Under the Equality Act 2010 website owners must ensure their websites are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. Therefore, web designers, developers and operators need to be conscious of accessibility requirements.
For people living with disabilities the internet can be invaluable; shopping online can be so much easier and avoids those busy high streets which often present their own challenges. Similarly, if a website has not met the correct accessibility standards then this too will present barriers for the user.
The Equality Act 2010 requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to enable a person with disabilities to access their services.
While the intention of The Act is to be as clear as possible to ensure there is no ambiguity in interpretation, The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published a Statutory Code of Practice for ‘Services, public functions and associations’ under the Act (the Code).
It came into force in April 2011 and provides advice on provisions of The Equality Act relevant to service providers and includes websites.
The Code notes that ‘the duty to make reasonable adjustments requires service providers to take positive steps to ensure that people with disabilities can access services’. It also requires service providers to anticipate the needs of potential customers with disabilities as regards reasonable adjustments.
When public websites include several graphics with embedded text, people with a visual impairment are disadvantaged because their software is unable to access the wording unless alternative text is used. Being unable to change foreground or background colours around the site also causes additional navigation issues.
There are many reasons why a website may not be accessible so it is recommended to access the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on the W3C site, the international organisation concerned with providing accessibility standards for the web. Here’s the link: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG/
While conformance to WCAG may not be your primary goal it is advisable to be the first thing you should check as the guidelines are a good indicator of what courts would reasonably expect of website owners and businesses in terms of accessibility legislation.
Accessibility should be addressed at the design or update stage as decisions have a huge impact on accessibility, legal compliance and the end user experience.
The best way to test accessibility is to ask users with disabilities to try out your website. Ideally this should be done from the onset with people with different disabilities, including motor, cognitive, blindness and other types of visual impairment. Evidence of doing this could also prove invaluable in the event of any legal challenges over your website’s accessibility.
Different pages are likely to exhibit different levels of access, but all the main ones including home, website registration, shopping and ‘standard’ content areas should, as a minimum, be accessible.
The British Standards Institution provides a comprehensive and non-technical
Code of Practice on web accessibility aimed at helping businesses achieve wider digital inclusion when commissioning or designing a website, with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 in mind.
There is currently no case law in the UK relating to this matter, however, the W3C guidelines have been adopted as the benchmark test in Australia, following the case of Maguire V SOCOG (2000) – here’s the link: http://www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/decisions/comdec/1999/dd000150.htm
The case was brought by Bruce Maguire, who is blind, against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, known as SOCOG. Maguire argued that the SOCOG website breached Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act because it was inaccessible to him when using refreshable Braille display and web browser. In ruling against SOCOG the Commission of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission supported the W3C guidelines and, during the hearing, reference was made to the ease with which the SOCOG website could be brought up to Level A compliance.
Businesses have a legal obligation to meet the needs of a person with disabilities and website accessibility should be foremost at the design stage to make exclusion a thing of the past. People with disabilities represent huge market opportunities and incorporating adjustments at the design stage enables them to access, browse and purchase from websites as required. An accessible website engages with everyone, fosters great relationships, and develops customer loyalty.
For more information about making your website accessible to everyone, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.