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.
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;
- A user reports difficulty using your website. You disregard it or respond to it badly. That’s poor service.
- A disabled user reports difficulty using your website. You disregard it or respond to it badly. That’s poor service.
- If the problem is due to your site being built badly with regards to accessibility, the user might complain to a support organisation.
- 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.
- If you take the complaint seriously and do your best to resolve it, you are no longer discriminating. Legal action would not be justified.
- 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.
- In court, the exact nature of the problem would be investigated.
- 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
- Provide Alt Text For all images, and alternative content for all other media.
- Use eternal CSS for styling and layout and HTML for document structure.
- Associate table headers with table cells, and use tables only for data. Include a table summary.
- Provide a skip links option to let a user skip repetitive content.
- DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t use flash, frames or tables for layout purposes.
- Use simple language on your website, and specify the language used.
- Make sure colours and fonts contrast sufficiently.
- DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Ã¢â‚¬ËœfixÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ a font size on your website. Use % or ems.
- Use a fluid layout, using percentages or ems for width.
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, (based in Glasgow, Scotland) 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.
Also, we recently, redesigned the Hobo site, and there are a few things we need to change to bring it to the high standards of the old site – it’s a moral and business decision everybody at Hobo agrees with – and now to get on with it!
If you want to procure, or design and build sites with accessibility in mind in the UK, you’ll find the following documents useful:
- Accessible Website Design
- 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
- The Grey Area Of Website Design: Web Accessibility
- Accessible Website Design In The UK
- What Is The WAI?
- What is the W3c?
- What is WCAG?
- What is Section 508?
- First company prosecuted in the UK over inaccessibility
- Who is Jakob Nielsen?