Web Accessibility For Beginners



There’s a lot to learn about accessible website design. Here I collect some of the facts about web accessibility in the UK, a beginners guide. Please note some of this information was provided by the RNIB, and I republish it with permission.

Does My Website Have To Be Accessible?

The part of the DDA that states websites must be made accessible came into force on 1 October 1999 and the Code of Practice for this section of the Act was published on 27 May 2002. RNIB 2005

You DO have a responsibility at some level, whether or not you are the designer or the commissioner of the website, to ensure your website design does not discriminate against disabled visitors to your site.

You now have a legal obligation – following the implementation of section 21 of the Disability Discrimination Act (1999) – to make reasonable adjustments to ensure blind and partially sighted people can access your service. RNIB, 2005

The DDA does not specifically address websites design standards but it does make reference to the service provision of, well any service..

For the purposes of section 19, a provider of services also discriminates against a disabled person if he fails to comply with a section 21 duty imposed on him in relation to the disabled person; and he cannot show that his failure to comply with that duty is justified. DDA 1999

and interestingly, the Code of Practice cites an airline website as an example to define a service online:

What services are affected by the Act? An airline company provides a flight reservation and booking service to the public on its website. This is a provision of a service and is subject to the act. Code of Practice 2.13 – 2.17 (p11-13)

Service providers have a duty to make adjustments before there’s a problem. The DDA Code of Practice makes this clear.

Service providers should not wait until a disabled person wants to use a service which they provide before they give consideration to their duty to make reasonable adjustments. [] They should anticipate the requirements of disabled people and the adjustments that may have to be made for them. [] Failure to anticipate the need for an adjustment may render it too late to comply with the duty to make the adjustment. Furthermore, it may not of itself provide a defence to a claim that it was reasonable to have provided one. A service provider’s duty to make reasonable adjustments is a duty owed to disabled people at large. It is not simply a duty that is weighed up in relation to each individual disabled person who wants to access a service provider’s services. DDA Code Of Practice 1999

NOTE – PAS 78 is now BS 8878.

So what happens if your website design is not accessible?

Unsurprisingly, you leave yourself open to criticism, bad press and and more seriously legal action if your site is not accessible.

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. RNIB 2005

What is meant by ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your website design?

Steps that should be taken to make reasonable adjustments include changing:

  • a practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use a service;
  • any physical features which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use a service.

Reasonable steps must also be taken to provide:

“auxiliary aids and services ” (an example of which would be an accessible website) where these would enable or facilitate the use of a service. RNIB 2005

These changes have been required since October 1999. Note that “reasonable” is not defined in the Act, but the Code of Practice does give some guidance on this, and indicates that it will depend upon:

  1. the type of service provided
  2. the type of organisation you are and resources available
  3. the impact on the disabled person

What level of compliance should your website design meet?

No case has been brought to court in the United Kingdom to date, so there is no case law guidance. In any event, case law can only provide broad guidance – what websites have to do may vary from site to site. What is important, however, is the outcome: the DDA requires that you make what it refers to as ‘reasonable adjustments’, to your services to ensure that a person with a disability can access that service. This means making changes to websites – which offer 24 hour service, and a variety of features not available via, for example, a telephone service – so that disabled people can use them.

…as outlined in our ‘See it Right’ website accessibility requirements, we recommend that websites exceed the basic level of compliance that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommend in their Website Accessibility Guidelines (WAG) version 1.0 and aim for double AA compliance. If you are a UK government website you should be aiming to achieve double A. RNIB 2005

Who can build you a website design that ‘complies with UK Law’?

No website design company is capable of producing a website for you that is ‘compliant with the law’ or ‘compliant with the DDA’ in the UK.

9.1.1 It is not possible to provide a definitive specification for a fully accessible website which will satisfy the requirements of the DDA. Website commissioners should therefore be sceptical if contracting companies declare that they will create websites that are ‘DDA-compliant’ or ‘compliant with the law’. Conversely, website commissioners should not require a web designer to design a website that is ‘DDA-compliant’ or ‘compliant with the law’. Until case law has been established such claims cannot be made or honoured. PAS 78 , 2006

Although there are many website design companies that build (or at least promise to build) quality, W3C compliant websites.

