Web Site Accessibility: Is your site Legal?

Since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995, it has become the duty of anyone providing a public service to ensure that they do not ‘...discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public.

It’s important to realise that a web site is considered to be a service - in fact the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) have been at the forefront of pressure to push this law into practice for all internet sites.

there are 8.6 million registered disabled people in the UK. Adding these users to the two million with a sight problem and the 12 million people aged 60 gives us a total of 48% of the UK population..

Since the introduction of the DDA, many companies have made sufficient changes to their premises so as to allow for individuals with disabilities, though unfortunately, many of these same companies have not made the necessary changes to their web sites, even though there are 8.6 million registered disabled people in the UK.   

Adding these users to the two million with a sight problem and the 12 million people aged 60 or over this gives us a total of 48% of the UK population that could potentially face problems with your website’s accessibility. That’s an extraordinarily high number and one that cannot be ignored.

Why is it important?

Web accessibility is about ensuring your website reaches the largest audience possible. There are many extra benefits that come for free, but this is the core reason for making your website accessible.

This should be reason enough to care about accessibility, but if that hasn’t swayed your opinion, then take note that UK law has the power to punish web sites that are inaccessible. The Disability Rights Commission published a Code of Practice in May 2002 relating to the Disability Discrimination Act. This document clearly references the need for accessible websites in several places.

DDA Snippets

2.2 (p7): “The Act makes it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public.”

4.7 (p39): “From 1st October 1999 a service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services.”

What happens if our website does not comply?

A disabled person can make a claim against you if your website makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access information and services. If you have not made reasonable adjustments and cannot show that this failure is justified, then you may be liable under the Act, and may have to pay compensation and be ordered by a court to change your site.

A useful reference is the case brought against the Sydney Olympics Committee in Australia in 2000 by a blind man who successfully sued the organizing committee of the Sydney Olympics for their failure to make their website accessible.

Making Your Web Site Accessible To Everyone

For a web site to be truly accessible, it must function correctly for anyone who accesses it, regardless of the technology they are using and this doesn’t just mean disabled users, it means everyone who visits your web site.

Unfortunately there is no magic button to press and no amazing software that automatically transforms your web site into a fully accessible version - creating an accessible web site requires strict coding practices, full practical knowledge of W3C Accessibility guidelines, and first hand experience in building accessible and usable web sites.

The Benefits of accessible website design

Apart from the legal ramifications of the DDA, an accessible website offers huge benefits to your business: 

  1. Future-Proofing - a website coded to accessibility guidelines will function correctly in all internet technology, both now and in the future. This will save you re-developing your site every couple of years each time some new technology appears (e.g. PDAs, web TV etc)
  2. Better Search Engine Rankings - the more accessible your web site is for your visitors, the more accessible it will be for search engines. Accessible web sites contain more search engine readable content as they rely less heavily on images and Flash animation to get their message over. 
  3. Faster Page Loading Times - Accessible web sites use less code; have fewer images and generally less ‘bloat’, so your site loads faster for all visitors. A happy visitor soon becomes a happy customer. 
  4. Enhanced Public Image - advertising the fact that you have considered all aspects of accessibility will serve you well in all aspects of public relations.

When does the law come into force?

It’s widely believed that the new laws were implemented in October 2004 when the final part of the Act came into force. This final piece of legislation actually refers to service providers having to consider making permanent physical adjustments to their premises and is not related to the Internet in any way.

The law about accessible websites came into force on 1st October 1999 and the Code of Practice for this section of the Act was published on 27th May 2002. This means that the majority of websites are already in breach of the law.

Can you be sued?

Well, probably. The RNIB claim that they’ve considered taking up a number of legal cases against organisations with regard to their web sites. When they raised the accessibility issues of the website, companies have typically made the necessary changes, rather than facing the prospect of legal action.

The DRC has launched a formal investigation into 1000 websites and expect to publish their findings some time this year. If your web sites on this list then you’ll have to start thinking about making it accessible to all web users in the very near future.

What do you need to do to comply?

..when, a case makes it to court that the W3C accessibility guidelines will be used to assess a website’s accessibility and ultimately decide the outcome of the case.

It’s widely believed that if, or perhaps more appropriately when, a case makes it to court that the W3C accessibility guidelines will be used to assess a website’s accessibility and ultimately decide the outcome of the case. The W3C is the Internet governing body and its web accessibility guidelines can be found on its website.

To further complicate matters, the W3C offers three different levels of compliance. Priority 1 guidelines, (which must be satisfied according to the W3C) will almost certainly have to be adhered to. Priority 2 guidelines (which should be satisfied), or some part of, will probably also need to be adhered to too.

An accessible website is no longer a luxury option; it’s a vital core feature of any business web site. If you would like to discuss how I can improve the accessibility of your website, please call me on 0191 551 4787 or complete my enquiry form.

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