Digital accessibility experts, Cimex have today unveiled its assessment of the three main political parties’ websites. The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are all falling short of UK standards and Cimex is calling on them to improve their websites

“Accessible websites are now a legal requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) so we decided to look at how the political party websites perform in the run up to the election,” explains Aspasia Dellaporta User Experience expert at Cimex. Although the degree of compliance was varied and all were making some efforts, none of the parties offered websites that were completely accessible to disabled people. “In the UK there are 10 million people with a registered disability, so it doesn’t make sense to exclude a significant part of your voters” adds Dellaporta.

Cimex assessed the sites using W3C accessibility guidelines, globally recognised as the gold standard, JAWS 5.10 screen reader, used by many blind people, an accessibility evaluation tool together with the team’s vast experience of how people with disabilities browse the web.

Among the most inaccessible websites was the Conservative’s scoring around 3/10 and definitely not designed with the terms of the DDA in mind. “A blind user would have to press the tab key from the keyboard more than a 100 times to fully navigate the Conservatives homepage,” continues Dellaporta. “There are no headings, which are needed by ‘screen readers to give the blind user an overview of the webpage they are on, and videos lack subtitles for deaf people.” Ironic for a party which claims to have been responsible for the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act .

The Liberal Democrats follow the Conservatives with 3/10 but they score the same for different reasons. Dellaporta says: “Orange may be the LibDems signature colour but set against white, it gives the partially sighted enormous problems and is not ideal for sighted people either. Moreover, the site lacks consistency, and where headings are used they are not coded carefully across the site. The navigation is split across each page and you cannot get a clear view of what you are doing and where you are. In addition, the main menu is in capital letters making it hard to read especially for dyslexic users. However, the LibDems are the only ones who provide synchronised captioning for their videos which are accessible for the deaf. So they did very well on this”. This party openly states on the website that they will “Work to make service providers’ websites fully accessible to people with disabilities. The Internet can provide a vital link to the outside world for some physically disabled people. Yet many websites still fail basic accessibility criteria.’

The Labour Party was the best site of the three with a score of 8/10. “The main issues on this site revolve around the form “Join the Labour” continues Dellaporta and adds: “the form and any forms on the site have not been coded properly following accessibility standards. Therefore when the blind user navigates the form the fields don’t speak well with JAWS screen reader and the user is left clueless of where and how to input their credit card details. The Labour part needs to take a more holistic approach to accessibility and test the site with disabled users”. Interestingly this was the only site that had a compliance statement which acknowledges that: “The Labour Party recognises the need for sites to comply with the best practice, legal and regulatory guidelines. While we are not yet 100 per cent compliant with best practice we are working hard to ensure that we move towards this goal.”

At this point it is urgent that both the Conservatives and the LibDems take a critical view of their website and learn from their mistakes. They need to do more research on accessibility and test their sites with disabled users.

Cimex’s research was carried out independently and with no political bias as part of it’s commitment to promote best practice in website design.

For press information contact Juliet Bernard at Bluebear on 01707 320274
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Published on: 12:00AM on 21st April 2005