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Nearly twelve million people in the UK have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability.

Ofcom recently published its Disabled Consumers’ Ownership of Communications Services Report, which reveals younger disabled people now have roughly the same level of internet access as the non-disabled.

What are the common mistakes of accessibility and what does the landscape look like for disabled consumers' access to the web?

The numbers

Among 15-34s the figures for internet access stand at 90% for the disabled compared with 93% for the non-disabled. 

This increases still further for the affluent consumers in the 15-34 age group. 

However, for older (65+) less affluent disabled people, internet access levels are at their lowest (23%). This is significantly lower than among non-disabled people of the same age and socio-economic group (37%). 

Across all age groups, internet access is 55% for disabled consumers, compared with 83% for non-disabled consumers. This can partly be explained by their older profile as half of disabled people are aged 65+.

Mobile

Mobile phone access is roughly equal between disabled and non-disabled adults across most age groups. 

92% of disabled people aged 15-34 have a mobile phone compared to 87% among non-disabled adults in this age group. Two-thirds of disabled people aged 75+ have a mobile phone but this is lower than among non-disabled people of the same age (72%). 

Ofcom’s guide for consumers with disabilities can be found here.

Best practice

Imagery, copy and email

Take a look at the RNIB website, which offers some good guidelines on web access. 

I’ve also dug up some salient points from the Econsultancy blog.

Tom Stewart looks at some myths of accessibility and includes the following simple advice for website contributors. 

  1. Check that the website still works with images turned off.
  2. Many users of sign language find it hard to follow complex written language on screen. Keeping screen language simple and straightforward benefits most users, including deaf ones.

Tom has also look at some of Amazon's past communications, including email, that have fallen into some traps of accessibility.

inaccessible email from amazon 

On this email,

The content is placed within tables (purely for format purposes) which makes them confusing and difficult to navigate through for screen reader users. 

The images that are downloaded don’t appear to have alt text (which in this instance is acceptable as the images are decorative) so JAWS users are presented with link text (which makes sense). But it’s very difficult to navigate through these links as the table makes the navigation much more complicated than it needs to be.

Keyboard focus, colour contrast and alt text, new windows

Chris Rourke has previously examined the Four Seasons website to highlight some common errors.

At launch the website offered

  • Inaccessible functions for keyboard users (no indication of which links have keyboard focus). This includes the booking engine.
  • Poor colour contrast.
  • New windows opening without warning.
  • Missing/inappropriate alt text.
  • Inaccessible forms/poor error reporting.

Flying the flag 

For an example of best practice in action, check out Gov.uk.

With increasing access for the disabled, there's no better time to revisit the accessibility of your site. 

Ben Davis

Published 1 October, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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