How to design websites for blindness, deaf, disability & dyslexia



Hobo Web developers are primarily focused on Google search engine optimisation, so we can start there.

Google says:

QUOTE: “Ensure that your pages are useful for readers with visual impairments, for example, by testing usability with a screen-reader.” Google Webmaster Guidelines, 2021

There IS ALSO a legal and online business case (and perhaps a moral obligation) to make your site as accessible as you can.

QUOTE: “All UK service providers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland).” Central Digital and Data Office, UK Government, 2018

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.

QUOTE: “The (US) Supreme Court denied a petition from pizza giant Domino’s on Monday to hear whether its website is required to be accessible to the disabled, leaving in place a lower court decision against the company. The case was originally brought by a blind man …. who sued the pizza chain after he was unable to order food on Domino’s website and mobile app despite using screen-reading software. The decision not to grant the case is a loss for the company and a win for disability advocates, who have argued that if businesses do not have to maintain accessible sites, disabled people could be effectively shut out of substantial portions of the economy.” CNN, 2021

In the UK:

QUOTE: “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


Table of Contents

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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


Hobo is interested in creating websites that the vast majority of people can access, regardless of challenges, and that meet UK Laws and regulations on Web accessibility.

It is a complicated topic.

QUOTE: “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

It makes sense to create websites that are accessible to as many people as possible.

To comply with UK laws on accessibility you must put a little effort into meet accessibility recommendations for websites. The W3c lay down the general guidelines for websites that most international organisations adhere to.


10 quick tips for a more accessible site design from the W3C

The W3c has offered webmasters these ten tips that have stood the test of time:

  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. Do not 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. Do not fix a font size on your website. Use % or ems.
  10. Use a fluid layout, using percentages or ems for width.


Tips From the European Blind Union

The EBU has offered some recent advice on making websites accessible to blind users.

QUOTE: “The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (External link) are the standard for accessible websites.  The key to an accessible website is correct use of HTML for structure and CSS for layout.” European Blind Union, 2017

HTML tips

QUOTE: “In HTML structure elements exist for paragraphs (p), headings and subtitles (h1, h2, … h6), lists (ul, ol and li). In a table one should identify the table headers by using th elements. The caption element does what its name suggests.” European Blind Union, 2017

Tips for forms

QUOTE: “In a form it is essential to mark up all instructions (e.g. first name, street, country …) with a label element. Then link each label with the corresponding form field. Therefore the value of the for attribute in the label element must be equal to the value of the id attribute in the input, select or textarea element. Make sure the mandatory fields are identified in a not purely visual way. Avoid the technique called Captcha (External link) that requires the user to type a code that is depicted in an image. This code cannot be read by a screenreader and many partially sighted people will have trouble to decipher the code as well. Clearly state that a form has been submitted correctly or that errors were detected. In the latter case the user should be informed what the error is, where it occurs and how to fix it.” European Blind Union, 2017

Tips for audio and video

QUOTE: “If a website contains audio or video material, bear in mind that many people do not hear or see it. That is why the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ask that video is captioned for the deaf and that a text transcript is available. A text transcript is a separate page or document that contains all information from the video or audio: dialogs, sounds, description of visual effects if relevant.” European Blind Union, 2017

Functionality tips

QUOTE: “All functionality must be operable from the keyboard. All images have an alt-attribute that provides a text alternative. Link texts are meaningful: avoid “click here”. Link texts can be visually distinguished from text that is not a link. It is recommended to underline all links inside a text block.” European Blind Union, 2017


Accessibility 101

QUOTE: “With the help of synthesised speech and Braille display technology, even completely blind people can use the Web.” RNIB, 2002

This article is an archive of notes – a kind-of Accessibility 101 – collected over 20 years studying ‘inclusive design’ , ‘accessible web design’ and generally making websites as accessible as possible to all visitors. It is not legal advice.

People with visual disabilities are individuals who are blind, have low vision, or have colour blindness.

People who are blind need text equivalents for the images used on the Web page, because they and their assistive screen reader technology cannot obtain the information from the image.

A person who has a visual disability will not find the mouse useful because it requires hand and eye coordination. Instead, this person must navigate the Web page using only the keyboard.

For example

  • the Tab key is used to move the focus to the item that needs to be selected
  • a screen reader then announces the item so the user knows where the focus is on the page.
  • the user then presses the Enter key instead of “clicking” the mouse button.

Those who have low vision need the assistance of a hardware or software magnifier to enlarge the text beyond simple font enlargement.

People who are colour blind or who have low vision benefit from good contrasting colours.

When information is presented by colour alone, a person who is colour blind misses that information.

Similarly, if the information is presented using any attribute by itself (for example, contrast, depth, size, location, or font), a user who has low vision might not detect the difference.

Magnification might reformat the location, change the contrast, or distort the size and fonts of the text and objects on the Web page.

It is best to use multiple attributes.

For example, if both colour and a fill pattern are used on different bars on a graph, they can be viewed in either colour or black and white.

