Originally published 20th October 2004
Businesses are under a legal obligation to make their websites accessible to disabled users. Despite this, many disabled people continue to encounter difficulties accessing websites, and are unable to make full use of the Internet. This article sets out the current position under English law with regard to web accessibility, and what steps can be taken to ensure that your website complies.
What is an Accessible Website?
An accessible website is one with web pages that are accessible to all who use the site. Visual impairments, hearing and motor problems can all cause a person difficulties when using the Internet. Some problems can be overcome via the use of assistive technologies. For instance, a visually impaired person may use a text-based browser, such as Lynx, and a screen reader to 'speak' the text that appears on the screen or a Braille display. Someone who suffers from motor problems may be able to use a keyboard or special input device to navigate his way around the screen without having to use a mouse. Unless the underlying code of the website is compatible with the assistive technology used though such technology may not be able to function correctly rendering the web pages inaccessible.
The use of icons on a website can also impact its accessibility. Requiring the use of a mouse to "point and click" at an icon will clearly be inaccessible to someone who cannot use a mouse unless an alternative, such as using the keyboard commands is provided. A website that does not contain a description in text format of graphics featured will be similarly inaccessible.
The Legal Position in the UK
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 ("DDA") makes it unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person by deliberately not providing to the disabled person any service that he provides to members of the public.
Section 21(1) of the DDA, implemented on 1 October 1999, places a duty on those providing goods, facilities and services to the public to take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled people can access the services. Goods, facilities and services are given a broad definition, and the DDA provides examples of those to which section 21 will apply. These include:
Access to and use of means of communication;
Access to and use of information services; and
Facilities for entertainment and recreation
Initially, there was some ambiguity as to whether or not the DDA applied to...