There’s a lot to learn about accessible website design. Here we present some of the facts about web accessibility in the UK, a beginners guide for dummies.
Does My Website Have To Be Accessible in 2012?
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:
- the type of service provided
- the type of organisation you are and resources available
- 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!
10th December 2006
- Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001
- Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites
- Web Accessibility Code Of Practice British Standard
- The Grey Area Of Website Design: Web Accessibility
- Accessible Website Design In The UK
- What Is The WAI?
- Who started the W3C?
- What is WCAG?
- What is Section 508?
- What is the RNIB
- RNIB Campaign For Good Website Design
- Can I be Prosecuted Over An Inaccessible Website?
- Who Prosecutes Companies?
- Web Accessibility Legal Cases in the UK
- Designing Websites For Blind Users
- Test Your Website For Accessibility Issues
- Web Accessibility Discrimination Prosecution cases in Australia
- When Must A Website Be Accessible By?
- Web Accessibility Minimum Requirements in the UK
- First company prosecuted in the UK over inaccessibility
- Who is Jakob Nielsen?