How do you choose a web site design company?

There is currently no nationally recognised system of accreditation for website developers who claim to create accessible websites that uphold W3C guidelines and specifications. You should therefore perform your own reference checks until you are satisfied that the web site designer has competence and experience in developing accessible web sites that uphold W3C guidelines and specifications. PAS 78 2006

Checks should include:

  • a review of previous work
  • references from previous clients
  • a practical knowledge of PAS 78
  • a practical knowledge of W3C guidelines and specifications
  • an appreciation of the implications of ‘The Disability Discrimination Code of Practice (Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises)’ 2002 edition.
  • familiarity with assistive technologies.

Web Accessibility Opinion

Basically, you need to make sure your site is built to W3C standards for good website design. That means valid html and valid css. It means passing Priority 1 W3C WCAG (Google it!) at least. It means well formed website code (i.e. without errors) and simple and correct use of technologies. Actually – this is fairly simple to do for an experienced web designer – do not accept that you need to pay more for accessible web design – it should come as standard, part of good practice web design. You could go one step further and ask “vision impaired” testers to test drive the site. Finally, you need to listen to your web site visitors. If someone contacts you about the inaccessibility of your web site – then fix it!

There’s a business case and moral obligation to make your site as accessible as you can. There are over 8 Million people registered as having a disability in the UK, and a lot of them use the net – do you really want to ignore them? Prosecutions have been successful in Australia and the US – it will happen in the UK, just not any time soon – so don’t worry too much about prosecution – and don’t listen to the snake oil salesman who want your hard earned cash for total website redevelopment!

Section 508

Section 508 only applies to US based companies and US Government or federal agencies at this time. The US Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act in 1998 to require Federal agencies to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.

Inaccessible websites interfere with an individual’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.

The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use websites as an information tool. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘ 794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to everyone else.

The criteria for web-based technology and information is based on access guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.

1998 Amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d), as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220), August 7, 1998

SEC. 508. ELECTRONIC AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

(a) REQUIREMENTS FOR FEDERAL DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES.–

(1) ACCESSIBILITY.–

(A) DEVELOPMENT, PROCUREMENT, MAINTENANCE, OR USE OF ELECTRONIC AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY.–When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology–

(i) individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and

(ii) individuals with disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.

Visit www.section508.gov for more detailed information on Section 508.

First Company Prosecuted in the UK Over Web Accessibility (DDA)

Imagine the National, no, International, press coverage your business could get, if your business is the first business in the UK to appear in court over the inaccessibility of the company website.

Could your business be the first company in the UK to be prosecuted for failure to comply with the UK DDA (Disability Discrimination Act)?

Although unlikely, the answer is yes, you can be prosecuted. 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 Disability Discrimination 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. This resulted in a landmark decision against the website owners, requiring them to pay $20,000 Australian dollars.

“This response, I am satisfied, was very hurtful for him; the suggestion that he enlist the aid of a sighted person to assist him was wholly inconsistent with his own expectations and what he himself, unaided, had been able to achieve, both at university level and in business, in spite of his disability. To dismiss him and to continue to be dismissive of him was not only hurtful, he was also made to feel, I am satisfied, various emotions including those of anger and rejection by a significant statutory agent within the community of which he himself was a part.”

Judge Hon. William Carter QC 2

Since When Must A Website Be Accessible In The UK?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – (the DDA), was introduced with the intention of comprehensively tackling the discrimination which many disabled people face.

You now have a legal obligation – following the implementation of section 21 of the Disability Discrimination Act (1999) – to make reasonable adjustments to ensure blind and partially sighted people can access your service. RNIB, 2005

The part of the DDA that states website owners have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to make a website accessible came into force on 1 October 1999 and the Code of Practice for this section of the Act was published on 27 May 2002.

What are the October 2004 changes to the DDA?

