrast, causing issues for those with colour blindness
98% did not follow industry web standards for the programming code
97% did not allow people to alter or resize pages
89% offered poor page navigation
87% used pop-ups causing problems for those using screen magnification software
"This is a global failure and we are very disappointed with the results," said Alex Metcalfe, head of client services at Nomensa.
He added: "It is important for commercial, legal and moral reasons that websites put in place a strategy for accessibility, both in terms of quick wins and longer term improvements."
Nomensa tested representative websites from five key sectors - travel, retail, banking, government and media.
In the UK, the websites looked at included Marks & Spencer, Lloyds TSB, British Airways and The Guardian.
The BBC's website was not included in the survey.
The British Prime Minster's sites alongside the Spanish government site and the German Chancellor's site were the only three to conform to the most basic standards.
In order to reach the minimum standards - tested against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - websites needed to provide adequate text descriptions for graphical content so that visually impaired people could 'read' pictures. 93% of the websites failed to meet those guidelines.
Ninety eight percent did not follow industry web standards for programming code, meaning the foundations for web accessibility simply were not there.
Time to talk
Mark Gristock, marketing director of usability firm Foviance, is unsurprised by the results.
"This is the same results we always get. The guidelines have been in place for seven years but they aren't actually checkpoints so people can interpret them in a variety of ways. What is needed is practical advice about what happens when you build a website.
"Building dull, technically compliant websites is easy but building commercially successful sites that are also accessible is not," he said.
It was time to share examples of good practice so that web developers could start incorporating accessibility into the design of websites, he suggested
"Accessibility consultants and organisations for the disabled clutch their knowledge of user requirements to them like they are the key to future profits - which indeed they are.
"If they had any interest in raising standards, they would be sharing their findings with the world and opening dialogue with the design and business community about how best to integrate techniques with standard processes," he said.
But standards are there to be shared, if needed. The W3C.org organisation offers standards and guidelines on building accessible websites, while AbilityNet and the Royal National Institute for the Blind also offer information and advice.
The World Health Organisation estimates that there are around 600 million disabled people worldwide, which represents about 10% of the world's population. Of these, around 80% are believed to live in developing countries.
The countries surveyed by Nomensa were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States of America.