Ninety-seven per cent of websites are failing to provide even the most basic levels of accessibility for people with disabilities,suggests a UN-commissioned survey released Tuesday.

The report by the accessibility agency Nomensa, based in the U.K.,tested the leading websites in five sectorsin 20 countries — including Canada — against a set of web accessibility guidelines.

The websites of the German chancellor, the Spanish government and the British prime minister were the only three sites to meet the minimum recognized level, and no site graded higher.

The survey lookedat leadings sites in the airline, bank, newspaper, retailer and federal government sectors.

"Performance across the different sectors was varied, with central government, retail and banking offering the strongest accessibility performances across all countries," said Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa.

"While only three websites made it onto the first rung of the accessibility ladder, many websites were in grasping distance of achieving minimum levels of accessibility."

Eight sites reportedly only had one issue, while 25 sites had two issues to resolve in order to meet the minimum requirements.

Sites from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa and the United States were among the others examined.

Other findings of the sites studied:

  • 93 per cent failed to provide adequate text descriptions for graphics.
  • 73 per cent relied on Javascript or Flash for important functions, tools which did not easily translate to text for the visually impaired
  • 87 per cent used pop-ups, which cause problems for those using screen magnification software.
  • 97 per cent did not allow people to alter or resize pages.
  • 78 per cent used colours with poor contrast - issues for those with colour blindness.
  • 89 per cent offered poor page navigation.

The websites were judged against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, establishedin 1999 bythe World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C), the main international standard organization for the World Wide Web.

The survey was released two days after Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke during the UN International Day of Disabled Persons onthe importance of making the internet available to everyone.

"Access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities," he said.

"As the development of the internet and these technologies takes their needs more fully into account, the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of participation."

A Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is expected to be approved at the United Nationslater this month, said Annan.