Instead of using size attributes on the font element to denote a heading, the heading element should be used to correctly mark up a heading so that assistive technology can identify headings.

The access needs of blind or visually impaired people can be as variable as the number of blind or visually impaired people visiting your website.

Flexibility therefore is the key to ensuring that your website is accessible to everyone.

Those with some vision may need to be able to enlarge text (or make it very small), or change the contrast or colours on the web page.

Others will have software installed on their computers to enable them to ‘hear’ web pages via synthesised speech, or to read the web page by using a Braille display.

You must ensure that the design of your web pages does not make it difficult for a blind or visually impaired person to be able to customise the page for his/her own needs.

Designing a website to be accessible to a blind or visually impaired person – or indeed for anyone – can be a complex subject.

The following general principles apply to designing for blind or visually impaired users, but are just as relevant to all groups:

  1. Provide text equivalents for all non-text objects on the page – speech synthesisers can’t read graphics, and graphic text can’t be enlarged in the same way as ordinary text.
  2. All graphics should have text labels, i.e. alternative attributes in HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language).
  3. Don’t design the page in a way that stops the user from setting their own browser preferences, i.e. don’t specify exact sizes for fonts or layouts – design everything in relative sizes.
  4. Use descriptive Titles for every page.
  5. Use valid HTML – many access programs depend on the use of standard HTML – e.g. some software can give an overview of the page by extracting all the headers and links and presenting them on a single page. If you have no headers on your page and all your links say ‘click here’ then the accessibility of your website will be very low.

There is very useful, more detailed information about designing for blind or visually impaired users at and you can get a free home eye test on this site, and some other information too.

Best font size to use for websites

There is no ‘best font size’. Just don’t ‘fix’ your font size absolutely.

Allow readers to choose the font size which suits them.

The same goes even for pixels.

UK Government recommendations on best fonts to use:

QUOTE: Use only clear, commonly used fonts. Avoid the use of small text. Users should have the ability to scale fonts.” Guidelines for UK Government websites – Illustrated handbook for Web management teams

Readability guidelines for website font size

QUOTE: “#1 – Legibility Problems- Bad fonts won the vote by a landslide, getting almost twice as many votes as the #2 mistake. About two-thirds of the voters complained about small font sizes or frozen font sizes; about one-third complained about low contrast between text and background.” Jacob Nielsen, 2005

Sometimes the old advice is the best:

  • QUOTE: “Do not use absolute font sizes in your style sheets. Code font sizes in relative terms, typically using percentages such as 120% for big text and 90% for small text.” Jakob Nielsen

  • QUOTE: “Make your default font size reasonably big (at least 10 point) so that very few users have to resort to manual overrides.”  Jakob Nielsen

  • QUOTE: “If your site targets senior citizens, use bigger default font sizes (at least 12 point).” Jakob Nielsen

  • QUOTE: “If possible, avoid text that’s embedded within a graphic, since style sheets and font size buttons don’t have any effect on graphics. If you must use pictures of text, make sure the font size is especially large (at least 12 points) and that you use high-contrast colors. Jakob Nielsen

  • QUOTE: “Consider adding a button that loads an alternate style sheet with really big font sizes if most of your site’s visitors are senior citizens or low-vision users. Few users know how to find or use the built-in font size feature in current browsers, and adding such a button within your pages will help users easily increase text size. However, because every extra feature takes away from the rest of the page, I don’t recommend such a button for mainstream websites”.Jakob Nielsen

  • QUOTE: “Maximize the colour contrast between the text and the background (and do not use busy or watermarked background patterns). Despite the fact that low-contrast text further reduces readability, the Web is plagued by grey text these days.” Jakob Nielsen – Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, August 19, 2002

Avoid text-only websites

QUOTE: ‘The RNIB encourages the design of websites that practice ‘universal design’ or ‘design for all’. That is, a single version of the website which is accessible to everyone, no matter how they access the Web. This is made possible by the extensive accessibility features designed into HTML 4. The W3C recommend a text only page only as a last resort.‘ RNIB

In most circumstances, there is no need to create a separate text-only version of a website.

Unless database content management is being used, the creation of an additional text-only version simply doubles the work involved in updating or amending the site, and often leads to an increasingly useless version of the site, with time constraints resulting in the graphics version being updated regularly while the text-only version is neglected and becomes more and more out of date.

The creation of a text-only version should be seen only as a final option when all other alternatives for making the site accessible have been exhausted.

Accessible pages needn’t be bland. They can be well designed, attractive and interactive, while at the same time providing access for everyone.

Separate design from content using HTML & CSS and you effectively build a text-only website, but when attached to your tailored style sheet, becomes an attractively designed website page.

UK Government recommendations:

QUOTE: “Alternative text-only pages should rarely be necessary and are not best practice. If text-only pages are used it is essential that their content is as complete and comprehensive as graphic content and is updated simultaneously with graphic content.” UK Government – Guidelines for UK Government websites – Illustrated handbook for Web management teams

Best text and background colours to use

There is no one “best” combination of text and background colours.

