A report from the Disability Rights Commission (www.drc-gb.org) has slammed British web sites for ignoring accessibility standards and warns that the DRC will take legal action against those who fail to make improvements. The report highlights the findings of a formal investigation into web accessibility and concludes that over 80 per cent of sites failed to comply with even the most basic of accessibility practices. The report blames lack of interest and knowledge on the part of site developers.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995, British businesses are legally obliged to ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled customers and prospective employees. Businesses with under 15 employees were previously exempt from DDA compliance, but the exemption will be removed later this year, (see feature on p48).

Company websites which offer products and services or list vacancies are, in theory, subject to the DDA, but since there has yet to be a relevant case brought before the courts no precedent exists and the legal picture is not entirely clear for businesses. However, the DRC says it will support individual disabled people to launch test cases. Bert Massie, chairman of the DRC said “Our investigation contains a range of recommendations to help website owners and developers bring down the barriers to inclusive design. But where the response is inadequate, the industry should be prepared for disabled people to use the law to make the web a less hostile place.”

Similar cases in Australia and the US over recent years have found in favour of the complainants, hitting companies with fines and forcing them to redesign their sites.

The Usability Company (www.theusabilitycompany.com) is one of Europe’s leading web accessibility specialists. Chairman Catriona Campbell said “There’s a lot of scare mongering at the moment. A lot of small businesses might panic and take their sites offline, which would be detrimental to the UK economy. All they really need to do in order to satisfy the law is show that they’re making ‘reasonable’ adjustments to their sites.”

Campbell recommended that businesses should include some text on their main page explaining that accessibility enhancements are underway, and provide a clearly visible phone number for people to call as an alternative to using the site. She also pointed out that introducing basic accessibility features to a site need not be difficult or expensive.
The World Wide Web Consortium’s guidelines for producing accessible sites can be found at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG

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