To what extent can websites owned by UK Small-to-Medium Enterprises be considered accessible?


As the subject of a handful of significant studies and a small, but growing, number of legal proceedings web accessibility drifts in and out of the academic and popular mindset.

At the time of writing, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have been in print for ten years and, in the UK, disability discrimination legislation has been offering legal remedies for just as long.

Since then, new guidelines have been published with a large and methodologically–variegated study begetting best–practice recommendations which are now ready to become a British Standard. But most contemporary research shows that many websites are continuing to fall short of even elementary accessibility requirements.

This research does not attempt to break the mould, recognising instead the potential for the World Wide Web to evolve at a rapid pace. This creates a need to continually produce data comparable with previous studies which allows us to monitor the effect that such rapid development has upon accessibility. At least three years separate this research from the last reputable study, so by using similar methods to the most successful research, new data were added to the arguments and new comparisons were drawn.

The first research phase performed automated accessibility testing on 30 websites owned by UK Small–to–Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in order to gain a quick overview of accessibility issues. Once this was concluded, the second research phase then set a mix of disabled and non–disabled users two simple tasks to complete on a website which was randomly selected from the sampling frame.

Although drawn from a small sample, the results had sufficient detail in places to be compared with larger studies. In terms of web standards, the results depicted a bleak picture among small business websites. The single ray of light came from the fact that most users, whether disabled or not, were able to perform simple tasks on the candidate site albeit some with more trouble than others.