The DRC (Disability Rights Commission) will today launch the most comprehensive investigation into website accessibility for disabled people ever carried out, searching over 1,000 sites.

The formal investigation is a collaboration between the DRC and the Centre for Human Computer Interaction at London's City University. It will 'identify barriers to web access and help site owners to recognise and avoid them'.

"The problem at the moment is that we don’t know what these barriers are and that's what we need to investigate," said DRC spokesman Patrick Edwards. "We will be looking at a broad range of sites from the private and public sector, focusing on online retailers and checking the government is meeting its promises."

All government websites, including education and healthcare sites, are legally obliged to provide equal access. The DRC aims to help companies develop the same standards of practice.

The DRC says universal accessibility is essential.

"In a relatively short period of time the internet has had a profound impact on the way we live, work and study. It is vital that this new and powerful technology does not leave disabled people behind and that its potential for delivering a genuinely inclusive society is realised to the full," said DRC chairman Bert Massie.

The DRC and the Royal National Institute of the Blind will give free advice to companies that want to improve their websites. Results of the investigation will be released at the end of the year.