Dot not Com

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Does hope spring eternal in your human breast? Ever caught yourself mid-daydream, imagining that in the brave new world of cyber space people with disabilities would not be restricted from accessing essential services such as purchasing goods and obtaining resources?

Just think. A reality in which restrictions are not imposed by the limits of material physicality, and we would be able to function effectively as equals. Like birds set free to fly from the cruel cage of environmental definition.

Not so, time to wake up! According to a survey conducted by AbilityNet, whose team of web accessibility experts offer information, advice and a range of services to enable websites to be easy to use for all.

In a bi-monthly review, the charity found that a number of price comparison websites they assessed are in contravention of the Equality Act 2010, which made it illegal to bar disabled visitors from online services and information available to the general public.

It appears that people with disabilities are prevented from satisfactorily using these popular websites by a series of inaccessible web pages. AbilityNet believes the needs of disabled people are not sufficiently understood, or even if they are, they’re fundamentally being ignored in the initial design stages of online stores.

The report found that frequent design faults on websites include:

  • The use of images with incorrect alternative text images and even without alternative text

  • Necessary colour contrasts proved unsuitable and unhelpful; at times not even meeting the minimum contrast requirements.

  • Pages sometimes have no visible keyboard focus, which prevents keyboard-only users from navigating and also accessing drop down menus. Even when keyboard focus does appear, some drop-down menus only operate when the mouse is hovered over the navigation item.

  • For keyboard-only users, the distracting flashing panels acted as keyboard traps which could not be tabbed off; something that can prove to be a potential hazard for those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

  • There are inconsistencies in the order of items and links that make things particularly confusing for people with cognitive impairments.

According to AbilityNet, people in the UK with disabilities have the estimated spending power of £120 billion a year. With this in mind, there seems to be a sizable market being misrepresented and under-serviced. What a potentially formidable customer base for e-commerce to abandon, even if it is unwittingly.

It is well documented that consumers with disabilities often have less disposable income, particularly in these cash strapped times of increasing prices and government cut-backs. It is important therefore for these public members to equally have the widest choice of all possible options available, both online and in the high street. Just like every other shopper.

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