Posted: Tuesday, 6 March 2012 @ 16:27
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force in October 2004. Many people have assumed that it deals only with how disabled people access buildings and services. But it does in fact also apply to the accessibility of websites.
Web owners and designers should be aware that they are highly likely to be targeted for scrutiny early on because:
What to do?
- Many disabled people will often naturally use websites rather than travel to a shop or office.
- They are by their nature highly visible and easy to check out at low cost.
- Bodies such as the RNIB have made it very clear that websites are on their “hit list”.
- It is arguably cheaper to sort out a website in terms of accessibility than, e.g. build a ramp to offices.
This is a tricky subject; no business wants to or can spend money unless there is a very good commercial reason. Nor does anybody want to be accused of being uncaring towards the needs of the disabled. Clearly there is no moral argument against ensuring access for all. Proponents of the Act will suggest that there are many hundreds of thousands of disabled people who could be your customers if you made your service accessible. So, what does the DDA say you must do?
The Act is worded very generally. It says you have to take ‘reasonable steps’ to make your site accessible to the disabled or provide a reasonable alternative method of providing the service. It’s difficult to see how one can readily do that for the very many differing disabilities that there are. Though perhaps obvious, as a starting point,sites should be designed to work with “readers” such as used by blind people. (The full wording of the Act is here if you are having difficulty sleeping!)
There are various standards such as W3C but none of these are required by the law and some disabled support organisations say that those standards miss out many things they consider should be done under the “take reasonable steps” wording. So, what should a web designer do?
- Given a designer could be sued by a client who is proceeded against under the DDA, you should tell the client that you make no warranty that the site complies especially given there is—at the moment—no precise guidance as to what needs doing
- Ask the client to specify what they want you to do with regards to accessibility and give a separate quote for the extra work
- Check your insurance covers you against claims in this respect.
- Make sure your web development agreement is clear on this: who has responsibility for DDA and other compliance?
- Be aware of the Law Reports, someone is going to be badly mauled in a Court case soon and that should give some guidance on how to proceed.
And, what should a website owner do in addition:
- Ask your designer to give their views about what you should do to comply
- Get a quote for how much that work would cost
- Get a letter from your accountant saying how much, if any, you can afford to do
- Do it.
- Try to take a commercial view: this is a group of potential customers you may not be communicating with at the moment, and if you steal a march on your competitors you may do well, indeed, you may even get some of the support groups to feature your site on theirs.
- Ask your users what they need changed to help them.
- Check your insurance covers claims against you under this Act.
It’s a defence to a claim of breaching the Act, that you could not afford to comply and this is a defence likely to be necessarily used by many SMEs.
But through all this do remember two things:
- It’s understood there are about 8.5 million disabled people in the UK who are probably your potential customers.
- If your site is not accessible, it may well be in breach of the Act - that’s the bottom line.
Contact Cousins Business Law for advice on this topic.
Note: With effect from 1st October 2010, the DDA was largely superseded by the Equality Act 2010.
Blog by Sue Mann
Sue is an experienced commercial solicitor based in Birmingham from where she helps businesses all over the country advising on, drafting, and reviewing business contracts and commercial agreements. View profile
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