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Discrimination and the Web

There is a UK law that has been around for a while now, since 1995 in fact – here is an excerpt from the Royal Institute for the Blinds’ web site:

When must a site be accessible by?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – Word (the DDA), was introduced with the intention of comprehensively tackling the discrimination which many disabled people face. 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.

What are the 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 websites have had a legal obligation to be accessible.
What are the obligations in the DDA?

Broadly speaking, the 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 it 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.

The Code of Practice cites an airline website as an example to define a service online. Taken from the Code of Practice 2.13 – 2.17 (p11-13):

“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.”

What is meant by “reasonable adjustments”?

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.

These changes have been required since October 1999. Note that “reasonable” is not defined in the Act, but the Code of Practice does give some guidance on this, and indicates that it will depend upon:

  • the type of service provided
  • the type of organisation you are and resources available
  • the impact on the disabled person
What happens if my website does not comply?

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.

A useful reference is the case brought against the Sydney Olympics Committee in Australia in 2000. This resulted in a landmark decision against the website owners, requiring them to pay $20,000 Australian dollars.

“This response, I am satisfied, was very hurtful for him; the suggestion that he enlist the aid of a sighted person to assist him was wholly inconsistent with his own expectations and what he himself, unaided, had been able to achieve, both at university level and in business, in spite of his disability. To dismiss him and to continue to be dismissive of him was not only hurtful, he was also made to feel, I am satisfied, various emotions including those of anger and rejection by a significant statutory agent within the community of which he himself was a part.” Judge Hon. William Carter QC 2Find out more about the Sydney Olympics failure

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. excerpt taken from Royal national Institute of the blind – 03/10/2006 16:01 – accessed at 15:00 on 04 July 2007

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;

Increased market share and audience reach

An accessible website helps expand markets to people with disabilities as well as people using older browsers, new technologies such as mobile devices and different platforms.

Research tells us that just over 10 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom have some form of disability. That means at least one in four customers either has a disability, or is close to someone who has (source: Employers Forum on Disability). People with disabilities have friends and relatives who have the potential to become a network for positive ”word of mouth” advertising.

In a matter of years the increasing elderly community has the potential to comprise 40 per cent of the overall population This audience with accessibility needs will constitute a major community with significant spending power and influence. (Source: Employers Forum on Disability).

Websites that adopt accessibility as best practice may benefit from awards that are given to sites that meet a recognised standard. Sites may display logos as a badge of quality building public relations confidence in the organisation. Accessible websites also have a distinct advantage in terms of being more clearly identifiable by search engines.

Improved usability

A good level of accessibility can significantly enhance the usability of a website by:

  • Providing clear, consistent navigation (makes finding information easier).
  • Providing understandable and clear content (encourages people to stay longer and make return visits).

The easier someone finds the experience of visiting a website, the more likely they are to become both a customer and an advocate. It will also improve the efficiency of the time people spend on a site and their ability to complete tasks such as purchasing products. -Last updated: 29/09/2006 11:12″

The adjustments in some cases are actually quite small and simple, if time consuming but you and your company will benefit in the long term especially with the ease of use adjustment needed alongside the accessibility issue.

I was recently informed that since this article was written in 03/10/2006 16:01 there has been a successful claim made of £10 000 against a major UK bank as well as  supermarket chain.

Although worrying it does not mean it cannot be fixed with up to date web coding  standards and ease of use, Your  current web sites design can be checked and modified to comply with the law and as a result of the modification make it easier for the user to use.

If this is a UK law why if I am not in the UK should I give a damn?  Because Google cares and that is why you should.  If your site is accessible for disabled users, Google can also read it and that in the end is what matters.

Today in 2010 what is also important is the mobile wars are only now starting to bite and this means that if your web site is not legible by mobile platforms you will be for all intents and purposes invisible to Google, bing and Yahoo!

Now that is something to shout about.

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