Social-Networking Sites ‘Locking Users Out’

But are not breaking disability discrimination laws

Written by Andrea-Marie Vassou, Computeractive
14 May 2009

Social-networking websites and those based on user-generated content are “effectively locking out” disabled users, charities have said.

In the UK there are estimated to be 1.6 million registered blind people, 1.5 million with cognitive difficulties and six million that have dyslexia.

Accessibility charity Abilitynet and the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People
(BCODP), said by not providing accessibility options, it is often too challenging for people with disabilities to use sites such as
Facebook andTwitter. And they warned as these sites become more popular the situation could get “more challenging”.

There are often no alternatives to features such as Captcha,
which involves the user having to read a distorted image of a word and enter that text to be able to continue. And many sites with user-generated content do not offer different fonts, colours or text sizes.

Robin Christopherson, head of accessibility services at Abilitynet, said that sites were “effectively locking out users” at registration. This is because they used features such as Captcha, which involves the user having to read a distorted image of a word and enter that text into a box to be able to register. He said there was no alternative
text provided for these images to assist the partially sighted.

“If anything it’s more of a challenge to make one of the new sites accessible than it was before – so things may actually get worse,” he said.

There is often little incentive to get web developers to make these sites accessible. The World Wide Web (W3C) consortium,
an international group developing web standards, does issue accessibility guidelines for web developers. However, Richard Wood, chairman of the BCODP, said: “Website developers can’t be bothered to follow the criteria set out to ensure disabled users have access to these sites.”

And in the UK there is also no legal requirement for these sites to follow these guidelines.

Companies selling products and services must comply with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Government body charged with ending the discrimination and harassment of people because of disability, age or religion, said: “As these sites are not offering goods or services, the DDA does not apply.”

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