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back to article Disabled can't 'Go Compare' on price comparison websites

Disabled visitors to five of the UK's most popular price comparison websites are not being provided with sufficient tools to successfully use the sites, which is a breach of laws on discrimination, a charity has said. AbilityNet said a review of comparethemarket.com, gocompare.com, mysupermarket.co.uk and confused.com has …

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Anonymous Coward

Not so easy

I looked into this a year or more ago but it's a difficult area. There doesn't appear to be a standard for screen readers. I found different "expert" sites gave conflicting results and even their own sites failed their tests!

In the end all I could do was provide good alt text.

I think what's really needed is a clear standard and then sites can provide a version of their pages which meet that standard (like we used to do for mobiles).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not so easy

It really isn't easy to properly address this area with the best will in the world. I got involved in some work for the visually disabled UI adaptation in the 90s and was difficult working with the charities and their agendas. Hyperbole like this '12 million disabled' quote is extremely unhelpful, it would be far more useful to estimate the number affected by these website deficiencies.

More recently, an accident gave me several months of experiencing some of the problems first hand, thankfully leaving vision completely restored after a couple of years.

Speaking as a developer, the single most useful action would be to make the software and guidance used to help accessability available free of charge so I can test how well we are doing to support blind and partially sighted users. Far more useful than one report after another or veiled threats of legal stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

RE: Re: Not so easy

Sadly I don't think those with the monopolies will make it open source or free. The horror stories I've heard about point and speech tools is an example. Someone released an Iphone app that can be programmed to give a spoken response to the button pressed. The company who makes professional disability aids sued them and forced them to take it off the market. The disability aids range from £700-3000. The Iphone App from £300 or so (still alot, but much cheaper).

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Boffin

Re: RE: Not so easy

The first thing to do is to disable images in your browser and see if you can still navigate the site using your keyboard.

If you can't, fix it.

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Re: Not so easy

Do not believe it, a lot is deliberately done to preclude certain users.

For example, most insurers state holds or has held a UK licence, so that SHOULD mean that a holder of a Belgium reciprocal licence with a UK licence number will be accepted, Oh no it does not, you will get an automatic illegal refusal!

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Re: Not so easy

Tiresias is a start: http://www.tiresias.org (strapline: Making ICT accessible). It's been around for a few years now.

They even have a clear font: http://www.tiresias.org/fonts/

Though they're now moving most of the website content to http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/webaccessibility for some reason.

"Our free online information will help you design and build accessible websites. We have technical, design and editorial guidance, plus information on testing, standards, articles and links to useful resources. "

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Anonymous Coward

yes but ...

<rant>

I've watched for a decade as my blind partner has struggled to access information online ... (and also offline) ... using a screen-reader package that is (supposedly) intended for professional use - its a total f**king joke : costs in excess of 700 quid per seat, is an utter cpu hog, crashes left-right-and centre and displays all manner of pseudo-random behaviours ... on a pretty decent machine too - infact, she always has a faster machine than mine due to the added tax of running this supposedly 'enabling' software. It's ridiculous - so much expense for such a small amount of usefulness - a 'professional' product using speech output - you'd have thought for the price it would at least have a separate volume control from the overall windows output level ... but no. You'd have thought it wouldn't bring the system down every 30 minutes ... but no. In short, this enabling technology ... means I spend loads of my time helping-out with rudimentary things like dismissing dialog boxes that go unrecognised, or focusing input to a submit button on a web-form - making me an access service provider ...

Until this side of things is sorted-out there's very little point in bitching about online access to goods and services - sure it is not a pretty picture, and (for example) facebook's penchant to change everything all the time doesn't help, but without a decent, working, *usable set of access tools are devised, and marketed to a price-point somewhere short of arm-and-leg-territory no-one's gonna want to take this stuff seriously ... I mean, why should I bother to code a website to be accessible when I know that the access 'platform' itself is an utter pile of sh*te that will fall over as soon as it looks at a browser ?

discrimination ? level-playing fields ?

my arse - I'm not a carer, or an access provider and a *lot of the time my partner deals with stuff that I don't, only to find that her software becoming just another hurdle ...

