Blind cannot access major websites

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2011, 12:00am


The websites of McDonald's and 3, the mobile-phone brand, are the most user-unfriendly to blind surfers, a Blind Union survey found.

Webpages may be eye-catching for the sighted, but blind people were denied access because they were not coded to work with the programs used to help navigate the web, the union said.

'For blind users, when they come across a Flash page, it is like they have entered a blank page,' said the union's information technology advisory committee chairman Kevin Chow Kin-chun. 'The screen reader cannot read anything and so we do not know what to do.

'The key is coding a page right. There are barriers like having websites that are all images or flash that cannot be read.'

Worse still, he said, McDonald's also put a song on its opening webpage. 'It is too loud. And even if our software can decode the text and read it out, we may have difficulty hearing the text clearly,' Chow said.

The union's survey, conducted between May and September, covered 30 websites that members visited, or wanted to visit, the most. The sites included those of banks, news media, public utilities, and telecommunications companies.

Their user-friendliness to the blind was measured against a set of standards set out by World Wide Web Consortium - a global community working on open standards to ensure accessibility and development.

Among the standards used are whether the user menu is clearly labelled, ease of surfing without using the mouse, and the contrast of colours on a page.

Nine sites - including the South China Morning Post, HSBC, PPS (payment by phone), RTHK and HK Electric - were found to be 'satisfactory' and could be regarded as 'barrier-free' for blind users.

While most of the rest were 'largely acceptable', the websites of McDonald's and 3 - own by tycoon Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong - were found to be inaccessible to blind users, who have to use a screen reader to help surf a webpage.

A screen reader is an application that reads out what is happening on the computer screen - pop-up boxes, command buttons, menu items, and text. It acts almost as a sighted companion to the blind user. But it cannot decode Flash - a multimedia platform used to animate text, drawings, and still images on websites.

Union president Chong Chan-yau said: 'Most of the problems the blind face are caused by poor or inadequate web design. The aim of our survey is not to single out companies for criticism. We want them to improve because we want to use their services. Web accessibility is part of corporate responsibility. It is for all clients and should not be viewed as a special facility adapted for the blind.'

Internet Society chairman Charles Mok shared similar views. 'It is not rocket science and programmers can easily fine-tune the webpages to make them more easily accessible to blind clients,' he said.