The DDA changes that came into effect on October 1 2004 are as follows:

  • small employer exemption removed. All employers are now legally obliged to make all their services accessible including websites, intranets and extranets accessible
  • police and fire services are now also legally obliged to make their websites, intranets and extranets accessible. Previously they were exempt. The only area of employment still specifically excluded is the armed forces.
  • service providers will have to make physical adjustments to their premises where these features make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use the service they provide.

Note that since 1999 website owners have had a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to make a website accessible… if approached.

Accessible Website Design in the UK

Have you been approached by website companies stating your web site design does not comply with the UK Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)? Worried? Thinking of a whole new site redesign to ensure compliance? Well hold on…did you know that no company is capable of producing a website for you that is ‘compliant with the law’ in the UK?

I’m not stating that there aren’t professional web design companies out there that build good quality, best practice web sites for clients. There is. But you should be sceptical if contracting companies declare that they will create web sites that are ‘DDA-compliant’ or ‘compliant with the law’. Quite simply, it’s It is not possible to provide a definitive specification for a fully accessible web site which will satisfy the requirements of the UK DDA and asking a web designer to design a website that is ‘DDA-compliant’ or ‘compliant with the law’ is opening a can of worms.

Why? Until case law has been established (i.e. Some big corporate company is taken to court over the inaccessibility of it’s site) such claims cannot be made or honoured. Simple as that.

So what should you do?

Basically, you need to make sure your site is built to W3C standards for good website design. That means valid html and valid CSS. It means passing Priority 1 W3C WCAG (Google it!) at least. It means well formed website code (i.e. without errors) and simple and correct use of technologies. Actually – this is fairly simple to do for an experienced web designer – do not accept that you need to pay more for accessible designs – it should come as standard, part of good practice web design. You could go one step further and ask “vision impaired” testers to test drive the site. Finally, you need to listen to your web site visitors. If someone contacts you about the inaccessibility of your web site – then fix it!

There’s a business case and moral obligation to make your site as accessible as you can. There are over 8 Million people registered as having a disability in the UK, and a lot of them use the net – do you really want to ignore them? Prosecutions have been successful in Australia and the US – it will happen in the UK, just not any time soon – so don’t worry too much about prosecution – and don’t listen to the snake oil salesman who want your hard earned cash for total website redevelopment!

How do you choose a web site design company?

There is currently no nationally recognized system of accreditation for website developers who claim to create accessible websites that uphold W3C guidelines and specifications. You should therefore perform your own reference checks until you are satisfied that the web site designer has competence and experience in developing accessible web sites that uphold W3C guidelines and specifications.

Checks should include:

  • a review of previous work
  • references from previous clients
  • a practical knowledge of PAS 78
  • a practical knowledge of W3C guidelines and specifications
  • an appreciation of the implications of ‘Disability Discrimination Code of Practice (Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises)’ 2002 edition
  • familiarity with assistive technologies.Accessible Website Design

You now have a legal obligation – following the implementation of section 21 of the Disability Discrimination Act – to make reasonable adjustments to ensure blind and partially sighted people can access your service. RNIB, 2005

The Grey Area Of Website Design: Web Accessibility

It’s a sad fact that, even in 2008, it’s widespread and normal practice to commission and develop a website design that may discriminate against those with disabilities – in the UK at least.

I, along with many others, certainly had high hopes that PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 78 would have done a lot more to raise the issue of accessible website design.

It’s clear it’s not penetrated the larger population as a whole, because no client has ever asked me to build a site to PAS 78 recommended standards. It is always me that raises the issue with them. More About Accessible Website Design In The UK

Can I Be Sued?