</rant>

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Re: yes but ...

It's not much help right now, but...

It seems the main problem with these programs is they are integrated into the OS. If the OS has a problem, so does your reading software. Some mobile phones now have character recognition in the cameras and apps. Could you mount a phone or camera next to the display, and use this to read the screen? Then the computer can crash away, but even a BSOD could be read by the character reader on the phone.

I'm not sure if there are any general "book reading apps" you could use that would work. You might have to move the phone across the screen by hand to read each line (although, that does mimic eye movement and concentration, so it might actually be beneficial).

Hope someone can help!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: yes but ...

Thanks for the interesting perspective.

You always hear web developers go on about accessibility ("oh you can't do that it's not accessibile"), but most developers have never used screen reader software. Even the most committed accessibility proponents usually only stretch to using Lynx or some other text-only browser, rarely going as far as testing with a screen reader.

In other words most developers are trying to blindly (no pun intended) cater for screen readers without really underatanding how they work. Thank you so much for your real life experiences with screen readers, it's very insightful.

I also find it interesting that readers are so expensive and unperformant. Time to start an open source screen reader project anyone?

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Re: yes but ...

I was gonna ask precisely that. Isn't there something on Linux for that? I mean, that would be precisely where open source should shine, replacing expensive crappy _critical_ software.

On the other hand, I looked for a long time for an open source OCR and only found Tesseract (which is dated but still beats my crap $90 windows OCR hands down).

Shame that some types of deserving program categories never excite folks as much as others.

To the OP, txs for sharing. It is hard to understand the perspective without knowing how real life people are affected.

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Flame

Now watch ...

while fuck all is done. Because I can guarantee that somewhere in the food chain, someone is going to say "what is the downside to not doing anything ?" and the answer will come "well actually, nothing really".

Until we start seeing fines and meaningful penalties to back up the DDA, this will always be the case.

My wife has MS which has messed her eyesight up, and it's heartbreaking to see her struggle to read a website because of some whizzy colour scheme, and spinny graphics everywhere, with no though to tab order, or the fact people might resize their browser/font choices.

The real killer punch though, is that from the ground up, there is no extra effort involved in making websites accessible.And there is certainly no excuse - all the tools you'd need to help you are free.

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Re: Now watch ...

"The real killer punch though, is that from the ground up, there is no extra effort involved in making websites accessible.And there is certainly no excuse - all the tools you'd need to help you are free."

Why aren't organisations like the RNIB shouting this from the rooftops? More to the point, the real missed trick, is pointing out that about 90% of what you have to do to make a site accessible to people with visual impairment, is exactly the same as you do to make it accessible to search engine bots. A small site may not care (may not have even thought) about the disabled. But *everyone* cares about search engine listings.

I honestly don't think that enforcement is a viable option for online accessibility. It isn't like commercial property, most of the web is run by micro entities, in many cases non-commercial or making beer money from advertising. You might be able to get tough and make major commercial and government sites accessible, but that will still leave people shut out of most of the web. I honestly think that campaigners for online accessibility have taken the wrong approach - it has worked before in other areas, but by pushing a tough public line demanding enforcement in this area they have simply been largely ignored.

When I was looking into this several years ago there was very little information provided about how to make your site accessible. I remember checking the RNIB website, and the only thing they said was that they offered consultancy services (seemed to be pitched at things like government organisations). This was at the same time as seeing an interview with one of their spokespeople threatening hell and damnation on websites who didn't make themselves accessible.

I've just had a look now and their site is much much better in that regard, but they were definitely slow out of the block. Five or ten years ago, accessibility among those who couldn't hire consultants was basically a matter of rumours on webmaster forums being swapped by sighted people who had no access to screen reader software. I ended up just making sure my sites were usable in lynx (a text browser) and adding a skipnav link, and generally trying to use logical html structures for the information, and then styling with css.

