Digital Accessibility Forum 2009

Singapore, 19 November 2009 – According to a baseline study by the Infocomm Accessibility Centre (IAC), only about one-third of 162 local websites surveyed have at least one page of their website that does not show up as inaccessible. This is a far cry from the international standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which explain how to make all pages of a website accessible.

This is one of the results uncovered in the study undertaken to establish a rough guide as to where Singapore is with regard to web accessibility. Through the study, it was also revealed that in general, public sector websites performed slightly better than private sector websites.

The survey results were released today during the Digital Accessibility Forum organised by the IAC. The forum featured international accessibility experts such as Ms Shawn Henry of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and Mr Hiroshi Kawamura, President of the DAISY Consortium.

The websites surveyed were of organisations chosen from under the Singapore Government Online Directory, STI Index and FTSE ST Mid-Cap list. Using an online automated evaluation tool, the homepages as well as three other representative sample pages on each website were evaluated to help determine their level of compliance with Web Contact Accessibililty Guidelines (WCAG) set out by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The tool evaluates many of the accessibility requirements of WCAG, and human evaluation covers the others.

Of all the websites surveyed, 56 of 162 websites had at least one web page that showed no errors when put through an accessibility evaluation tool. Only 11 websites were found to have at least four pages that showed no errors, of which eight were from the public sector.

“With the web becoming an increasingly essential resource for most aspects of our daily lives, making websites accessible to people with disabilities is crucial. The web can be a powerful enabler for people with disabilities when websites and tools are designed properly. However, when they are poorly designed, they can create barriers that exclude people from using the web, thus creating a digital divide,” said Ms Shawn Henry. “Accessible websites also benefit older users who may develop age-related impairments. This is an increasing issue in Singapore.”

Accessible websites must be designed properly so that people with disabilities can employ adaptive methods to experience the Internet. For example, a user with visual impairment will need alternative text readable by screen readers to understand and appreciate images they are unable to see clearly; while a user with hearing impairments relies on text to comprehend audio information.

Dr Ow Chee Chung, Advisor to the Society for the Physically Disabled’s Board & Management, said “While Singapore has made great progress in reducing the many physical barriers for people with disabilities, there are still many virtual barriers in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for people with disabilities. As such, we must work together to overcome these virtual barriers. We want to offer practical approaches to encourage ICT and web accessibility for all Singaporean and government websites to be accessible by 2015.”

Countries or regions like the US, European Union, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all have legislation in place for web accessibility. Some countries, like the US, have codified into law standards for government websites, while others, like Korea, have legislation that applies to both public and private websites. However, Singapore has no such laws requiring minimum standards for web accessibility.

“We would like to make a formal advocacy appeal to the Government to reinstate a direction on accessible ICT and web accessibility in the iN2015 Masterplan, and to take the lead by making all government and e-government portals conform the international standards of web accessibility by 2015,” added Dr Ow.