Accessibility and the Law | June 19, 2005
Social responsibility is a lofty ideal. I would love to live in a world where each individual felt personally responsible for the world around them, and acted accordingly. Unfortunately the reality is much different. We live in an increasingly selfish society where the needs of the individual outweigh the needs the larger community. It’s sad, but that’s human nature.
So how does this relate to web accessibility. Well I would love to think that through education, social and commercial pressure, people would just get accessibility, and to a certain extent they are. Groups like the RNIB have done a wonderful job of publicising the need for more accessible sites, while the web standards movement has helped show web developers the importance of bringing accessibility into their workflow.
Unfortunately this isn’t enough. While it would be nice to believe we live in a self correcting and regulating society, the reality is very different. Some people suggest that in-accessible sites are commercial suicide and that companies will be forced to make their site accessible just to survive. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Discrimination targets a minority, and by their very nature minorities don’t usually have the social, political or economic power to stop the discrimination. Even if they could there will always be some individuals motivated by greed or ignorance that are willing to cut corners and ignore the social norms.
As such, legislation is a very important part of the process. We should be educating people about disability discrimination and encouraging companies to take a socially responsible attitude. However if that doesn’t work we need to have a legal framework to fall back on. If somebody feels that are being discriminated there needs to be a mechanism in place to help them redress the balance.
In the UK we have the disability discrimination act. This isn’t accessibility legislation, it’s discrimination legislation. As such the DDA doesn’t try to define what accessibility is and isn’t. What the disability discrimination act does is make it unlawful for any service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing any service which it provides to a member of public. Further to this, from the 1st Oct 1999 the service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice that makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use that service.
This legislation doesn’t demand conformance to certain accessibility guidelines through fear of prosecution. However it does give people a legal route if social pressure has failed. Rather than immediately being taken to court, the DDA encourages discussion and mediation. Only after all the parties have sat down and still cannot come to a reasonable solutions will civil action be started. Several companies have already gone through this process and all have made suitable concessions to avoid legal action.
I would love to live an a world where everybody acted in a socially responsible way. However the reality is we need to have legislation to help enforce equality in the cases where social, commercial or political pressure alone aren’t enough.
Posted at June 19, 2005 9:04 AM