Different sight conditions can result in widely different needs – some users may be comfortable with black text on a white background, others may prefer white text on a dark blue background, others yellow text on a back background, etc.

Pages should be designed in such a way that users can make use of their browser and PC settings to choose a colour scheme that works for them.

Again, try to avoid using graphics of text, since users can’t change the text and background colours when text is presented in this way.

The web is by and large a more colourful medium than the printed page.

Colour is cheaper on the web.

Colour can be ornamental, can help to establish a visual identity, and can have practical value (red might draw attention to important information).

But colour poses difficulties to accessibility as well.

Do your web pages exclude people? It would be a shame, as in the near future most web browsers will provide simple ways for readers to adjust the Colour of elements on a web page, via user style sheets, which can override your style sheets.

How to avoid these problems in website design? Use style sheets, rather than the HTML <font> element. And avoid relying on colour combinations to alone convey meaning (ie – “click on the red button”).

Colour blindness & website design resources

  • The Colour Laboratory – Project at the AWARE Center that allows designers to to select colours and see how they appear next to one another, and in various foreground/background combinations under simulated colour blindness scenarios.
  • Colourblind Design Evaluation – This online tool provides 3 ways to see what colours used in HTML code look like to the colour blind.
  • Vischeck – This online tool (also available as a Photoshop plugin for Windows) allows you to upload an image file and check the visibility of your graphics and text. This tool can show you what your image looks like to people who are colour blind, people with glaucoma or macular degeneration, elders and children.
  • Colours for the Colour Blind – This site describes colour deficiency, as well as its causes and effects. It also furnishes a set of colour charts to aid the colour blind in working with computer colours, especially on the Internet and in Web sites.
  • Safe Web Colours for colour-deficient vision – This site contains information and design tools that help authors understand which colours are easily confused and how to ensure that important colour cues are not lost.

(RNIB) Royal National Institute For The Blind

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) are at the forefront of promoting accessible website design, and you have to acknowledge the achievements of the organisation.

The RNIB says that people with disabilities may use a variety of access technologies in order to read your web pages. The problem is that these technologies will only work if websites support them.

The way that websites are designed and built may be closing some of the doors that they should be opening.

Responsible business practice

The RNIB has stated that In today’s environment corporate and social responsibility have increasingly become fundamental in building trust and reputation with the people you do business with. However, the experience of closed doors on your websites can have a negative influence on the way people perceive even the most reliable companies and the strongest brands.

The RNIB says that if the information is worth publishing on the web, it is worth ensuring that everyone can access it.

The RNIB says that, fundamentally, the tools and the technology of the web all support accessibility; it is, therefore, the responsibility of managers, designers and ultimately the page author, to apply the techniques that allow web pages to be accessed.

The RNIB has also stated the web has opened up many doors and possibilities for everyone, but this is especially true for people with disabilities. Due to increasing availability and widespread use of access technology, people now enjoy a level of empowerment and independence that previous generations never experienced before.

Design websites for deaf / hard of hearing visitors

Although it may not be immediately obvious how a predominantly visual medium like the web can be inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing the following points are worth noting.

Many deaf or hard of hearing people – particularly if they are sign-language users – do not have highly developed reading skills. Sign language is a different language from standard written English. Some people who use sign language, therefore, have a limited reading vocabulary. The use of simple, clear language will help to ensure that deaf or hard of hearing people can access the information on your web pages.

Closed captioning

If you use audio or video provide text-based transcripts and closed captioning. Closed captioning on the web when not directly embedded within the video consists of a link to a ‘script’ of the video – the link to the script should be located close to the video clip.

Guidelines for implementing captioning for video can be found at in an article by Mike Paciello. For more detailed information about web accessibility for deaf people, see

Design websites for mobility or physically impaired people

People with mobility disabilities have physical impairments that substantially limit movement and fine motor controls, such as lifting, walking, and typing. Mobility impaired individuals experience difficulties in using the computer’s input devices and in handling storage media. Solutions for persons with mobility disabilities include switches, latches, and controls that are easy to manipulate, and diskettes and media that are easy to insert and remove.

Additional solutions include alternate input capabilities, such as voice input or the ability to enter information at the user’s own pace. For example, sequences of keystrokes can be typed, one at a time, rather than simultaneously as in Ctrl+Alt+Del. Many of these needs are supported by assistive technology, operating systems, and hardware platforms. Furthermore, making the Web site accessible will make it more compatible with voice input and control technologies.

Things to remember

For people who have difficulty using their hands or whose hand/eye co-ordination is restricted, the following guidelines can improve access.

  • Provision of buttons rather than text for navigation to provide a larger ‘target’ for links. Having said that – if you design your web pages so that the text can be resized easily there should be no need to use graphics so that you can provide a larger target.
  • Clear consistent layouts and navigation.
  • Don’t think everybody uses a mouse

Remember to consider the physical access to the computer itself. If a website is being designed for use in a public kiosk, the kiosk should be accessible to wheelchair users.

