Help others to help your business

IN an age when all shops must offer disabled access and measures are in place for many special needs, it’s amazing how many companies continue to ignore the needs of disabled customers online.

IN an age when all shops must offer disabled access and measures are in place for many special needs, it’s amazing how many companies continue to ignore the needs of disabled customers online.

What they perhaps don’t realise is that they’re potentially missing out on more than 10% of their potential clientele.

With six million dyslexia sufferers and two million sight-impaired people in the UK, it’s not hard to see why this is a market that eCommerce retailers and other websites cannot afford to ignore.

While many web designers are aware of the need to make internet sites suitable for this audience, design limitations and restricted budgets have often constrained their ability to act.

As ever, technology has provided a simple and cost-effective solution. Packages such as our own Recite platform, which offers a range of tools to help dyslexic and visually impaired people access your website, can be integrated by adding a simple line of code to the existing site. Solutions include magnified plain text view, text-to-speech capability and translation into other languages.

The guidelines for web accessibility come from a number of different sources. The European Parliament endorses W3C AA as the minimum standard for accessibility websites, while UK law is covered by the Equality Act, which replaced most of the Disability Discrimination Act 2001 (DDA) on October 1, 2010.

The British Standards (BS) Institute also addresses the challenges of digital inclusion in its latest, detailed guide on how to make web products more accessible to disabled and elderly users. None of the guidelines are currently legal requirements.

I think there are two things that business owners and managers need to know. Firstly, you are potentially missing out on a large number of potential customers, who could be bringing revenue to your business in tough economic times.

Secondly, the government has made it clear that if the guidelines are not adopted more widely, they will write them into law.

One of the reasons for the low levels of W3C compliance is that it used to be a complicated thing to get right, dictating the use of colour and imagery across every page of your website ... hardly ideal in an industry where style is the key to success.

Asking web designers to make a website fully compliant could add thousands of pounds to the bill and, without legislation, clients see this as an avoidable cost. But legislation brings its own problems. The way I see it, if you comply, everyone wins.

:: Ross Linnett is founder and managing director of Recite Me Ltd

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