Is Your Website Legal? Does It Comply With UK Laws on Disability?



Have you ever asked yourself the question: “Is my website design legal under current UK Law? You might not know this, but it HAS to be.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – The DDA and the secondary legislation applied within Northern Ireland have placed a legal duty on service providers to make reasonable adjustments to the way they provide services to ensure that disabled people can use them.

The DDA states that disabled people should not be treated less favourably than other people when accessing services. This duty extends to the provision of websites where a website falls within the definition of a service under the terms of the DDA.

It is not possible to provide a definitive specification for a fully accessible website which will satisfy the requirements of the DDA, however the guidance set out in PAS 78 represents what the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) believes to be good practice website design.

What Are My Obligations Under The UK DDA?

Broadly speaking, the UK DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in the way in which you recruit and employ people; provide services; or provide education. Discrimination can take place in two ways – by treating a disabled person less favorably; and/or by failing to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that disabled people can participate in employment and education or make use of a service.

How Does The UK DDA Apply To Websites?

Websites may be covered under the employment provisions, as they may be a means of advertising jobs; or there may be an intranet which staff need to use. Websites will most commonly be covered when they constitute the provision of a service, or they are related to education (See SENDA).

The UK Disability Discrimination Act

Excerpts from the UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and related guidelines relevant to the legal compliance of websites.

Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, Section III

19. – (1) It is unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person-

(a) in refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, to the disabled person any service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to members of the public;

(b) in failing to comply with any duty imposed on him by section 21 in circumstances in which the effect of that failure is to make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for the disabled person to make use of any such service;

(c) in the standard of service which he provides to the disabled person or the manner in which he provides it to him; or

(d) in the terms on which he provides a service to the disabled person.

Code of Practice (revised) – Rights of Access Goods, Facilities, Services and premises:

2.17 - It is important to remember that it is the provision of the service which is affected by Part III of the Act and not the nature of the service or business or the type of establishment from which it is provided.

In many cases a service provider is providing a service by a number of different means. In some cases, however, each of those means of service might be regarded as a service in itself and subject to the Act.

[Example]: 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.

www.equalityhumanrights.com – UK Disability Rights Commission (DRC)

On 1 October 2007 the three equality commissions merged into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission:

  • Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)
  • Disability Rights Commission (DRC)
  • Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

The websites of these commissions have also been incorporated into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission website: www.equalityhumanrights.com.

The UK Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is concerned about the current inaccessibility of websites to disabled people. In April 2004 we published the results of a Formal Investigation (FI) into the issues that disabled people face when using websites. The findings of the investigation led us to work with the British Standards Institution (BSI) to produce a set of formal guidance on website accessibility.

The Disability Rights Commission’s investigation discovered that many disabled people find many websites difficult to use. However, this hasn’t always been their experience of the web. When Professor Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (WWW), he expected it to provide a level playing field for disabled and non-disabled people alike: ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone, regardless of disability, should be an essential aspect.’

This was the case for the first few years after the invention of the WWW. Disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, deaf and hearing impaired people, people with conditions that resulted in limited use of their arms and people with cognitive disabilities, were able to use the Web with relative ease. This was largely due to the creation of access technologies that would, for example, convert web text into audible, synthetic speech that blind people could hear. Access technologies worked relatively faultlessly because most websites were hand-coded using the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) HTML standards.

Since the inception of the Web, it has been a potential new means for disabled people to find information and use services on the same terms as everyone else. For those disabled people who found it difficult to leave their home, the Web could have been an alternative means of accessing services.

Unfortunately, accessibility has never been properly understood and addressed by web authors and development tools.

Web authoring software tools hit the market, but most of them did not produce W3C-compliant code, which meant that the web ceased to be based on standards-compliant mark up. Many disabled people found their access technologies and themselves isolated from a significant number of web services.

The DRC addressed this situation in 2004 in our report ‘The Web: Access and Inclusion for Disabled People’. The report revealed findings of a large-scale study of 1000 British websites and made a number of major recommendations.

The report was based on research, undertaken by City University, which looked for compliance with guidelines published by the W3C and included testing by disabled users. The findings were discouraging: 81% of websites failed to meet the most basic criteria for conformance to web accessibility guidelines.

The FI report, which is available on the DRC website, makes for vital reading as it includes a list of the most common problems faced by web users. It also includes the results of a survey of website commissioners and developers. 97% of large organisations claim to be aware that web accessibility is an important issue and 68% claim to take accessibility into account when designing websites. Yet, 81% of the websites tested by City University lacked evidence of any attempt to make their content accessible.

The report highlighted a huge gap in knowledge of website commissioners and developers which needs to be addressed.

As a result of this, the DRC has commissioned the BSI to produce new guidance to plug this knowledge gap. The guidance will take the aim of informing website commissioners and developers of their obligations and of good practice in this area. This guidance takes the form of a Publicly Available Specification (PAS).

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001) (SENDA) amended Part 4 of the DDA to specifically include education, so educational establishments are legally bound to ensure their course-related website content is fully accessible.

You must make reasonable adjustments to your website to legally comply with UK Government regulations, as described in the UK DDA & SENDA. This means you must ensure that there are no obvious barriers to disabled users on your website.

So, validate your HTML and CSS, and test your website against WCAG (BOBBY or Watchfire). If your site has Priority 1 WCAG errors in the code, you are effectively leaving your organisation open to prosecution under the UK Government DDA & SENDA, although the chances of this happening in the UK is very slim indeed.

The advice is obvious – comply with W3C Recommendations and make efforts your website design accessible.

If you think your website does not comply with UK government recommendations and regulations, contact Hobo today and we can tell you!

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