“You now have a legal obligation – following the implementation of section 21 of the Disability Discrimination Act – to make reasonable adjustments to ensure blind and partially sighted people can access your service. RNIB, 2005

As I understand it, the only way you can end up in court for the inaccessibility of your site (in the UK) is when if and;

Hypothetically:

  1. A user reports difficulty using your website. You disregard it or respond to it badly. That’s poor service.
  2. A disabled user reports difficulty using your website. You disregard it or respond to it badly. That’s poor service.
  3. If the problem is due to your site being built badly with regards to accessibility, the user might complain to a support organisation.
  4. The support organisation would approach you and try to resolve the problem. How you react to this is your last chance to avoid legal action.
  5. If you take the complaint seriously and do your best to resolve it, you are no longer discriminating. Legal action would not be justified.
  6. If you disregard it or respond to it badly, legal action might be initiated, typically by the support organisation. You have consistently refused to accommodate this person due to their disability.
  7. In court, the exact nature of the problem would be investigated.
  8. The cost of rectifying the problem may be assessed against the available revenue of the website owner.

As you know in the UK, when it is proved you are discriminating against someone, anyone, you are in hot water. If on the other hand you are making a visible effort to promote accessibility on your site, with an obvious commitment to improve ‘obvious’ barriers to disabled users, you are in quite possibly ‘in the clear’.

No company has been successfully sued / prosecuted in the UK, to date. It has happened in the US and in Australia.

What About Small Business & SME?

The chances of a small business being taken to court might be the same as big business in some cases, but I would think that would be cowardly, crazy and unlikely. Surely for maximum impact in the news, it would be a larger company first in court?

Where Can I Learn More About Web Accesibility?

The BSI PAS 78 (which *may* evolve into a BSI British Standard) was launched in the UK on March 2006, with an aim to specifically assist uk website commissioners when developing a new website. If you are a public body, you will find this document useful, and should insist any new website is created while considering this document to meet minimum requirements.

Note that PAS 78 is not the law, not rules – they are basic recommendations.

For website designers and developers, the (W3C) offer clear recommendations on the accessibility of sites, with free HTML & CSS ‘Validators’. Another useful tool is ‘Watchfire’, which checks certain elements about your website against Priorities 1,2 & 3 of the WCAG). Of course, asking disabled users for feedback about your site is the best means of checking your site.

Whose Responsibility Is Accessible Website Design?

This is quite hotly debated as UK Law is vague. As I understand it, under PAS 78 website commissioners have a responsibility to ensure accessibility is considered. Under the UK DDA website developers have a responsibility not to discriminate against disability. In UK Law, the area is so Grey (because there has no case been brought to court) nobody actually knows yet who’s ultimately responsible. So it is critical that when you buy a new website you, at the web tender and contract stages, agree whose responsibility it is.

Does Accessibility Cost More?

Sure, it’s a pain in the backside for website developers to learn, create and maintain accessible websites. However in my opinion accessible design is quite simply good practice, good website design, and if accessibility is considered at the outset of any design project, costs are minimalised until a design agency finds that there is no need to charge extra for what should be best practice. A lot of websites suffer from exactly the same problems that can be eradicated. Learning about the W3C makes a better web designer – period.

Retrofitting a totally inaccessible site will cost – sometimes a lot.

In my experience educating the client in the more important areas of accessibility is sometimes a thankless task. We build websites clients can edit themselves, which of course gives them the opportunity to screw the level of accessibility of the site when they make big changes. No matter how many times you tell someone to include alt tags, it’s human to err.

What Should You Do

  • When developing new websites, ensure they are coded to standards and W3C recommendations that consider accessibility *at the design stage*.
  • Validate HTML & CSS using free online tools (as easy as using a search engine)
  • Test Your site for obvious barriers to disabled visitors using tools like Watchfire
  • Ask people who in the know to point out any major flaws in your site
  • Ensure if a problem with the site is raised, and it is reasonable, take action to remedy the situation
  • Make sure your pages download fast, and test your website design in different browsers – you can do this at http://browsershots.org/
  • Stay Out Of Court. You don’t want to be the first business in the UK prosecuted because of an issue with their website, which the DDA does recognise as a service. But also, at this time, be aware no web design company in the UK can build you a site that complies with the DDA (Read PAS 78).