I hope this doesn't come across as a rant. Certainly not at you or your wife! But I do think that campaigners for accessibility have approached the issue poorly, although they may be remedying that. I'm certainly going to have a good look at the guidelines on the RNIB site.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Now watch ...

a step foward is to use Opera and its accessibility settings - it works wonders on many badly designed sites

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Now watch ...

DON'T expect for a second that the RNIB are going to be any use here at all. For a start they need to decide whether or not they are a charity or a commercial organisation - they sell lots of 'specialist' kit so have a vested interest in keeping their 'market' in a position of needing them - i.e. not being empowered ... if they operated solely as a charity they would maybe make some headway - but they have way too much revenue to lose ...

and get this - in one of their office blocks the blind workers and the sighted workers have separate sections with their sighted employees using the term 'blind alley' to describe the space used by their blind employees.

it's a f*kin' disgrace.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Now watch ...

couldn't agree more about the RNIB and their charity status - to be avoided at all costs

but to practical things about design

1) an accessible site does not require an external 'on the bandwagon' consultant

2) there are numerous good examples out there - it does NOT cost a lot to make a site accessible

3) the number of disabled is of course exaggerated - it helps donations... blind are probably about 0.2% to 1% of population depending on definition

4) accessibility should not block the users device from chaging text size/colour

5) it is truly humbling to see a disabled person enjoying a website that you influenced/designed

ignore the charity bandwagon and donation hunters - get a good design out there and help people like this girl with MS

the readers of The Reg could genuinely influence this issue 'on the groun' in their work a lot more than a donation hunter -

lastly if you are donating, donate to the source institutions fighting the souce diseases / diabilities or that have clear accounts... (guide dogs for blind is one example)

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Go Compare should sack that annoying opera singer character and use the cash to fix the website.

A good website doesn't need advertising. When did you last see an advert for Facebook or Google on the TV?

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Actually

Actually, those TV adverts provide a useful service - they alert me of which websites to avoid! For some people a silly-ass advert like that may appear 'jolly', but to me it acts as a kind of 'twatdar'!

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When was the last time you saw decent competition to facebook or google on TV? Well, aside from all the bing adverts, but I hardly call that 'decent' competition.

GoCompare Confused Comparethemeercat etc all have constant competition with each other, there is no one company miles ahead of the rest.

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WTF?

What???!!!

>> In a statement Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet said: "Like everyone else in these hard times the country’s 12 million disabled people ...

Taking the country's population to be 60 million - that's a fifth of the population! There's either some hyperbole going on there or there needs to be some reappraisal of what constitutes "disabled".

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Re: What???!!!

You'd think that if anything like one fifth of potential customers were affected then market forces would be sufficient to ensure change and legislation would be unnecessary.

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FAIL

Re: What???!!!

"hard times the country’s 12 million disabled people".

12 million registered disabled, so probably about a 1/4 really, the rest just claiming the benefits.

Let''s face it, if you take the stats on x number people have this, y number of people suffer from this, then either the country have a population of 600 million, or some people have 50 critical illnesses and disabilities.

Back on subject, a lot of the disability act is a best effort job, so they don't expect a little website run from dave in his bedroom to chuck the resources at it, but they expect multi-billion pound companies to do so (remember most of the so called comparison websites are actually run by banks and insurance companies).

http://www.independent.co.uk/money/insurance/are-pricecomparison-sites-the-real-deal-464598.html

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What???!!!

"12 million registered disabled, so probably about a 1/4 really, the rest just claiming the benefits."

What about the disabled, claiming no benefits? People with poor eye sight for example.

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Flame

Re: What???!!!

The number is meaningless in this context.

