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Sites for the disabled flunk access tests

More than half of the disability Web sites in a U.K. survey failed to meet accessibility guidelines--meaning they cannot be used by some of the people they aim to support.

More than half of Web sites run by disability organizations are failing to pass accessibility tests, according to a survey--meaning they cannot be used by some of the very people that they aim to support.

Last week, leading e-commerce Web sites were pointed out by the U.K.'s independent Disabled Rights Commission for failing accessibility tests. However, many members of the online community may well be more surprised by the findings of the Disability 50 survey conducted by communications consultancy Ethical Media.

Ethical Media tested 50 leading disability Web sites against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The guidelines were established to ensure that people with disabilities, such as those with visual impairments, would still be able to access the Internet.

While such organizations are meant to follow the same rules as the majority of e-commerce sites, it could be argued they have a greater moral obligation to comply with these standards. Yet 58 percent failed to achieve the W3C's compulsory compliance level, the Ethical Media study found.

While these sites are clearly not meeting the needs of their users, they are also failing in the important role of leading by example, according to Paul Sternberg, the managing director of Ethical Media.

Sternberg said those organizations that fail to achieve basic compliance also risk serious damage to their reputations and risk undermining their own good causes.

However, Struan Robertson, an associate solicitor at information technology law firm Masons, said a major difference between sites aimed at the disabled and the e-commerce sites exposed last week is funding.

"Financial resources would have to be taken into consideration," he said. "The Disabled Rights Commission itself has stated that financial resources will be a factor in determining what changes should be made to a site."

If a disability organization's Web site received a complaint, Robertson believes a court would be unlikely to decide it had the necessary financial resources available to create high-level accessibility functionality for its site and that the organization was therefore remiss for not doing so.

A number of sites, including , , the and the were singled out for praise by Ethical Media.