Four of the five major UK supermarkets are falling below minimum accessibility standards for disabled users, according to a report published today.

In its eNation report, the charity AbilityNet says that Tesco‘s website is sufficiently accessible – but that those of Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Somerfield cannot be easily accessed by people with a vision impairment, dyslexia or physical disability making mouse use difficult.    

The report’s author, Robin Christopherson, said: “Despite the fact that two years ago all the supermarkets in the sample made a public commitment to make their home shopping facilities more accessible and DDA-compliant in the near future, there is little to show for the considerable period that has elapsed since this pledge.”

It should be noted that these supermarkets are by no means alone among major businesses in failing to address accessibility issues.

The apathy in this area is surprising even though the potential legal risk in failing to adhere to the Disability Discrimination Act seems to be smaller than previously feared (or hoped for, depending on your perspective).

While it is not a major cause for shock that the potential brand damage associated with poor accessibility and bad customer experience does not get the attention of senior decision-makers, it is very surprising that the money potentially being thrown away does not trigger major guilty brands into action.

Billions of pounds/dollars are being lost through the failure of many websites to be properly accessible.

It was pointed out at an E-consultancy roundtable on accessibility that the number of registered disabled people in the UK amounts to 15% of the population including 1.6 million registered blind users.

Here is the return on investment argument for usability and accessibility as outlined in the roundtable notes

  • There are 8.6 million registered disabled people in the UK. (Disability Rights Commission)
  • There are 1.6 million registered blind users. (Employers’ Forum on Disability)
  • Two million UK residents have a sight problem. (RNIB)
  • One in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of colour blindness – 9% of the UK population (IEE)
  • 3.4 million people have disabilities preventing them from using the standard keyboard, screen and mouse set-up with ease. (Employers’ Forum on Disability)
  • There are 12 million people aged 60 or over. (UK government)
  • UK population is also becoming older which means businesses will increasingly need to tap into an older – and often affluent – demographic.
  • Online businesses are potentially losing out on some £50-£60bn per year buying power.  (Employers’ Forum on Disability)
  • Businesses can effect significant upturn in online sales by making websites more accessible.
  • Accessible web sites are better websites for users anyway, irrespective of disability.
  • Better accessibility means better conversion rates.

So it’s not (just) a moral issue for big brands to be as usable and accessible as possible. It’s a matter for shareholders because damage is being done to the bottom line if standards are not being met.