Even ignoring disability cheats, it does not take much to register as "Disabled". Just because someone is registered disabled does not mean that the cannot read a website or run a mile. They might be partially deaf for example. I had a girlfriend who's father was registered disabled, with a sticker in his windscreen and all so he could park in those "Disabled" slots, but I once saw him dancing non-stop all evening. I don't know what his disability was supposed to be (and neither did my GF).

People seem to lose their heads when "disablility" is mentioned. Why for example are the disabled exempt from the M4 Severn Bridge toll? You pay without getting out of your seat, and from what I have seen they still have to reach out the car window to sign a form. Being disabled != hard up; it would make more sense if people on social security benefits were exempt.

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Understand?

The reason why many are still on various financial support can be easily explained, the paperwork is horrendous.

My doctor told me that if I was having problems with the paper work, then god help the rest, I helped him fill in a document. He had to change his way to the center to evaluate disabled people.

The reason, well if he went by car direct to the center he got 2.5p per mile, however, if he drove 25 mile to a rail station, paid for parking and ticket, caught a taxi at the city end he got all paid for and 30p a mile.

Guess what he did after I explained it!!!

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Re: What???!!!

What you have to consider is that many are also unable to get to a rail station, cannot easily get to bus routes and finally also have reduced incomes. Trouble is that the disabled thing is not standard across the EU, the various counties or even local councils. This situation needs internationally (EU) sorting out and with some alacrity.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What???!!!

The "Register of Disability" was removed by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (since mostly replaced by the Equality Act 2010). There has been no way to "register" as disabled since the 1995 act. A few local authorities will still let you "register" (i.e. send you a letter saying you have "registered"), simply because no one seems to have realised that the legislation was abolished years ago, and they like it for their statistics.

The scheme everyone is referring to (registered disabled) is where you went to a "Social Security Office" (remember them?) and got someone to fill out a little green card with your name on it. It was used for a quota system created after the second world war saying that all employers needed to employ 5% of their workforce as "disabled". It's that old.

There is still a separate (and again varies council by council) system to register as profoundly blind or deaf with some Social Services in order to receive help, but that's about all.

What most people think of as "registered disabled" is having a current award from Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, which are the benefits that cover sickness and disability.

See http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/RightsAndObligations/DisabilityRights/DG_4001068 for a definition, note the lack of the work "registered".

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FAIL

So....

A fifth of all UK residents are disabled? (12 million)

Come on, get a grip, that's absolute bollocks.

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Mushroom

Re: So....

Define "disabled" ?

Remember, some "disablities" can be countered ... glasses, hearing aids, walking sticks. Then again, some can't. Paralysis, blindness, deafness.

How about (for example) colour blindness (which I have). Makes me susceptible to crap colour schemes.

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Re: So....

Oi! There are laws against discriminating against the innumer thic arithmetically individualistic. Probably.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So....

Depends how you measure it...

I was short sighted (since had them zapped) and felt a lot of websites didn't meet my needs at all, I could get £13 from the government for the high prescription lenses (which cost around £400...) but it's not really seen as a disability by Jo Public as it affects so many people.

Note for those that don’t need visual correction, or only very minor correction: simply popping glasses on doesn't help with high prescriptions, there is distortion & everything looks smaller than it should, as a result, you’re fine to drive, but setting an 8px font size on a website makes it virtually impossible to read.

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short+long sighted

I was short sighted too, but now I have presbymiopia, which is the combination of short and long sightedness that starts late 40s. If the text is too small, I simply cannot read it at ANY distance. I don't regard myself as "disabled" but I can well believe that 20% of the population has this sort of problem,

I routinely increase the text size, but all too often some blockhead web designer has "optimised" it so that it is only legible on HIS screen using HIS browser.

Bring back early 1990s straightforward HTML, which browsers can resize and rejustify.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So....

you can compensate by creating your own css sheet and use that as your default stylesheet in some browsers or by changing the colour schem in the browser.

color blindness and dyslexia are two areas that can be easily dealt with changing default settings (dslexia is combatted by offering low contrasts) - blue on yellow for example

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Re: So....