Design a website for users with learning disabilities

There are of course marked differences in cognitive skills between individuals with learning difficulties and it would be virtually impossible to design a website to meet all requirements – however here are some general rules worth applying when creating websites for this demographic.

Design simple uniform screen layouts (with the option of only viewing one thing at a time), keep jargon to a minimum and use plain language and avoid pages overloaded with too many distractions (like flashing graphics) or too many choices (like a large cumbersome navigation system).

For the same reason avoid long lists of links unless they are arranged in logical groups of no more than five or six links each.

The combination of auditory information, pictures, and text helps to reinforce navigation and actions for those who have a short attention span or are easily distracted.

This will also be useful for those who cannot read (over 80 per cent) or are surfing the web with assistance. Auditory information should be clear, simple and repeatable.

Other suggestions include:

  • Provide a plain language description of the site
  • Include a simple way and obvious way to return to your home page
  • Avoid animated graphics – if they change too quickly their use can lead to cognitive overload
  • Simplify sequences – limit choice and number of steps

Design a site for people with dyslexia

Designing a site for visitors with Dyslexia starts with asking ‘What Problems Would a Dyslexic User Face?

People with dyslexia frequently experience discomfort when reading because they find it more difficult to “decode” the words on the page, and can also find it difficult to remain focussed on a particular piece of text.

Some people may also have to concentrate more to remember what they have already read, which means they will tire more easily.

Web designers, developers and copywriters should keep these 17 tips in mind:

  1. Text size – the minimum recommended font size for users with dyslexia is 12pt. Printed material should always be made available at this size.
  2. Text scaling – on a website you may wish to use a default size smaller than 12pt. If so, use a font size which scales easily, such as percent (%) or em. This way users with dyslexia (or poorer vision) can adjust their own settings to increase the font size. Note that if you start with a base font size of around 80% (used by a lot of websites), Internet Explorer will allow a font size increase to over 12pt at the largest setting, but at 70%, a user with Internet Explorer will not be able to reach a font size of 12pt.
  3. Font style – use a rounded font that is easy on the eye. Use a sans-serif style font (i.e. without curly bits). Commonly used fonts for this purpose are Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, Helvetica, Tahoma and Trebuchet. It is important to note that not every dyslexic user dislikes serif fonts: many have no problem with them provided the line spacing is sufficient.
  4. Capitalisation – avoid the use of capitalisation for emphasis. All capitals can make text more difficult to read and gives the impression of shouting.
  5. Background – an off-white background can be easier to read from than a shiny white background. Text is also harder to read on a patterned or tiled background.
  6. Spacing – use line spacing between paragraphs to break up text.
  7. Justification – don’t right justify text. This leads to variable spacing between words and can create visual patterns of white space which are difficult to ignore and are sometimes termed rivers of white, running down the page making it extremely difficult to read.
  8. Italics – avoid them. They make text more difficult to read.
  9. Paragraphs – keep them short.
  10. Use lists to bullet point items rather than presenting continuous prose. Number menu items where appropriate.
  11. Writing style – use short words where possible, and write in simple sentences. Refer to the reader as you.
  12. Navigation – ensure your navigation is simple and stays the same across the site. It is helpful to include a site map and a search facility.
  13. Moving text – this creates problems for dyslexic users and users with other visual impairments. Don’t use it.
  14. Columns – Dyslexic people find that the further text is presented from one side of the screen to the other, the more difficult it becomes to read. Ideally a column should be no more than 70-80 characters wide.
  15. Pictures – where a picture will aid comprehension, use one.
  16. Document structure – as a general rule, the more structured your document is, the easier it will be to understand. Use headings, bulleted lists, numbered lists and indented quotes where appropriate.
  17. Abbreviations – always expand the first occurrence of any abbreviation on a page. For subsequent occurrences, consider use of and elements to aid understanding.


(The above 17 tips was provided by JackP – (and titled designing for Dyslexia.) of The Pickards who kindly allowed me (Shaun Anderson) to republish it here on my website, many years ago now.)

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 favourably; 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.

What is the W3C? How did the W3C get started?

The W3C was started in 1994 to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability.

  1. W3C Stands for the World Wide Web Consortium
  2. W3C was created in October 1994
  3. W3C was created by Tim Berners-Lee
  4. W3C was created by the Inventor of the Web
  5. W3C is organized as a Member Organization
  6. W3C is working to Standardize the Web
  7. W3C creates and maintains WWW Standards
  8. W3C Standards are called W3C Recommendations

The World Wide Web (WWW) began as a project at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), where Tim Berners-Lee developed a vision of the World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee – the inventor of the World Wide Web – is now the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

W3C was created in 1994 as a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), with support from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and the European Commission.

Standardizing the Web

W3C is working to make the Web accessible to all users (despite differences in culture, education, ability, resources, and physical limitations)

W3C also coordinates its work with many other standards organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Wireless Application Protocols (WAP) Forum and the Unicode Consortium.

W3C is hosted by three universities:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S.
  • The French National Research Institute in Europe
  • Keio University in Japan

W3C Members

Because the Web is so important (both in scope and in investment) that no single organization should have control over its future, W3C functions as a member organization.

