May 8, 2012

Web Accessibility: Why do it?

There are three main reasons for organisations to make their web product accessible:

  • Legal
  • Commercial
  • Social/Ethical

Legal

The Equality Act 2010 makes fair treatment of disabled people a legal requirement. In October 2010 the Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) in England, Wales and Scotland. The DDA only remains in Northern Ireland. Both laws place certain duties on providers of websites, intranets and extranets.

Under this legislation all websites must be accessible and disabled users should not be put at a “substantial disadvantage” compared to non-disabled users.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is based on the principle that all people, irrespective of race, age, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation or transgender status should be provided with equality of opportunity.

The Equality Act 2010 includes the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) which puts additional responsibilities on public bodies to address equality. The PSED combines the Disability Equality Duty (DED) with previous duties on race, gender and additional duties on age, sexual orientation, religion or belief and transgender status.

It means public sector organisations need to consider the particular needs of these groups when planning and delivering services, including web services.

Organisations that own websites that have poor accessibility or usability could be in breach of the law.

Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)

The first part of the PSED was introduced in April 2011. The PSED and DED before it, requires that public sector organisations to be proactive in ensuring that the needs of disabled people are addressed.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality and Human Rights Commission to over the role of the former Disability Rights Commission. As the regulator of the Equality Act, the Human Rights Commission has the power to take action against website owners who do not comply with the law and will also support legal complaints from individuals.

Individuals can take legal action against inaccessible websites without the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

It is important to know that conforming to accessibility guidelines such as WCAG2.0 or W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines such as the A, AA or AAA does not make a website legally compliant.

No relevant UK law including the Equality Act 2010, Public Sector Equality Duty or the DDA makes reference to the WCAG or any other web guidelines. Only a UK law can decide whether a website complies with the law or not. The key factor is whether disabled users can use a particular website without unreasonable difficulty. Time, inconvenience and effort are all relative factors of unreasonable difficulty.

Business benefits of Accessibility

Disabled people use the web at least as often as the average person for services that are not easily available through conventional means. Making your site accessible opens it up to a wider audience. This wider audience may include others such as older people or “silver surfers” and those whose first language is not English.

Research has shown that organisations quickly see a return on investment and also tangible benefits from have an accessible website. For example, Legal & General made an estimated saving of around £200,000 that is 66% a year on website maintenance as speed and effort required to update their website was reduced from around five days to half a day per job.

Finally…

The BS 8878 is the British Standard for web accessibility launched in 2010. It provides a framework for organisations to ensure their web products are accessible. More information on the BS 8878 can be found here.