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UK sight-loss charity sues BMI

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The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has taken the unusual step of suing BMI after the airline failed to make changes to its website to make it accessible to blind and partially sighted people.

The RNIB was first alerted to a problem back in 2010 when one of its members complained that they could not use the site to make bookings.

An RNIB spokeswoman told The Register that the organisation subsequently give the airline specific expert guidance and even provided a full audit report to help it in its compliance efforts.

“They have engaged with us but have not made enough progress, so we feel this is the best way to get a positive outcome for our clients,” she said.

“We work with a lot of organisations to help them and usually when contacted they say ‘sorry’ and just fix the problem.”

Ironically, a message still up on bmibaby.com at the time of writing explained that the airline is currently working with the RNIB to sort out its web woes:

Unfortunately our website is not fully accessible by people with sight problems, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairments. We are fully aware of this issue and are working alongside the RNIB to ensure our website is brought up to standard.

We have received the RNIB recommendations and we are working to rectify the proposals. Whilst we are going through this process users can call 08451238951 (A local rate number) to access our fares at the original web price. We will aim to update this page on a regular basis to keep users informed of our progress and are working to rectify the issues as soon as possible.

Website accessibility is specifically governed by the Equality Act 2010, which swallowed the old Disability and Discrimination Act 1995. However, the law is far from prescriptive, stating that web owners need only take “reasonable steps” to make their sites accessible.

It’s likely therefore that a court would look at the WSC’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and consult industry experts to decide whether BMI has actually broken the law, according to Trenton Moss, director of user experience consultancy Webcredible.

BMI could yet escape punishment if it can prove it had an action plan in place to address any issues and that it would have been unreasonable to move any quicker than it has due to factors such as cost, he told The Reg.

“Web development is typically slow and while firms know it’s important to do, it probably isn’t a business priority unless someone sues them,” he added.

“From the RNIB’s point of view suing is probably the right thing to do as it pushes it back up the to-do list. I’m incredibly surprised it’s come to this. I was always of the opinion no one would ever get sued over this because of the threat of bad publicity.”

The Register contacted BMI, which responded that it was continuing to work on the recommendations and reiterated that it had provided a local rate number where affected customers could obtain the discounted rate web airfares. ®

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