Some well-known members are:

  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • America Online
  • Apple
  • Adobe
  • Macromedia
  • Sun Microsystems

The Full List of Member Organisations includes a variety of software vendors, content providers, corporate users, telecommunications companies, academic institutions, research laboratories, standards bodies, and governments.

W3C Recommendations

The most important work done by the W3C is the development of Web specifications (called “Recommendations”) that describe communication protocols (like HTML and XML) and other building blocks of the Web.

Each W3C Recommendation is developed by a workgroup consisting of members and invited experts. The group obtains its input from companies and other organizations, and creates a Working Draft and finally a Proposed Recommendation. In general, the Recommendation is submitted to the W3C membership and director, for formal approval as a W3C Recommendation.

UK Government recommendations:

‘A great deal can be achieved by reading through the W3C guidance on this topic (accessible website design)’

Guidelines for UK Government websites
Illustrated handbook for Web management teams

WAI (Website Accessibility Initiative)

The Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI) outlines the international guidelines on accessible web design.

The WAI is affiliated with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and works with organisations around the world to increase the accessibility of the web through five primary areas of work: technology, guidelines, tools, education and outreach, and research and development.

As part of this work the WAI published the first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in 1999. These are accepted as the definitive set of international guidelines used for building accessible websites. All other guidelines and standards are derived from these.

UK Government recommendations:

‘The page must comply with the WAI ‘A’ standard’

Guidelines for UK Government websites
Illustrated handbook for Web management teams

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

There are two versions of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG 1 contains 14 main guidelines with a total of 65 in all. WCAG 2, still in draft format, has reorganised and combined many of the WCAG 1 guidelines to create 21 new ones.

Each guideline has a one or more ‘checkpoints’ which developers should consider to ensure the accessibility of a Web page. Each checkpoint has a priority level based on its impact on Web accessibility.

The WCAG provides a number of examples and techniques to help Web developers to implement the guidelines. There is also a downloadable training course entitled the Curriculum for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. The course is a few years old and needs updating. Saying that, it does provide a good foundation to the topic.

WCAG Priority Levels

There are 3 WCAG priority levels. Compliance with the recommendations of each level ensures greater accessibility of Web pages.

Priority 1 – Web developers MUST satisfy these checkpoints or some groups of people will find it impossible to access information on their site. This is considered to be the absolute minimum level of compliance.

Priority 2 – Web developers should satisfy these checkpoints or some groups of people will find it difficult to access information on their site. This is considered to be the preferred level of compliance.

Priority 3 – If Web developers satisfy these checkpoints the majority of users will be able to access ALL of the information on their site. This is considered to be the optimum level of compliance.

WCAG Conformance

The WCAG guidelines have three levels of conformance.

  1. Conformance Level “A”: all Priority 1 checkpoints are satisfied. This is known as ‘WCAG A’ compliant.
  2. Conformance Level “Double-A”: all Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints are satisfied. This is known as ‘WCAG AA’ compliant.
  3. Conformance Level “Triple-A”: all Priority 1, 2, and 3 checkpoints are satisfied. This is known as ‘WCAG AAA’ compliant.

There are 14 main WCAG guidelines.

SENDA 2001

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) introduces the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against in education, training and any services provided wholly or mainly for students, and for those enrolled on courses provided by ‘responsible bodies’, including further and higher education institutions and sixth form colleges.

This is a summary of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 legislation (SENDA) that establishes legal rights for disabled students in pre- and post-16 education (UK).

Student services covered by the Act can include a wide range of educational and non-educational services, such as field trips, examinations and assessments, short courses, arrangements for work placements and libraries and learning resources.

What does SENDA mean in practice?

It will be unlawful for responsible bodies to treat a disabled person ‘less favourably’ than a non-disabled person for a reason that relates to the person’s disability. A dyslexic student applies to do a degree in law. The university tells her that they do not take dyslexic students on law degrees. The treatment she receives is less favourable compared to other students, and the reason for the treatment relates to her disability. The university is likely to be acting unlawfully.

If a disabled person is at a ‘substantial disadvantage’, responsible bodies are required to take reasonable steps to prevent that disadvantage. This might include:

  • changes to policies and practices
  • changes to course requirements or work placements
  • changes to the physical features of a building
  • the provision of interpreters or other support workers
  • the delivery of courses in alternative ways
  • the provision of material in other formats

Example: A partially deaf student who lip-reads is attending a law course. One of her lecturers continues to lecture while simultaneously writing on the whiteboard. The student asks him to stop speaking when he turns his back to use the whiteboard so that she can follow what he is saying. The student is likely to be at a substantial disadvantage if this adjustment is not made.

The law requires responsible bodies to anticipate the requirements of disabled people or students and the adjustments they could be making for them. This might be done through regular staff reviews and reviews of practice.

How do people know whether an adjustment is reasonable or not?

What steps are reasonable all depends on the circumstances of the case.

