Earlier this month, RNIB commenced legal proceedings
against air travel operator bmibaby for failing to support visually impaired users of its website appropriately. While the press release from RNIB is light on the technical details of the complaint, a quick look at how bmibaby's website
has been programmed reveals a raft of potential problems for users who rely on assistive technology to help them use websites.
Amongst the major problems is a clear lack of adherence to Web Standards - guidelines for development setup by the W3 (the Web's governing body) to help ensure websites are developed to an accepted level of quality and reliability.
Key to avoiding these problems is to not rely on extraneous technologies in the first place. One of the best ways to ensure your website meets basic accessibility and usability standards is to build around pure HTML. Regardless of the device or software a customer is using, your website should allow people to complete expected tasks - i.e. booking flights - in its most basic of states. If images don't download properly, scripting isn't enabled, or the user doesn't have something like Flash installed, should you turn away their business? Of course not.
But perhaps even more important than lost business is the damage a poorly-developed web presence can have on customer loyalty and enthusiasm for your business. Arguably, it's much easier to stimulate a rise in sales than it is to create a lift in brand perception. Even the most badly-designed websites can expect improved turnover if they offer bargain basement discounts for a period of time. Even then, if your website doesn't offer the same experience for all customers - if you advertise a product or service and then don't allow everyone fair access to it - you're going to lose sales and damage your reputation.
And you might even end up in court.