10 Quick Tips For A More Accessible Site Design from the W3C

  1. Provide Alt Text For all images, and alternative content for all other media.
  2. Use eternal CSS for styling and layout and HTML for document structure.
  3. Associate table headers with table cells, and use tables only for data. Include a table summary.
  4. Provide a skip links option to let a user skip repetitive content.
  5. Don’t use flash, frames or tables for layout purposes.
  6. Design for device independence. Don’t require a mouse and don’t require javascript to activate links etc.
  7. Use simple language on your website, and specify the language used.
  8. Make sure colours and fonts contrast sufficiently.
  9. Don’t ‘fix’ a font size on your website. Use % or ems.
  10. Use a fluid layout, using percentages or ems for width.

Other Reading

Of course, accessible website design begins with validation and you can validate your html and validate your css using W3C tools and we have a selection of links to the best website accessibility tools.

Make Me A UK DDA Compliant Website Design!

….er, we can’t. No website design company can can, as there has been no case that has went to court in the UK. What we can do is make it to W3C recommended standards. As I understand it Priority 2 or WCAG AA level is an ‘acceptable’ level, at least in the E.U.

I’m leaving the comments open, for views, support and any possible correction in my view on web accessibility as it’s such a grey area there’s little room for more misinformation. I’ve been interested in accessibility since about 8 years ago, when I ‘discovered’ it was an issue on my first website project. Ignorance about the issue makes advocates naturally very critical which is understandable. I learned a long time ago a site can always be improved, and there’s always a better way to do things, just as in search engine optimisation.

Some website design companies might say you have to pay for accessibility, and you are at ‘risk’ from prosecution if you don’t. I hope this article has quantified that risk and pointed out that accessibility isn’t too much a problem for a professional website design company. Don’t listen to companies who say to ignore accessibility issues, either, that’s just inappropriate, and definitely poor advice.

A SEO Rant

The people responsible for PAS 78 totally screwed up in my opinion when they couldn’t even be bothered organising between them a search engine friendly server side 301 redirect when they moved the PAS 78 Free Download document when on 1 October 2007, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) ceased to exist and was replaced by the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Even accessibility advocates couldn’t find it (that and why do they keep moving the Government Web Accessibility Handbook about – infuriating!)! In fact from a search engine optimization perspective, they’ve screwed up big time, not transferring the old domain trust as well as physical visitors to the new page.

The W3C advocate “cool urls don’t change”. Although in real life, this is sometimes impractical, and a server side 301 redirect would have at least allowed people to find the document. Wouldn’t it have also been easy to put PAS 78 in the page title so Google could find it and rank it quicker?

All that would take….a minute?

We are a search engine optimization company, and we make websites, too. As always, we will always attempt to build websites with accessibility, and usability, in mind, to eradicate major accessibility obstacles from our sites, and offer a commitment, without contract, that we are responsible for the accessibility of websites we design & build. With that in mind, any reasonable accessibility issues brought to our attention, where possible, will be resolved as quickly as possible.

Is My Website Deemed Accessible In The UK?

A big question. Websites suffer from varying levels of inaccessibility. To keep on the right side of UK Government Law, your website should meet certain basic criteria.

Your website should meet basic industry good practice benchmarks, like valid HTML and CSS. Then, your website should meet at the very least Priority 1 (of the W3C WAI WCAG). At Hobo we build websites to a much higher spec, but these are the basic standards your website should meet.

If you’d rather simply be told whether your website does or does not comply with the UK Disability Discrimination Act, then contact Hobo.

On this site you can find out some information that can help you test the accessibility of your site, and give you some information about what level of accessibility compliance you should be aiming to achieve at a basic level.

In the UK, a new British Standard for web accessibility is expected in 2009 – BS 8878 – be sure to have a look at that when it is published.

Can I Be Prosecuted In The UK Law Because Of My Website?

Although very unlikely as it stands, the answer is yes, you can be prosecuted simply because your website is not accessible enough for all – not just able bodied visitors.

A disabled person has every justification to make a claim against you if your website makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access information and services. Especially if, when the contact you with a request to modify something, you ignore them!