They will vary according to:

  • the type of services being provided
  • the nature of the institution or service and its size and resources
  • the effect of the disability on the individual disabled person or student

Some of the factors that might be taken into account are:

  • the financial resources available to the responsible body
  • the cost of taking a particular step
  • the extent to which it is practicable to take a particular step
  • health and safety requirements
  • the relevant interests of other people

The final decision about what is reasonable will be decided by the courts.

When did SENDA 2001 compliance take effect?

Compliance with The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA);

These new special needs legislation rights came into force on 1 September 2002, with two exceptions:

  • the provision of auxiliary aids and services will be covered from 1 September 2003
  • alterations to physical features will be covered from 1 September 2005

Make a website comply with SENDA

For your website to comply with The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) your organisation should ensure your website is built to the very latest W3C standards and recommendations from the very outset. Your accessible website design consultant should lay down clear instructions for your incumbent website design company to build your website to W3C HTML and CSS global good practice standards. Your website should be able to pass at least the very minimum W3C recommended Priority 1 standard for websites (so complying with the 1995 DDA) but you should also remember that the RNIB and even the UK Government acknowledge and advise that you really should be looking to pass at least Priority 2 and you should still be asking your website development company what extra functionality they have included in your website design to aid disabled visitors to your website.

The whole point of this exercise is to make sure the information on your website is accessible to all, regardless of any disability a visitor may have. The only way to ensure this is to follow accepted W3C recommendations for website construction and compliance in UK law and pro-actively introduce added functionality to a website where it is deemed it is necessary.

And remember, your website design company should advise you (if you are updating your website in-house) on how to maintain your W3C Priority Rating throughout the life cycle of your site.

PAS 78

This publication provided guidance to organisations in how to go about commissioning an accessible website from a design agency. It describes what is expected from websites to comply with the UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), making websites accessible to and usable by disabled people.

PAS78 has been commissioned to provide guidance to website commissioners on:

  • the steps that should be taken to commission accessible websites
  • the W3C guidelines and specifications to be adopted
  • the role of the guidelines and specifications, software tools and user testing within the development life cycle.

PAS 78 was published in March 2006.  The purpose of the PAS 78 is to meet the needs of website commissioners, not website designers.

The process is dictated by BSI. Standards documents follow a strict schedule and PAS 78 is no different.

This Publicly Available Specification outlines good practice in commissioning website designs that are accessible to and usable by disabled people. It gives recommendations for:

  • the management of the process of, and guidance on, upholding existing W3C guidelines and specifications;
  • involving disabled people in the development process and using the current software-based compliance testing tools that can assist with this.

It is applicable to all public and private organizations that wish to observe good practice under the existing voluntary guidelines and the relevant legislation on this subject and is intended for use by those responsible for commissioning public-facing website designs and web-based services.

Choosing a website designer

It is not possible to provide a definitive specification for a fully accessible website that will satisfy the requirements of the DDA and PAS 78 does not try to expand on this further. Website commissioners should therefore be skeptical 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.

There is currently no nationally recognized system of accreditation for website developers who claim to create accessible websites that uphold W3C guidelines and specifications. Website commissioners should therefore perform their own reference checks until they are satisfied that the website development contractor has competence and experience in developing accessible websites 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 “The Disability Discrimination Code of Practice (Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises)” 2002 edition
  • familiarity with assistive technologies.

BS 8878 2010 Web Accessibility Code Of Practice British Standard

PAS 78 is now BS 8878). The web accessibility code of practice via BSI (Building accessible experiences for disabled people) is NOW AVAILABLE and it should be interesting reading for all those who want to build their websites so the majority of people can access them:

BS 8878 Web accessibility. Building accessible experiences for disabled people. Code of Practice is applicable to all public and private organizations wishing to offer accessible, usable websites to their customers. BS 8878 has been designed to introduce accessibility, usability and user experience for disabled people to non-technical professionals, some of whom may be completely new to this subject.

It gives guidance on process, rather than on technical and design issues, including recommendations for:

  • involving disabled people in the development process
  • using automated web accessibility tools to assist with accessibility testing
  • the management of the guidance and process for upholding existing accessibility guidelines and specifications.

The new British Standard BS8878 for accessible websites is based on PAS 78 and is due out late 2009. Any time soon hopefully!

Of course, accessible website design begins with validation – you can validate your HTML and validate your CSS using W3C tools.

With any web accessibility guidelines, I like to cut through the soup and see what the folks at Accessify Forum think of each implementation – there’s a lot of passionate accessibility folk who hang out there who are only to ready to help with useful accessibility tips. Check it out.

I do wish the folks responsible for making these documents are available would stop shunting this stuff about. Over the years they don’t even bother redirecting users to where the new files are kept or even leaving a link to the new location – sometimes you need to be a SEO to find the flaming documents. Hows that for accessibility?

Whatever happened to:

QUOTE: “Cool URI don’t change“?

For web developers and those resposible for procuring an accessible website, it’s considered by some on the know that WCAG 2.0 level Double-A (AA) is a solid technical foundation to base a website on, but you are also going to have to test your website with USERS before you can say your site is accessible.