You're making the bold assumption that the web designer has built the UI in such a way that the site still works in a logical way without their CSS!

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Facepalm

Re: So....

I think we all benefit from better colour schemes!

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Re: So....

You are obviously not aware that many do not have a board around thier necks saying Disabled, reason incontinence, or Disabled in wet weather due to extreme pain.

You also have to realise that many elderly people also have vision problems, problems walking too far, and even mental problems.

I would actually guess that the number mentioned is probably too low. many disabled also hold down jobs, fail to notify their problem to the disabled authorities and so on.

For example, my daughters other half is about 45, autistic, and terrified about certain things, like breaking down or getting lost.

He gets all the correct stuff but is not registered as disabled. Do not you think he is disabled.

Disabled:- to be in a state whereby lack of ability reduces or stops the ability to do things acheived by the average person.

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Re: So....

I agree, however, having the eyes "zapped" as you put it may seriously affect your later life vision, to the extent that until you have lenses replaced for cataracts you may have severe visual difficulties.

As for the size difference, may I suggest that you talk to your optician about that. It may be that the near sighted vision is incorrect.

I have had glasses all my life and they never created problems, just saved my sight, a piece of metal thrown from a drill caught in my glasses, a chip from a saw hit the lense and chipped it and the number of times that I never got arc eye walking thru various factories. (all glasses reflect too much light of the damaging spectrum of arc welding).

I now have had a trabotomy and have had cataract operations, now if I had not worn glasses these problems (may) never have been picked up. My mother went blind due to that and my uncle had lost his sight by 65. Incidentally they both were disabled, it is the amount of disability, not the actual totality.

I am disabled due to a back injury and a fire accident, I ride a m/c, and have an HGV but cannot ride a bicycle for more than 20 yds and on wet days cannot walk!

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Re: So....

Like it, you are also making the asumption that the designer is actually thinking!

Its the same as road designers, they think they are the same as them, however, motorcycles and trucks use the roads, not to add things like emergency vehicles.

All designers should have to have their workes checked by an assortment of users BEFORE implementation. Departments of pensions, health, NHS please note!

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Gold badge

A good screen reader...

...would be a wonderful thing.

It is not uncommon for a typical web-site to contain several dozen essentially unrelated fragments of text. News sites often have over a hundred.

To be "good", a screen reader would have to do rather better than simply read all of the text in no particular order. I don't think it is reasonable to expect screen-readers to pass the Turing test in the near future, so *that* requires web-sites to prioritise their bits and pieces. However, most ad-supported websites actually want you to find it *slightly* difficult to find your way through their site.

So ... would they prioritise the ads, or the content? If they prioritise the former, they are grasping bastards and will be strung up in the court of public opinion for force-feeding ads on poor blind children. (It's bound to be the children. Someone always thinks of them.) If they prioritise the latter, they can expect a Firefox extension to arrive Real Soon Now that uses the markup to downplay (or even omit altogether) those ads for *all* users, not just blind ones.

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Re: A good screen reader...

Would screen-readers combined with something like the Readability plugins improve things?

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Coat

Is nobody else concerned about all the blind people trying to find car insurance?

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Disabled can buy insurance

My partner owns our car, although she cannot drive, due to disability. She has the money, I do the driving.

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Mushroom

I'm blind, I do the money side of thing, my partner does the driving, also I use them for House Insurance, so please put your narrow mind, back to neutral please.

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Pretty sure that "I'll get my coat" icon had alt text with it. It means "lame joke", not "these are my sincerely held opinions".

Most of the applications I write use a web front end, and I'm a stickler for xhtml compliance, separation of design and markup, and accessibility features including css that you can switch off from within the application.

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MrT
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Yeah...

... that kind of backfired a bit, but then it is a touchy subject.

Anyway, on with the show.

