A ‘mystery shopper’ test which sent emails to a range of UK local council and private sector websites requesting information on their accessibility to blind users has uncovered a pattern of poor responses, with around one in five sites not bothering to respond at all.
The exercise, carried out by the local government Society of IT Management as part of its annual ‘Better Connected’ review of council websites (
www.socitm.gov.uk/socitm/Library/Better+Connected+2009.htm ), found local government websites performed better than sites in other sectors.
The test featured an anonymous email claiming to be from a blind person who was having difficulty using the website, with a request for help in accessing services. The same message was sent to all UK councils, plus a sample of 20 household name companies from the finance, travel and retail sectors.
Some 52% in local government sent back a satisfactory response, compared with just 27% of websites from other sectors. Additionally, in 13% of cases with websites from other sectors, an email address could not even be found, while there were no instances of this with local government sites. However, local government did perform marginally worse or similar to the public sector in some regards: some 20% of council sites failed to reply at all, compared with 18% from other sectors, and 43% of the other websites contacted sent a reply within two days, compared to 42% of council sites.
The report claims that “Generally, the differences in the quality of replies imply a lower level of awareness of website accessibility in other sectors,” although the large difference in sample sizes between the two sectors (around 500 compared with just 20) should be taken into account.
Elsewhere in the Socitm report, general accessibility testing found a picture of low compliance with international standards, and little improvement on accessibility levels found a year previously. For a full report see Section Four, this issue.