It’s worth noting that it’s still, in late 2009, practically impossible to design a site that will comply with the UK DDA as the UK DDA does not refer to WCAG and it does not lay down a specific level of accessibility for all websites. The purpose of the UK DDA is to legislate against unreasonable discrimination, and to require reasonable adjustments in cases where discrimination occurs for those accessing websites – but that discrimination would obviously have to be determined by a court, and that hasn’t happened in the UK to my knowledge. Of course, building your website to standards like WCAG shows at least you are attempting to make your websites accessible on some some level.

Actionable Tips

  • Build your website to W3C WCAG 2.0 level Double-A (AA)
  • Validate Your HTML & CSS
  • Make it simple for visitors to your website to contact you
  • Make reasonable changes to your website if asked to by someone who has difficulty accessing the information on it
  • Have a culture of inclusiveness in your whole organisation!
  • Learn more about web accessibility because this article is opinion and clearly NOT LEGAL ADVICE.

Contents of BS 8878 2010 contain:

  • Scope
  • Normative references
  • Terms, definitions and abbreviations
  • Embedding web accessibility within an organization – Responsibilities and documentation
  • Claims of conformity with BS 8878
  • Setting web accessibility responsibility and policy for the organization
  • Definition of an organizational web accessibility policy
  • Creating accessibility policies and statements for each web product
  • Definition of a web product’s accessibility policy
  • Definition of a web product’s accessibility statement
  • How to make justifiable decisions on accessibility options at each step
  • The process for creating accessible web products
  • Step 1: define the purpose of the web product
  • Step 2: define the target audiences for the web product
  • Step 3: analyse the needs of the target audiences for the web product
  • Step 4: note any platform or technology preferences and restrictions of the web product’s target audiences
  • Step 5: define the relationship the product will have with its target audiences
  • Step 6: define the user goals and tasks the web product needs to provide
  • Step 7: consider the degree of user-experience the web product will aim to provide
  • Step 8: consider inclusive design and user-personalized approaches to accessibility
  • Step 9: choose the delivery platforms to support
  • Step 10: choose the target browsers, operating systems and assistive technologies to support
  • Step 11: choose whether to create or procure the web product in-house or contract out externally
  • Step 12: define the web technologies to be used in the web product
  • Step 13: use web guidelines to direct accessible web production
  • Step 14: assure the web product’s accessibility through production
  • Step 15: communicate the web product’s accessibility decisions at launch
  • Step 16: plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product
  • Using web accessibility guidelines to direct the production of accessible web products
  • Inclusive design guidelines
  • Personalization guidelines: for individualized web product adaptability
  • Accessibility guidelines for web products on non computer platforms
  • Guidelines for accessible web design for older people
  • Assuring accessibility throughout a web product’s lifecycle
  • Summary of approach
  • Gathering requirements from disabled users
  • Creating an accessibility test plan
  • Accessibility testing methods
  • Post-launch programme of accessibility testing
  • Terms, definitions and abbreviations
  • Disability and the law
  • Business case for making web products accessible
  • Examples of a web accessibility policy and web accessibility statement
  • Allocation of responsibilities
  • The accessibility challenges of different types of web product
  • How disabled and older people experience web products
  • Examples of web product purposes, audiences, user goals, user tasks and degrees of user-experience for those tasks
  • Measuring user success
  • The user-personalized approach to accessibility
  • Procurement of authoring tools, software, components or web-services
  • A guide to dealing with correspondence and complaints about a web product’s accessibility
  • Suggested user profiles
  • A guide to user testing with disabled and older people
  • List of figures
  • Architecture for user-personalized accessibility
  • Decision process for software selection

I was into web accessibility before SEO and I still think every web designer should at least try and make their sites a bit more accessible, ESPECIALLY if asked….. – here’s a press release I received today:

BSI is inviting all interested parties, and in particular website owners, web product managers, web procurement managers, usability and accessibility specialists, marketing professionals and disabled web users, to review and comment on the draft of a new standard on accessible websites, DPC BS 8878 Web accessibility – Code of Practice

There are three main drivers for organizations to take steps to make their web products more accessible and usable:

  1. Commercial reasons, notably opening up web products to a wider audience:
  • More than 11 million people are protected by the UK’s disability discrimination law, according to the Department of Work and Pensions. Separate research by the Government’s Office for Disability Issues suggests that 15% of disabled people have hearing difficulties and 12% have visual impairments, and many others have physical or cognitive impairments which may impact on their use of web products.
  • Many elderly people, while not legally considered disabled, are also affected by the multiple minor impairments of ageing.
  • There are also many other non-disabled people who could benefit from more accessible web products including, people with a low reading age, and people who momentarily do not have use of one of their senses due to illness or because they need that sense to do something else at the same time
  1. Ethical reasons:
  • The Digital Britain report details the many benefits that modern digital technologies can bring. Many organizations want to ensure that disabled and elderly people are not excluded from these benefits, and are able to use new technologies to increase their ability to live independently, and to be fully engaged members of society.
  1. Legal reasons:
  • If an organization’s web product is not accessible to a disabled person, that person may have grounds for making a claim against the organization under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Many web products unwittingly and unlawfully exclude disabled and elderly people; yet in most cases the barriers these web products present can be removed.

