Retailers face Web cons in effort to help disabled

In their haste to make Web sites conform to disability access laws, retailers may fall foul of a growing number of cowboy consultants.

Faced by 'widespread ignorance', the Disability Rights Commission has been on a quest this year to warn businesses they must take reasonable steps to make their Web sites more accessible to disabled people or face prosecution under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Disability Rights Commission senior software developer Steve Beesley is encouraged by the level of interest and 'quite a lot of panic' the campaign has stirred up, especially among larger retailers. However, he warns that cowboy consultants are out to capitalise on this desire to comply with the law.

According to Beesley, companies that do not undertake the usual due diligence, such as getting references, when seeking advice, 'might fall into the arms of these shysters'.

He offered some tips on how to avoid cowboys: steer clear of so-called experts, who state that from October your Web site needs to be compliant with the Act; they are either lying or clueless. The Act has covered Web sites since 1999, while the provisions that come into force in October only concern physical access to business premises.

Avoid any company that uses only automated tools to check Web site compliance.

While testing tools have their merits, they are not a substitute for testing by a skilled human being.

The news comes as Comet puts disability access to Web sites back into the spotlight with the world's first speech-enabled store, using an application called Browsealoud.

- Spotlight: page 18.