A new grants programme will help save the education community millions of pounds as it struggles to comply with strict accessibility legislation in the European Year of the Disabled.
The EduServ Grants Programme, launched last week, will fund the purchase of a site-wide licence for every higher and further education institution in the UK of LIFT software, developed by accessibility software specialist UsableNet.
The programme comes as new research shows that up to a third of university websites fail to meet minimum accessibility requirements. The grant will benefit all 750 institutions and supply each with award-winning web accessibility testing and fixing solutions valued at between £860 and £8,000 per institution. Funds will come from EduServ surpluses.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Senda), which came into force last September, introduces the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against in education, training and any services provided wholly or mainly for them.
Poor website accessibility statistics were released by Nomensa, a company specialising in human-centred web design, which tested 100 university websites. Preliminary findings show that a third of the sample home pages failed to meet basic accessibility guidelines set out by the World Wide Web Consortium, the international web standards body.
The tests reveal that 44 per cent of the home pages did not allow text to scale in standard browsers, a necessary requirement for users with visual disabilities, and 83 per cent of the home pages did not use valid HTML coding.
Only 9 per cent of websites passed all Nomensa tests, and the company forecasts that a much higher rate of failure is likely when the data has been fully analysed.
Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa, said: "Although many universities have made steps to improve the accessibility of their online information, there is still a lot more work to be done before they are fully compliant with Senda legislation. The key to improving this is through training key staff to ensure that new content is accessible."
The EduServ grant will cover purchase and support of one site-wide licence of any one of the LIFT applications until April 30 2005. The new CHEST contract that runs alongside the EduServ grant will facilitate the purchase of additional site-wide licences.