This draft British Standard explains how to create organizational policies and production processes to identify and remove such barriers.

DPC BS 8878 was originally issued in December 2008 and attracted an unprecedented amount of interest. After due consideration of the feedback, and taking into account recent changes in legislation and advances in technology, BSI is now able to provide an enhanced draft which is extensively restructured, and contains additional guidance material on topics such as:

  • The Equality Act 2010
  • The relationship between inclusive design and user-personalised approaches to accessibility, including whether to provide additional accessibility provisions
  • Creating accessible web products for computer, mobile and IPTV platforms
  • How to procure accessible web products
  • How to assure a product’s accessibility throughout the production process, including the value and costs of different forms of accessibility testing
  • Dealing with feedback and complaints on accessibility from users

DPC BS 8878 can be viewed at until 30 June 2010.  All comments will be considered by the BSI technical committee responsible for drafting the standard.

Mike Low, BSI Director, Standards commented,

”Accessibility is an essential aspect of modern web production. The new UK Equality Act continues the legal imperative for websites to make reasonable steps to include the needs of disabled people. Moreover, Digital Britain initiatives to encourage more elderly people online pose both an opportunity and challenge for site owners in creating sites which are usable by a broader range of people than ever before.

Jonathan Hassell, of the BBC, Chair of the committee responsible for drafting DPC BS 8878,commented,

“Site owners urgently need an end-to-end guide to help them to ensure their products consider the needs of disabled and elderly people at all stages of the web production process, from initial requirements gathering, through selection of technologies and platforms, testing, launch and maintenance.

BS8878 is that guide. It’s designed to be a real-world standard, talking about real-world issues, experienced by real users, wanting to use real up-to-date web 2.0 products. It’s designed for real web product managers and production staff dealing with the real decisions they need to make every day which will affect whether or not their products will include or exclude disabled and elderly people.

This Draft for Public Consultation is a chance for people to tell us whether our drafting committee have got the content and style of the standard right and both given them an idea of the breadth of the parts of their production process that accessibility issues impact, and also demystified accessibility so they feel confident they know how to proceed.”,”
About BSI

BSI is a global independent business services organization that inspires confidence and delivers assurance to over 80,000 customers with standards-based solutions. Originating as the world’s first national standards body, BSI has over 2,400 staff operating in over 120 countries through more than 50 global offices. BSI’s key offerings are:

  • The development and sale of private, national and international standards and supporting information that promote and share best practice
  • Second and third-party management systems assessment and certification in all critical areas of management disciplines
  • Testing and certification of services and products for Kitemark and CE marking to UK, European and International standards. BSI is a Notified Body for 17 New Approach EU Directives
  • Certification of high-risk, complex medical devices
  • Performance management software solutions
  • Training services in support of standards implementation and business best practice.

For further information please visit

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:

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.

Does my website have to be accessible?

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.

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 provision of a 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.

Unsurprisingly, you leave yourself open to criticism, bad press 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 a website?

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 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

Build a website 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:

QUOTE: “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.

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 the 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




(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 for more detailed information on Section 508.

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

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.

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.

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.

No company is capable of producing a website for you that is ‘compliant with the law’ in the UK?

Redirects are user-friendly

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 advocates “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.

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“. RNIB

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 websites

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.

QUOTE: “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


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, and

In both instances, the companies had failed to implement guidelines published by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative ( 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

QUOTE: ‘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‘ RNIB

Web accessibility checks, tests, tools & resources

We’re currently re-evaluating all the sites with our name on it including this one – perhaps you might want to test your site?

Valid HTML and Valid CSS is the first step to ensuring an accessible website.

  1. Validate Your HTML to W3C recommendations
  2. Validate Your CSS to W3C levels
  3. ATRC – Find out if your page is WCAG 2.0 Level2 ‘compliant’ – this is the grade (or level of compliance) that the UK Government now recommend
  4. WAVE – Test your website compatibility issues with WCAG 1.0 and section 508
  5. TAW – Checks website pages for conflicts with WCAG 1.0.
  6. CynthiaSays – I use this and it’s my favourite, but to be honest, I think the reports, though extremely detailed are difficult for the novice web designer
  7. HERA – Highlights WCAG 1.0 compatibility issues
  8. CSS Analyser – Color contrast test to make sure your sites CSS colour scheme meets WCAG 1.0 requirements
  9. Readability Check – Analyzes the language on your website to Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid!

Of course, the best way to get the accessibility of your site evaluated is by getting a focus group organised to test the accessibility and usability of your site, but the reality is not many go to these lengths. Note too, Automatic tests like the ones listed have many limitations.

“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

Ask your website design company if they will ensure your site is built to good standards, and make any changes if you are approached about accessibility issues with your site because that is when you can actually be sued under breach of the UK DDA, which might not be ideal publicity for your business.

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