FAQ: Your UK business website and the Disability Discrimination Act.
What does the law say?
The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Code of Practice states:
"The Act 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." Page 7, point 2.2.
And on the DRC website you will find the following quote,
"All organisations that provide goods, facilities or services to the public, whether paid for or for free, are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act, no matter how large or small they are."
Does the DDA relate to the accessibility of websites?
Yes, websites that offer goods and services to the public must comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. The relevant parts of the DDA have been in force since October 1999. The related Code of Practice was published by the DRC in May 2002.
The Code of Practice specifically mentions websites, e.g.,
"An airline company provides a flight reservation and booking service to the public on its website. This is a provision of a service and is subject to the act." Page 13, point 2.17.
Bert Massie, DRC Chairman, speaking at the launch of the investigation into Web accessibility on April 14, 2004 said,
"Organisations that offer goods and services over the Web already have a legal duty to make their websites accessible to disabled people."
Will I be sued if my site is not accessible?
As yet, no UK business or organisation has been prosecuted for having an inaccessible website. If a customer contacts you about an access issue with your website you should try to resolve the dispute by informal or formal discussion.
On the DRC website you will find the following statement,
"If the dispute is not resolved, you could be taken to court. If the customer wins the case, they could win compensation for financial loss, for injured feeling or both."
You can find information and advice related to ensuring that you are treating disabled people fairly at the Disability Rights Commission website.
How does this affect my business?
Ensuring that your website is accessible to the widest possible audience should have a positive impact on your business.
- You should make more money, as more customers will be able to access your service. The 10 million disabled people in the UK have a discretionary income of £50 billion per year.
- You should save money, as a site that is organised and coded to be accessible is likely to be easier to maintain.
- More people should find your site via search engines such as Google. Web content that is clearly structured is also easier for search engines to index correctly. This is in turn will make it easier for people to find your site.
Will it cost more money to have an accessible website?
Whether it will cost you more or not depends on who you choose to design your site and the skills and experience they have. There are many web design agencies who create accessible Web designs as standard practice; they don't necessarily charge a premium for WCAG standards compliance.
If your website is inaccessible and needs to be modified, then there will be an additional cost. Again, the cost will depend on the amount of work involved and the company employed to do the work.
However, additional costs are likely to be offset by the increased traffic to your site, and the increased ease of use for all visitors.
If my site is accessible will it still look good?
Absolutely. It is a myth that accessible websites are text only or cater for the lowest common denominator. There is no reason why an accessible website should be any worse or better looking than a site that is not accessible.
Whether your website is well designed or not is down to the talents of the Web designer employed to the do the job, not whether it is accessible or not.
How will I know if my site is accessible or not?
It is generally accepted that if your site conforms to the good practice outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you have demonstrated your commitment to making your site accessible.
Evidence from court cases in other countries with similar legislation suggest that the W3C Guidelines are likely to be used as the main way to measure accessibility of an organisations' website.
What accessibility level is required?
To be safe, you should aim to ensure your website meets at least Priority 2 of the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- The European Union recommend that member states' websites conform to at least Priority 2 of the W3C/WCAG.
- UK Government recommend that government websites should achieve Level AA compliance.
What are accessibility levels?
The W3C WCAG are a series of checkpoints designed to ensure your site will be more accessible to disabled people. The checkpoints are grouped into different levels of compliance.
- Priority 1: If your website does not meet this standard, 'one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document'
- Priority 2: If your website does not meet this standard, 'one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document'.
- Priority 3: If your website does not meet this standard, 'one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document'.
How can I test my site?
Many people use the tool Bobby to check whether their site conforms to W3C guidelines. However, you should not wholly rely on this tool as accessibility expertise is required to interpret the results.
There are many organisations who will carry out an accessibility audit of your website (search the GAWDS website for examples). If you have in-house website design expertise seeking appropriate training may be the best way to help ensure your website will be accessible.
Is there an ongoing process to maintain an accessible site?
You should check the accessibility of your website regularly to ensure that you are providing an accessible service to your customers.
Links and resources related to the questions.
- DRC Code of Practice (PDF Document)
- Disability Rights Commission: Your Responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act.
- UK Resources for Web Accessibility and the Law.
- DRC Bert Massie quote.
- Disability Rights Commission.
- Out-law.com - legal advice and support.
- DRC The Business Case for businesses and providers of services
- W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.
- The European Union.
- Bobby automated Web Accessibility Checker.
This FAQ was written by Jim Byrne, Accessible Web Design Consultant since 1996, web designer, LAMP Web applications developer, author and founder of the Guild of Accessible Web Designers.
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