Accessibility, The Law and You

Your legal obligations regarding web accessibility are not clear-cut. The law states that websites have to be accessible, but it doesn’t go as far as to state what constitutes an accessible website.

Everyone’s waiting for the big test case that will force a clear set of recommendations to be adopted by UK law on what constitutes an accessible site. For now we have the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It is widely believed that these guidelines will form the basis of any UK legal criteria.

However this doesn’t let you off the hook with regards to website accessibility. Let’s take a look at your obligations.

UK Law

It all started with the 1999 amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act which stated that website owners were legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their websites were accessible by everyone.

In 2001 the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act  (SENDA) was introduced which added weight to the existing legislation concerning websites used in education: disabled students should not be treated less favourably due to their disability.

2010 saw the Disability Discrimination Act replaced by the Equality Act. The requirement to make reasonable adjustments is still there, but the threshold is lower, placing further onus on website owners to ensure that their websites are accessible.

The above legislation applies to all websites, so if your website is not accessible you could face repercussions.

Could I get sued?

So far no UK business has been sued because their website is inaccessible. However, in Australia (whose disability legislation is considered to be similar to the UK’s) the owners of the 2000 Sydney Olympics website were successfully sued for refusing to make adjustments to make their website accessible and forced to pay substantial damages.

If you are approached by someone who is having difficulty accessing your website due to their disability it’s in your best interests to take their problem seriously.

Is my website accessible?

Many websites are inaccessible and do not conform to recommendations. If your web designer didn’t specifically mention accessibility, then your site probably isn’t accessible. If you make changes to your website through a content management system and haven’t taken the principles of accessibility into account, then your website probably isn’t accessible.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to make an existing website accessible to those with disabilities.

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