The first “British standard” on website accessibility could force businesses to take the issue seriously, according to one leading disabled expert.
British Standard 8788 (BS 8788) on web accessibility was released this week and builds on guidance published four years ago.
The new code of practice provides a detailed guide on how to make websites more accessible, but crucially also includes guidance on creating the policies and procedures organisations need to eliminate the barriers faced by disabled people.
BSI, which developed the new standard, said its publication could help organisations meet the new legal duty – included in this year’s Equality Act – to make information accessible.
Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion for the disability charity AbilityNet, said that, as a blind web-user, he still faced “a lot of frustration” when using the internet.
He said he hoped the new standard would “raise awareness” and have a “real impact on people’s appreciation of the fact that [accessibility]needs to be built into everything they do” rather than being just a “bolt-on activity”, and said it could lead to improvements in both websites and software.
He added: “It is not just a technical guide, it is not just something for web developers. It is saying that every organisation needs to have an over-arching e-governance strategy that embeds accessibility.”
He said the new standard would provide a “requirement” for organisations to act, rather than the previous “optional best practice”.
He said: “It has got a bit more teeth because companies are used to complying with British Standards, so hopefully it will have some impact.”
Christopherson said there had been a legal duty for websites to be accessible under the Disability Discrimination Act for more than 10 years, but the government had done little to enforce the law.
Instead, individual disabled people have had to take civil claims through the courts, often with backing from charities such as RNIB.
He said that more than 90 per cent of websites do not even meet “single A” accessibility, the lowest of the three levels. The new standard places “double A”, the middle of the three levels, as the “medium term goal”.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the publication of a new standard was included in the new government’s eAccessibility Action Plan in October.
He said: “We knew it was coming and we welcome it and hope industry will sign up to it.
“We will continue to work through the action plan to achieve those goals.”
2 December 2010