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Site problems

Web "not accessible enough" for the visually impaired

People with disabilities are still not catered for by the internet, with many sites claiming to be accessible still falling short of recommended guidelines.

A panel of 14 industry experts gathered on Friday at the RNIB (Royal National Institution for the Blind) to discuss different aspects of web accessibility for people with sight difficulties.

"Over the course of our campaign we have come across many websites that claim to be accessible yet are very difficult to use if you have sight problems," said Julie Howell, campaign manager at the RNIB.

"Sometimes the process of placing an order is so complicated and confusing that a blind shopper is eventually forced to give up," added Howell.

But developing a website to suit everyone's needs is almost impossible.

"We should acknowledge that there are different audiences. The best approach is to offer everyone a common starting point and then encourage him or her to choose the route through the site that is best for them," said Chris Rourke, spokesman of User Vision, a company dedicated to improving site usability.

Design consultant Martyn Perks agrees the situation is difficult, but acknowledges there are answers out there.

"For me the most successful design is that which allows the user to 'socialise' it for their own needs. Creating content structure in XML and letting the user adapt the design is perhaps the most universal solution to aim for," said Perks.

The conference showed the current Content Accessibility Guidelines were simply not doing enough. The RNIB will be developing possible solutions over the next few months.

"The inclusion of users with disabilities at every stage of the design testing cycle would seem to be the ideal way to ensure that any resulting website is both fully accessible to and usable by people with disabilities," added RNIB's Howell.

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