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How to Comply with the Law


Accessibility is no longer simply a matter of best practice. A site offering a service to the general public or your general workforce can be in contravention of laws designed to ensure that citizens with disabilities are not excluded from using the web.

For public sector clients, it's all there in the latest policy documents and guidelines. Sites which are intended for public access should be accessible to everyone, and all UK governmental sites will have to comply with, as a minimum, level A of the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), with level AA as the recommended target.

For corporate clients, it's a bottom line issue — conforming to approved accessibility guidelines increases access and usability of your Web site for all visitors — whether disabled or not. It can increase your market share/audience reach by a fifth (W3C figures), improve search engine rankings, aid re-purposing of content for multiple formats or devices, and assist access by low bandwidth users.

The Law - Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Part III

Who does it apply to?

All service providers e.g. businesses, educational institutions, transport vehicle providers, public authorities, private clubs. This legislation affects private and public sector alike, whether or not their Internet services are for profit.

In a nutshell?

All service providers must take all steps that are reasonable to change any practice, policy or procedure which makes it 'impossible or unreasonably difficult' for disabled persons to make use of a service, including those accessed via the internet.

  • Since December 1996 it has been unlawful to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability;
  • Since October 1999 service providers have had to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services;
  • Since 2004 service providers may have to make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.

A court has yet to decide whether it would have been reasonable for a particular service provider to make a particular adjustment to their web site to enable access for a disabled person, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case. The RNIB recently provided legal representation for two individuals in separate cases relating to "unreasonable difficulties" and "less favourable treatment" in the provision of services on the internet. The charity took the action under the Disabilities Discrimination Act 1995. The RNIB did not name the organisations concerned, as they are more concerned to raise awareness of the issues rather than point the finger of blame. Both cases were settled out of court.

A case needs to proceed through to judgement before some clear legal guidance is given on exactly what constitutes "unreasonable difficulties" and "less favourable treatment". It is likely that this will take into account the case of Maguire v Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, brought in Australia under commonwealth legislation very similar to the DDA, and it is suggested that level AA of the WCAG v1.0 will be cited as a benchmark for accessibility.

October 2004 deadline: There was some confusion over the October 2004 deadline. This referred to the deadline for making accommodation for physical access to buildings — ramps and similar. In fact, the requirement for accessible online services had been in place since 1995! However, it is likely that, thanks to the raised profile of the legislation, the chances of a court case being brought has substantially increased.

Where can I find out more?

The Law - Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA)

Who does it apply to?

Providers of education, training and other related services

In a nutshell?

SENDA (2001) is an amendment to the DDA which makes discrimination against disabled students in the provision of education, training and other related services unlawful. It came into force in 2002.

SENDA covers:

  • Admissions processes and procedures
  • The way in which courses are run and taught
  • The physical facilities that are used
  • All associated activities and facilities, such as catering and social clubs

Where can I find out more?

The Law - Disability Equality Duty (DED)

Who does it apply to?

Public authorities

In a nutshell?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to place a duty on all public sector authorities to promote disability equality.

The Disability Equality Duty came into force on 4th December 2006. A fundamental part of the new duty is that for the first time ever public authorities have a statutory requirement to involve disabled people in achieving disability equality. This new legal duty requires all public sector authorities to actively look at ways of ensuring that disabled people are treated equally. All public sector authorities covered by the specific duties must also produce a Disability Equality Scheme.

Where can I find out more?

The Law - EU Legislation

Under objective 2c of the Europe Action Plan 2002 agreed by the Feira Council in June 2000, all public sector web sites and their content in Member States, and in the European institutions, must be designed to be accessible. This is to ensure that citizens with disabilities can access information and take full advantage of the potential for e-government. This action is to be executed by the European Institutions and the 15 European Union Member States through the Adoption of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Guidelines for public web sites by the end of 2001.

NB We are not lawyers. The information in this article is our understanding of the current state of play at the time of writing. You should seek legal advice if you want to be confident about the legal validity of any issue to do with your web site.

What next?

Need advice on how to comply with your obligations? Contact us to discuss your requirements.

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