Little holiday joy for disabled and elderly this summer

AbilityNetEleven of the UK’s top twelve holiday and airline sites are inaccessible to disabled and older customers.

Sun, sea and sand are in short supply this summer for disabled and elderly people trying to research and book their holidays online, according to a new survey published today by national technology and disability charity, AbilityNet.

A decade after AbilityNet first reviewed the country’s top airlines for website accessibility and usability, it appears that little if anything has improved, despite huge advances in technology and provision for disabled people in general. Of the top twelve carriers and holiday companies sampled – British Airways, Carnival, Club Med, EasyJet, First Choice, Monarch, Qantas, Ryanair, Saga, STA Travel, Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic – just one met the base level of access requirements needed to research travel and accommodation options and make flight or holiday reservations.

Of the remaining eleven companies, ten require immediate attention meaning that disabled users on some sites took over an hour to make their bookings and on others were unable to complete the process altogether.

The report’s author, Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion who is himself blind, says that as well as legal risks this is of significant commercial concern:

“This is a fiercely competitive market and it’s surprising to see leading players overlooking this opportunity to meet customer needs. There are 12 million disabled people and 10 million over 65s in the UK, with an estimated spending power of over £100 billion, yet many of them will have trouble using these websites to book flights and holidays. Many of the issues we’ve raised are easily fixed and it’s an obvious way to stand out from the competition.”

Sites were checked for compliance with globally recognised accessibility guidelines using automated tools, as well as by evaluating the experiences of a range of AbilityNet’s disabled user testers. AbilityNet experts also looked for the presence of best practice accessibility help features to enable customers to access services more easily.

The tester panel attempted to carry out typical real life tasks using the most commonly encountered access technologies. These include magnification software and screen readers or text to speech software for the visually impaired and people with dyslexia, and for those with physical difficulties, using the keyboard instead of the mouse to navigate the screen. Other testers had hearing and dexterity issues common amongst older customers.

A user with dexterity issues who uses the keyboard instead of a mouse to access the internet had the following to say about a website specifically aimed at older travellers: “I could not see what link was active so it was impossible to tab around the page to make any choices. Making active links visible (where the mouse is) is essential to navigate the page in any way.”

Another user with poor vision said of a different site: “When booking flights and choosing dates the calendar appeared very small making it hard to read. The layout wasn’t clear and there was too much going on. The colour contrast (grey on white) was very difficult to read and certain headings were very small.”

Only Club Med approached the level of accessibility needed to be legally compliant and all sites had some significant usability and design problems preventing disabled people from being able to effectively use their services.

As well as the legal issues involved, this suggests that many providers could be turning away a very significant number of potential customers due to inaccessible processes on poorly designed websites.

Adds Robin Christopherson:

“The challenges of researching and booking holidays can present a double bind to the country’s 12 million disabled people and 10 million over 65s, who are increasingly subject to age related conditions like hearing loss, macular degeneration and arthritis.

“Whilst internet shopping and research extends consumer choice immeasurably (particularly because many operators only sell their products online) many would-be holiday makers find that they are losing out due to badly designed web pages that prevent them from shopping around and finding the best deals on flights and bargain breaks.”

The Law is clear on this issue. Says Kerren Daly, Partner at employment law specialists, DWF: “There is a clear legal obligation on website owners to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that they are accessible to disabled users set out in the Equality Act 2010 and confirmed in the subsequent Statutory Code of Practice.

“The industry standard guidelines issued by the World Wide Web Consortium have already been taken into account in discrimination cases brought by disabled users. It goes without saying however that despite the legal obligation to do so, it simply makes good commercial sense to design your website in a way that ensures that it’s fully accessible to all users.”  

To see the report in full visit the AbilityNet website at www.abilitynet.org.uk/enation.

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