Campaign: Websites shamed over disabled access

There are more than ten million people with disabilities in the UK, with a combined spending power in excess of £80bn a year. Yet, despite the legal requirements outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act, few companies have adequately tackled the issue of website accessibility and usability.

Campaign Disability web access
Client Nomensa
PR team Immediate Future
Timescale 15 March-31 May 2006
Budget £8,000

Charities campaigning on behalf of the visually impaired say poor website design contributes to exclusion. Nomensa, which specialises in website design, asked retained PR agency Immediate Future to promote the firm's activity in this area.

Objectives
To position Nomensa as a thought leader on the usability and accessibility of websites among the executives of blue-chip organisations. To contribute to the accessibility debate in relation to corporate websites and link discussion with the Nomensa name.

Strategy and Plan
Nomensa tested FTSE 100 company websites for accessibility, and released the findings at a press event. Postal invites acted as a teaser to intrigue journalists - they contained a ‘littlebox of senses', comprising small gifts representing the five human senses, such as a scented candle and an eyeball-shaped lollipop.

Each gift was tagged with a Nom­ensa message. The invite was also translated into Braille.

The website research showed that 75 per cent of FTSE 100 company websites failed to meet the minimum legal requirement for disabled access. To illustrate the consequences of this, journalists had their senses impaired to reveal the web navigation problems faced by people with cognitive or physical disabilities. Immediate Future then sent letters to newspaper and IT magazine editors, detailing the plight faced by disabled internet users.

Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign initially produced 19 articles. After BBC Online broke the story, it was followed up in magazines including ITWeek, Revolution, Computing, Managing Information, Retail Week, Digit and New Media Age.

Five blogs were posted on launch day, including two on cre8asiteforums.com.

In the following weeks, 11 further items of coverage appeared. The highlights included a special Accessibility issue of .net magazine, and a 900-word opinion article by Nomensa managing director Simon Norris in Financial Times section Digital Business.

All media monitoring was conducted by Durrants.

Results
All of the coverage showed Nomensa in a positive light and carried its key messages. Traffic to the company website increased from an average of 250 visits per day to 1,326 visits on launch day. Visits also increased following New Media Age and the FT's coverage.

Nomensa has received 57 requests for its report from FTSE 100 companies, including 25 requests direct from executives. It has also been contacted by the United Nations, requesting Nomensa's input on a disability directive for international governments.

Peter Whitehead, editor of FT Digital Business, says: ‘The launch was a wake-up call. I had to navigate my way through the FT.com pages until I reached the Digital Business home page. The catch was that I had to do it with the computer screen turned away from me. It made me realise the importance of accessibility in web design.'

SECOND OPINION

Julie Howell, digital policy development manager, RNIB:
Few major businesses are unaware of their legal duty to disabled customers. But while increasing numbers know their duty extends to the means by which they deliver services, they do not always consider web design.

This campaign by Nomensa is laudable and went some way to answering the questions surrounding disabled access to corporate websites. However, the gulf between awareness of accessibility guidelines and their implementation has already been well documented by the Disability Rights Commission.

Indeed, the commission published guidelines for businesses - Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites - in March, days before the start of Nomensa's campaign. It said that universal web standards should form the cornerstone of efforts to influence behaviour around this issue, but the guide was not mentioned in the Nomensa campaign.

While Nomensa's attempt to position itself as a thought leader is commendable, the campaign's success in this regard is not clear. Getting in front of board members will not necessarily lead to more accessible websites.

Will Nomensa take the next step and provide practical solutions? While we commend Nomensa for raising awareness of the issue, it would be good to hear how it intends to encourage businesses to take action. This campaign has proved there is a problem - now's the time for a solution.

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