If you have not made reasonable adjustments (and this means ensuring your website design is built with W3C recommendations in mind) and cannot show that this failure is justified, then you may be liable under the UK Disability Discrimination Act, and may have to pay compensation and be ordered by a court to change your site!

Fortunately, no one agency police the web looking for companies to prosecute

A useful reference is the case brought against the Sydney Olympics Committee in Australia in 2000. This legal case resulted in a landmark decision against the website owners, requiring them to pay $20,000 Australian dollars.

“This response, I am satisfied, was very hurtful for him; the suggestion that he enlist the aid of a sighted person to assist him was wholly inconsistent with his own expectations and what he himself, unaided, had been able to achieve, both at university level and in business, in spite of his disability. To dismiss him and to continue to be dismissive of him was not only hurtful, he was also made to feel, I am satisfied, various emotions including those of anger and rejection by a significant statutory agent within the community of which he himself was a part.”

Judge Hon. William Carter QC 2

It’s a very grey area and it’s been that way for years. You DO have a responsibility under UK law not to discriminate, and a disabled person has the right to take you to court over the inaccessibility of your website if you cannot justify why it’s not accessible to them!

Minimal Level Of Accessibility – Websites, UK Law & DDA

As there has been no case brought to court (as yet) in the UK, there is no set minimum level of requirement. It has long been accepted that the minimum level required to comply with UK law is Priority 1 at the very least, which means you have at least removed some of the most obvious barriers to a disabled visitor to your site.

The UK Government and the RNIB both advise that you should be surpassing Priority 1 to at least Priority 2 to make your website truly useable by disabled visitors. The best we can hope to do is follow the recent recommendations Delivering Inclusive Websites;

Minimum level of accessibility The minimum level of accessibility for all Government websites is Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines. Any new site approved by the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Public Engagement and the Delivery of Service (DA(PED)) must conform to these guidelines from the point of publication.

Continuing standalone sites must achieve this level of accessibility by December 2008. Websites which fail to meet the mandated level of conformance shall be subject to the withdrawal process for .gov.uk domain names, as set out in Naming and Registering Websites (TG101).

Delivering Inclusive Websites
, 14/05/2007

The E.U. has determined that Priority 2 should be the minimum levels a website design should meet.

In 2002, the European Parliament set the minimum level of accessibility for all
public sector websites3 at Level Double-A
. However, a recent survey of public
sector services4 showed that 70% of websites in the European Union failed to
conform to Level-A of the W3C guidelines. E-inclusion is a European policy
initiative which aims to ensure that ICT (Information & Communications
Technology) is usable by a wider population; and to promote the use of ICT to
achieve social inclusion objectives. The Riga eInclusion Declaration5 agreed to
promote inclusive e-government by ‘ensuring accessibility of all public web sites by 2010,
through compliance with the relevant W3C common web accessibility
standards and guidelines’.

Further information and advice is available from COI Digital Policy
webguidelines@coi.gsi.gov.uk

Delivering Inclusive Websites
, 14/05/2007

As there are no set minimum standards, it is impossible to build a site to comply with the UK DDA (Disability Discrimination Act), but it is clear the UK Government and the EU are beginning to take notice of web accessibility issues.

Who Enforces UK Website Accessibility Laws?

Web Design, Accessibility, RNIB and The UK DDA

No one agency or organisation police the world wide web with a view to prosecuting any one website owner. Specific support organisations may approach you because a member of public has made a complaint or expressed any dissatisfaction about your website or service. Here we look at some of the activity of the RNIB over the last few years and how they view the importance of compliance with the DDA.

Quote:

“The RNIB believes that blind and partially sighted people have a moral as well as a legal right to be able to access web sites and services on the same terms as people who don’t have disabilities. The RNIB has long been of the belief that the DDA legislation applies to services offered via the web. However, RNIB does not trawl the web in search of sites to prosecute, as some press articles may have led you to believe. Not only would this be resource intensive and expensive for RNIB, it simply is not in keeping with their policy, which is to do what they can within thier means to make designers and businesses aware of the importance and benefits of accessible web design”.

