Legal Accessibility Requirements

In the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which came fully into force in 1999, makes it “unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide (or deliberately not providing) any service which it provides (or is prepared to provide) to members of the public” (Code of Practice, page 7). The Act’s code of practice specifically covers websites, but doesn’t give any details of the measures that need to be taken for a website to comply with the Act. No test cases have yet come to court.

Accessibility Problems

The Disability Rights Commission, which issued the Act’s code of practice (PDF format, 676kb), has investigated about a thousand websites, and has found serious accessibility problems with more than 80% of them. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has threatened to bring proceedings against two large companies under the Act because of the inaccessibility of their websites, forcing changes to be made to the websites. It is no doubt only a matter of time until the owner of an inaccessible website is prosecuted under the Act.

Requirements for USA Websites

Across the Atlantic, Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law in 1998 and requires many federal government and government–related websites to provide “equal or equivalent access to everyone”, including those with physical and visual impairments. These requirements are not mandatory for most non–government websites, but we will endeavour (or endeavor) to create for our American clients websites that meet the requirements. The American accessibility expert, Jim Thatcher, tells you all you need to know about Section 508.

Web Accessibility Initiative

Although not legally binding, guidelines for accessibility have been drawn up by various reputable bodies. The most widely respected is the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative, whose guidelines are likely to form the basis of any test cases in UK courts. It is Lab 99 Web Design’s policy to abide by all of the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Priority 1 and 2 guidelines, and (except in rare circumstances) all of its Priority 3 guidelines.

We are keen to make all our websites as accessible as possible, so if you are aware of any problems or have any special requirements, please let us know.