December 5, 2006 By Gina M. Scott
The UN states: "The United Nations aims to raise appreciation among governments, private entities and the public of the significant benefits to persons with disabilities and society when they are empowered with increased access to information technologies."
Recently, Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan also highlighted the importance of accessibility, stating that "access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities." He also said that with the development of Internet and technologies "the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of participation."
At the conference, the UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs released the findings of a survey to determine how accessible the Internet is for persons with disabilities. Conducted by the UK based accessibility firm Nomensa, the audit investigated the accessibility of 100 leading Web sites from 20 countries from around the world.
The aim of the survey, which was not intended to be exhaustive, was to obtain an indication concerning the existing status of accessibility of Web sites that people with disabilities might access as part of their daily lives.
Focusing on Articles 21(c) and 9(g) of the Draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, five sectors were chosen. Each sector was intended to reflect a key area of interaction for people online:
"Fully accessible Web sites are not only good for persons with disabilities, they are good for everyone," Thomas Schindlmayr, policy specialist for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs said. "Persons with disabilities shop, they travel and they need information just like everyone else. Allowing people to exercise their human rights and play their full part in the economic, social and political lives of their societies just makes good sense all around."
Of the 100 homepages evaluated during the audit, only three achieved Single-A accessibility -- the basic accessibility rating for people who are blind, have low-vision disabilities, or cannot use a computer mouse: German Chancellor's site, Spanish Government's site and the British Prime Minister's site.
The performance across different sectors was varied, with central government, retail and banking offering the strongest (or joint strongest) accessibility performance across all countries.
Key shortfalls identified in the report were:
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