Websites – Are you helping the disabled?

Legal duties

Many website operators are unaware that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 ("Act") applies to websites as it does to, say, a public building.

Under the Act, it is unlawful for a "provider of services" to discriminate against a disabled person and this includes website operators.

If the structure of a website makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to use the website, the website operator has a duty to take reasonable steps to change the website structure so that it is no longer impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to use.

Practical measures

Two examples of the measures that can be taken by website operators to assist disabled persons are:

  • Structuring the website so that blind and partially sighted people can use specialist software which will read aloud the content of a website or translate the content into Braille. The value of this software depends upon the structure of a website. For example the software can only "read" images if the website code contains a written description of the image.
  • Enabling website users to change the text size or background colours of a website. This will assist blind and partially sighted people in using the website but cannot be done on most websites.

To see a website that is friendly to disabled persons please see the Disability Rights Commission website at http://www.drc-gb.org.

The Worldwide Web Consortium has developed guidelines for making websites accessible to disabled persons and the Consortium offers authentication logos for websites that comply with its guidelines. The Disability Rights Commission website is "AAA" rated by the Worldwide Web Consortium. Please see the Worldwide Web Consortium at www.w3.org and click into the "accessibility" channel for further information.

Compliance

The Royal National Institute for the Blind recently assessed whether the websites of some of the UK's most well known businesses comply with the Act. All websites assessed failed but, since the assessment, many more businesses are taking steps to become compliant.

The Disability Rights Commission announced recently that one thousand websites will be investigated for their ability to be accessed by Britain's 8.5 million disabled people. The Disability Rights Commission will assess websites in both the public and private sectors checking for compliance with industry recognised accessibility standards.

Website operators that are non-compliant run the risk of claims being made against them under the Act. There has already been a case in Australia under similar legislation where the claimant was awarded substantial compensation for disability discrimination as a result of a non-compliant website.

© Taylor Walton 2003. All rights reserved.

Taylor Walton supplies a comprehensive range of commercial legal services. If you would like to discuss the content of this article or any other commercial matter, please contact Mike Pettit: or Tim Cook or by telephone on 01582 731161.

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