There's been widespread speculation about the new legislation being introduced under the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act), which will ensure that websites are accessible to blind and disabled users. Try to find specific information about it on the Internet and chances are you'll come up empty handed.
The RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and the DRC (Disability Rights Commission), two of the most renowned advocates for the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) and accessible websites, have no specific information about the laws and what websites specifically need to do in order to meet the legal requirements.
So, what does the law state?
Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act refers to the provision of goods, facilities and services. The Code of Practice, which specifically mentions websites, can be downloaded in its entirety from the DRC website (http://www.drc-gb.org/open4all/law/Code%20of%20Practice.pdf 676kb).
The relevant quotes from this 175-page document are:
2.2 (p7): "The Act makes it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public."
4.7 (p39): "From 1st October 1999 a service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services."
2.13 – 2.17 (p11-13): "What services are affected by the Act? 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."
5.23 (p71): "For people with visual impairments, the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to ensure that services are accessible might include ... accessible websites."
5.26 (p68): "For people with hearing disabilities, the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to ensure that services are accessible might include ... accessible websites. "
When does the law come into force?
It's widely believed that the new laws will be implemented in October of this year, when the final part of the DDA comes into force. This final piece of legislation actually refers to service providers having to consider making permanent physical adjustments to their premises and is not related to the Internet in any way.
The law about accessible websites came into force on 1st October 1999 (http://www.drc-gb.org/open4all/law/code.asp) and the Code of Practice for this section of the Act was published on 27th May 2002 (http://www.hmso.gov.uk/si/si2002/20020720.htm). This means that the majority of websites are already in breach of the law.
Can you be sued?
Well, probably. The RNIB claim that they've considered taking up a number of legal cases against organisations with regard to their websites. When they raised the accessibility issues of the website under the DDA, companies have typically made the necessary changes, rather than facing the prospect of legal action.
The DRC has now published their findings from their formal investigation into 1000 websites. ([http://www.drc-gb.org/publicationsandreports/2.pdf]). If your website was included then you will have to start thinking about making it handicap accessible to all web users in the very near future.
What do you need to do to comply?
It's widely believed that if, or perhaps more appropriately when, a case makes it to court that the W3C accessibility guidelines will be used to assess a website's accessibility and ultimately decide the outcome of the case. The W3C is the Internet governing body and its web accessibility guidelines can be found at http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/full-checklist.html.
To further complicate matters, the W3C offers three different levels of compliance. Priority 1 guidelines, (which must be satisfied according to the W3C) will almost certainly have to be adhered to. Priority 2 guidelines (which should be satisfied and are the EU recommended level of compliance (http://www.disabilityworld.org/09-10_02/access/internetaccess.shtml), or some part of, will probably also need to be adhered to too.
The courts will also no doubt take guidance from the outcome of an Australian case in 2000, when a blind man successfully sued the Sydney Olympics organising committee over their inaccessible website (http://www.contenu.nu/socog.html).
This article was written by Trenton Moss. He's crazy about web usability and accessibility - so crazy that he went and started his own web usability and accessibility consultancy ( Webcredible - http://www.webcredible.co.uk ) to help make the Internet a better place for everyone.