A report published today and commissioned by the United Nations (UN), reveals that 97% of websites tested fail to achieve the minimum web accessibility level.

The survey, designed to measure the extent to which people living with disabilities are able to benefit from technological developments online has revealed very few websites meet minimum standards.

Using a combination of manual and automated testing against the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG), UK-based web accessibility agency Nomensa examined the leading website in five different sectors in 20 countries, including its Head of State and leading airline, bank, newspaper and retailer. In all, the survey tested 100 websites based on generally agreed international standards.

Key shortfalls identified in the report were:

  • 93% did not provide adequate text descriptions for graphical content, causing problems for visually impaired people;
  • 73% relied on JavaScript for important functionality, making it impossible for an estimated 10% of internet users using the Internet to access key information;
  • 78% used foreground and background colour combinations with poor contrast, making it difficult for people with mild visual conditions such as colour blindness to read information;
  • 98% did not follow industry web standards for the programming code, providing poor foundations for web accessibility;
  • 97% used fixed units of measurement, preventing people from altering the size of text or comfortably resizing the page so that content can be easily scaled;
  • 89% failed to use the correct technique for conveying document structure through the use of headings, making page navigation awkward for many visually impaired people;
  • 87% caused pop-up windows to appear without warning the user, causing disorientation problems for people using screen magnification software.

Performance across the different sectors was varied, with central government, retail and banking offering the strongest accessibility performances across all countries. And the three websites achieving the minimum standards were those representing the German Chancellor, the Spanish Government, and the UK Prime Minister.

About the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines

  • Priority 1: A Website content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Website documents.
  • Priority 2: A website content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing website documents.
  • Priority 3: A website content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to website documents.

List of Checkpoints for Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
Copyright © 1999 W3C (MIT, INRIA, Keio), All Rights Reserved. W3C liability, trademark, document use and software licensing rules apply.

“This is the first ever global survey,” says Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa. “With online information linking people increasingly together, it is vital that sections of the global population are not alienated and left out as innovation continues apace. While only three websites made it onto the first rung of the accessibility ladder, many websites were in grasping distance of achieving minimum levels of accessibility.”

The 20 countries audited 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 the United States.