Once upon a former time, back in about 2003-4, I had the privilege of meeting Mark Threadgold - he came up to the school in Leeds where I taught when my colleague invited him to talk to the ICT students about how his life had been changed by the horrific accident that resulted in total loss of vision (optic nerves cut, part of brain removed). He's an ex-serviceman, Royal Corps of Signals, and supported by St. Dunstan's Trust.

The things he had done since his accident were amazing - up to the point of his visit he'd repeated broken the blind person's water speed record (up to just shy of 100mph when we met him, in some crazy bat-boat styled craft), and he then went on to set the "Speed Record for an IOW Circumnavigation in the Blind Unlimited Class" around the Isle of Wight, and also try his hand at diving as well. Some of his fellow St. Dunstaners had done other mad stuff, mostly for things like speed or endurance records, including the guy who took the car round the Top Gear track in less than two minutes. IIRC one chap even did a solo skydive.

He told us that only 4% of all people registered as blind in the UK had total loss of vision, which means 96% of the blind people in this country can see in some way to one degree or another.

He then went on to demonstrate most of his kit, including a personalised shoulder-mounted GPS on his HP iPaq, the various things used to help him manage his kitchen and other household areas, and his screenreader using his own PC that he'd brought along with the rest. He had set it to his normal speed, roughly as fast as the squirrel on 'Hoodwinked' after having the coffee, but he slowed it down for all of us with untrained ears to hear.

Excellent bloke, and very interesting for both the students and us. Meeting someone like that beats any amount of reading or browsing about the sorts of things that can help overcome what seem like insurmountable things to the rest of us.

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Re: Disabled can buy insurance

You may own the insurance, however, you must give the name of the designated driver,AND it is on the insurance that you are not to drive and are not insured. It may even say that the vehicle may not be used if you are not in the vehicle!

Sorry to hear about the vision of your partner.

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Don't forget, these sites also offer comparisons on house insurance, savings account rates ...

/ my pet peeve is tablet navigation - not everyone has sufficient digits to perform five finger gestures

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There is also the small matter that most insurers won't give an online quote for anybody with a disability (or anything slightly out of the ordinary for that matter)

You'd have to ring up the individual insurers afterwards anyway.

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FAIL

Another disability fascist

just because we work in IT doesn't make "Being disabled" a binary option. When I last worked on an insurance website, we had got down to using the ABI codes for disablity, so a proposer (who may, or may not be the driver, by the way) could enter various DVLA grades of license status - and therefore get a quote.

Some of the posters here are clearly unaware of disablity issues, as can be seen from the automatic assumption that the person using the website, is the end driver. It could be their spouse, their parent, their friend ....

No one expects, nor would want every single bricks and mortar shop to be made accessible in retrospect - it costs too much. But a little bit of forethought and planning should mean that all websites are as accessible as possible.

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mysupermarket?

You'd have thunk that they would have figured out that the disabled are likely to want use their site since they are the ones who'd have trouble getting to the shops and are likely to be on reduced income and want to be more careful with the cash.

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Anonymous Coward

disability - suing and charity promotion

as someone who has been directly involved in helping disabled for a decade....

every so often, sometimes by sheer coincidence when there is a donation drive, we get the RNIB or someone else bleating on or threating to sue (remember the BMI case) about accessibility...

screen readers are very exepnesive and do NOT do the same job reading a screen..

a disabled person usually wants the ability to use a service - that does not constitute a demand to use the service in the exact same way that an able bodied person does...

a telephone call back service adequately meets the demands of both the persons needs and legislation - equality is about service delivered

if these chariities stopped their infighting and grouped some of their budgets and cut some costs (at last check, RNIB doesnt even use Skype internally for meetings!) , the disabled would be better served....

ps ability net logo has their charity number in tiny writing on a graphic - the alt text does not describe the logo - it does not give the charity number - get your own house in order before you whine about others+

pps -

RNIB has a budget of £100mln +

ability net is £2 mln +

sort out your battles for donations and stop suing - in a recession, many are struggling to keep a job or business afloat so if you want their money, act resposnibly

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