But, blind or partially sighted people who approach RNIB on the basis of having found a web site they cannot use are not referred to the Legal Advocacy Service immediately. Instead, the Digital Policy Development Officer (assisted by colleagues) initially consults with the blind or partially sighted person to ascertain whether their own IT equipment is suitably up-to-date to be able to surf the web effectively, and whether the blind or partially sighted person has received sufficient training to enable them to use their IT equipment effectively.

Once it is clear that the blind or partially sighted person has the tools and skill to use the web effectively the web site in question is assessed for accessibility problems. The company responsible for the site (the site owner, in other words) is then contacted and alerted to the problems that a disabled customer is experiencing. There then commences a 3-way dialogue between RNIB, the visually impaired person and the company.

In 99% of cases the company is able to make the changes the RNIB suggest in a reasonable time and the matter ends there. Only if the RNIB are not able to reach a satisfactory conclusion via conciliation is RNIB’s Legal Advocacy Team involved.

UK DDA Prosecutions Over Inaccessible Website

A few years ago the RNIB was involved in 2 county court cases;

The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) is the first organization in the UK to take legal action against a company in violation for the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

RNIB 2005

‘There has recently been some interest around The Royal National Institute of the Blind’s (RNIB’s) involvement in Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) cases relating to accessible websites. RNIB has recently been involved in two such cases, one of which was the subject of county court proceedings, and which settled in July 2003; these are the first court proceedings which they are aware of that related in any way to the provision of a service on the web.

These cases have now been resolved: both the clients and RNIB are content with the settlements that were reached. RNIB will continue to use the DDA in particular to issue proceedings on behalf of blind and partially sighted people in court for breaches of the Act where these breaches cannot be resolved without such action.

The clients involved in these two cases do not wish to comment further. Currently RNIB is working on potential cases involving website accessibility on behalf of other blind and partially sighted people under the DDA. We are unable to comment on the details of these potential cases at the moment but may be able to in future.

The word clients in this statement means blind and partially sighted people and not companies or businesses.’

So what happens if your website design is not accessible?

Unsurprisingly, you leave yourself open to criticism, bad press and and more seriously legal action if your site is not accessible.

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. RNIB 2005

Web Accessibility Discrimination Prosecutions Cases in Australia and US

Australia

A case brought against the Sydney Olympics Committee in Australia in 2000 resulted in a landmark decision against the website owners, requiring them to pay $20,000 Australian dollars!

United States Of America

On 19 April 2004, New York State’s Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced settlements with two major travel web sites, Priceline.com and Ramada.com.

In both instances, the companies had failed to implement guidelines published by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (www.w3.org/wai) that would have guaranteed the web sites’ accessibility to people with disabilities.

Under the terms of the settlements, the companies will now implement the WAI guidelines and pay the State of New York $40,000 and $37,500, respectively, as costs of the investigation.

The UK RNIB said of this Legal action

‘Service owners and web site developers in the UK should take heed of this warning: if it can happen in the US, it can and probably will, happen here. Our Disability Discrimination Act and the supporting codes of practice published by the Disability Rights Commission make it absolutely clear that web site owners are obliged by law to implement accessibility guidelines or face the possibility of legal action’.

Our Disability Discrimination Act has put a legal duty on service providers to ensure that disable people can use their web sites. Web site owners should act now to avoid becoming the subject of litigation in the UK’

What we do

As a website design consultancy we can offer advice on how to make your website more accessible to all your website visitors. We’re happy to submit tender proposals and development costs for any website design project you may have. Please contact us to arrange a visit to your office or to submit a website design tender.

This content is not an authoritative statement of the law and the information is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. Whilst we have made every effort to ensure that the information we have provided is correct, we cannot accept any responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions.

Information provided by RNIB

Shaun Anderson

10th December 2006

Other Reading

If you want to procure, or design and build sites with accessibility in mind in the UK, you’ll find the following documents useful:




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