Accessible websites, UK law…

Summary: Ideally, all websites could be used by - be accessible to - everyone. In practice, poorly built websites restrict access to many - a survey in 2004 found 80% of 1000 large websites could not be used by the disabled (about 20% of 16-65 year olds). This is probably unlawful under the DDA, UK law since 01-10-99.

For reasons of compliance, and to maximise the addressable market, all new websites should have accessibility built in to WCAG level A, or greater, especially if providing a service.

Q: What are accessible websites?

A: Websites more people can use. Issues which make it difficult for people to use them have been reduced, or removed e.g. text is more legible.

Who benefits from accessible websites

Business owners: an accessible website increases the potential number of customers, and satisfies legal obligations. Fixing an inaccessible website is often disproportionately more expensive compared to the marginal extra cost of addressing the issues when the website is built.

Those with poor vision, other impairments, or disabilites: all gain access to more Web resources and services.

What UK law requires

Statutory law: The UK’s 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) says that:

  • It is unlawful to discriminate against a disabled person in a wide-ranging variety of ways
  • any company offering a service must make reasonable adjustments for disabled users.

Exactly how this law affects websites is unclear, but the thrust seems obvious: websites, like everything else, should allow disabled users to use them as far as reasonably practical.

Case law: there is none yet in the UK, but in a similar jurisdiction, Australia, the Sydney Olympics committee was successfully sued.

Codes of practice: Rights of Access to Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises produced by the Government and the DRC (Disability Rights Commission).

The size of the market waiting to be addressed

Disabled users make up about 20% of the UK working age population - 7 million people (UK's ONS (via the Shaw Trust)). Many others would probably benefit from an easy-to-use website: those with lesser impairments, for instance many older people, and those who simply find it difficult to use a mouse accurately, for example.

Survey finds few websites are accessible

In 2004, in a survey of 1000 websites, over 80% were found to be unusable by disabled users. This included the websites of many well known organisations (BBC report of DRC’s findings, April 2004).

Improved website accessibility: a growing trend

The situation is improving, however:

  • The RNIB has, reportedly, successfully influenced some well-known companies to make their websites more accessible.
  • Awareness amongst web developers is growing, influencing their practices.
  • More companies are appreciating the wider benefits of a more accessible website.

How do you check a website is accessible?

By supplementing checks with automated tools with manual checks by experienced, or (even better) disabled, reviewers. In practice, budgets normally don’t stretch to more than the use of automatic tools (e.g. Cynthia), though these have their limitations.

What are the criteria used for the checks?

Checks of a website’s accessibility are made against the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which the industry expects would be used in a court of law when assessing conformance with the DDA. The minimum level advisable is WCAG level A.