Now, at the click of a mouse, the world can be “at your fingertips”—that is, if you can use a mouse… and see the screen… and hear the audio—in other words, if you don’t have a disability of any kind.
The Internet has played a decisive role in redefining public and private space, structuring relationships between people and between people and institutions. It has erased borders and has created new ways of generating and utilising knowledge. It has expanded the scope for people to participate directly in the public domain. It has changed how people work. It has fostered the development of a more open and free society. The Internet must be treated as a global resource and must satisfy the criterion of universality.
Increasingly, some information is available only online and website customers can often benefit from lower prices and discounts. But not everyone can take full advantage of all that the internet has to offer. For the millions of people with disabilities, many websites can be hard to read, understand or navigate.
Is web accessibility Optional?
The Equality Act 2010, which came into force in October 2010, replacing the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in England, Scotland and Wales, makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. The Act applies to anyone providing a service; public, private and voluntary sectors. The Code of Practice: Rights of Access – Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises document published by the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission to accompany the Act does in fact refer explicitly to websites as one of the “services to the public” which should be considered covered by the Act. In effect, if someone with a disability can’t access the information on a website, then it could be seen as discrimination, so for example it may be seen as unlawful to have links that are not accessible to a screen reader or use colour contrast that make the website inaccessible to a partially sighted service user.
To date, very few companies have faced such legal action in the UK. In two cases, actions were initiated by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and both settled without being heard by a court. There were some cases abroad as well; in 2000 in Australia a blind man successfully sued the Sydney Olympics organising committee over their inaccessible website, and in the USA target.com and, recently, netflix.com were also successfully sued over the accessibility of their websites.
British Standards – BS 8878
The British Standard for Web Accessibility (BS 8878) is designed to help organizations improve their websites, making them easier to use for everyone.
A wide range of organizations and consumers worked together to develop BS 8878. The standard is the non-technical guide to implementing the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2) which have recently been adopted as an International Standard by ISO, (ISO/IEC 40500). BS 8878 states that organizations should: • Design accessible and usable websites for all internet users • Designate clear responsibility with a written web accessibility policy and a member of staff responsible for its administration • Keep accessibility in mind – organizations should emphasise accessibility in all stages of web design • Review sites – seek feedback from website users and test sites to ensure that they stay accessible as technology develops