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Unfriendly sites could cost more than just customers.

Birmingham businesses with 'user unfriendly websites' are not only losing out on their share of billions of pounds of potential online custom - they are also just a click away from potential legal action, according to national charity Shaw Trust.

"Businesses aren't deliberately shutting their e-doors to millions of customers worldwide, they simply don't always realise that have a legal obligation to ensure that their websites are accessible to everyone under the Disability Discrimination Act, or how to go about making it happen," said Cam Nicholl, of Shaw Trust's Web Accessibility services (STWA).

"A truly accessible website is a winner in all ways, not least because it vastly increases potential custom. It is estimated that disabled people in the UK have an annual available spending power of some pounds 80 billion."

A Disability Rights Commission investigation revealed that 81 per cent of British websites were inaccessible to disabled people, prompting the DRC to sponsor the guidance document Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 78 guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites.

More recent research, commissioned by the United Nations for the UN International Day of Disabled Persons 'E Accessibility Day', paints an even bleaker picture.

Some 97 per cent of global websites failed to achieve even the minimum level of accessibility under Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

"When you consider that the World Health Organisation estimates that there are around 600 million disabled people worldwide - about ten per cent of the world's population - then this level of inaccessibility is plainly unacceptable," added Cam Nicholl.

The Shaw Trust Web Accessibility service offers businesses website auditing and accessibility training to help ensure that their websites are compliant.

There are two levels of Shaw Trust Web Accreditation, endorsed by GAWDS (Guild of Accessible Web Developers). The rigorous website MOT includes hands-on testing by a team of people with disabilities, using a wide range of assistive technology.

They have found that the three most common WCAG non compliances are incorrectly nested headings or heading structure not applied at all; links which are not sufficiently descriptive (ie: 'Click here' or 'More') and missing alt text or alt text which is insufficiently descriptive.

Businesses and organisations with the STWA stamp of approval include the National Assembly for Wales, Coca-Cola, the British Standards Instutute, the Red Cross and financial services giant Legal & General, which reported an immediate 95 per cent increase in customers wanting a life quote and a 90 per cent upswing in online life insurance sales.

The company, which has over 5.4 million customers and more than 8,800 staff, put the business case for accessibility at the launch of the PAS Guide, reporting that it had an 100 per cent return on investing in the STWAS within two months. Legal & General also saw a 30 per cent increase in natural search engine traffic, significant improvements in its rankings in Google for all target keywords and a 75 per cent reduction in time to load a page. The time and effort needed to manage content reduced from average of five days to half a day per job and they saved pounds 200,000 per annum on site maintenance.

For more information on STWA, contact Cam Nicholl on 01554 834257 or log onto www.shaw-trust.org.uk
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 27, 2007
Words:540
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