Access & Accessibility
October 22, 2003 1:56 PM   Subscribe

As of October next year, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 comes into effect in the UK. Under this act, a disabled person may have rights to sue a service-providing company if they have difficulty accessing their website just as they might if they had difficulty accessing their headquarters. The Royal National Institute of the Blind website includes a "web access centre", which takes a good look at the issue of accessibility and provides sound advice to web designers whether they are legally obligated to tackle such issues or not.
posted by nthdegx (10 comments total)
Just to be clear, the DDA became law in 1995. There are new regulations which will come into force in October of 2004. Not only will the new regulations affect websites, they will also affect pubs, among other businesses. Most importantly, though, the new regulations remove the size requirement on businesses covered by the Act, and therefore "all companies, regardless of size, will have to make themselves accessible to disabled customers and staff."
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:17 PM on October 22, 2003

Thanks, monju, I attempted to clarify that point with the person that told me and evidently got duff info.
posted by nthdegx at 2:35 PM on October 22, 2003

Perhaps we'll see a decline in the "type in the numbers you can almost make out if you squint just right" confirmation boxes that seem to be getting so popular :-(
posted by devbrain at 3:22 PM on October 22, 2003

I hope nobody is going to argue that this is a bad thing. My mother-in-law is in a wheelchair, and I think she would confirm that legislation is often the only way to get people to cater for the disabled. The web is becoming an increasingly useful medium. The disabled deserve the same access to it as the rest of us.
posted by salmacis at 3:27 PM on October 22, 2003

*has a brief urge to rat out her former company (who never ever listened to me when I was shouting about accessibility and standards) for violations...*

*brief moment passes*

(for now...)
posted by Katemonkey at 5:06 PM on October 22, 2003

at blort, we are proud of the fact that we are manufactured
with 86.73% recycled wheelchair parts. and soon we'll be
available in morse code and EBCDIC*

*not available in all areas. requires minimum 2 year contract.
genitalia forfiture for early termination. unreasonable deposit likely required.

posted by quonsar at 12:02 AM on October 23, 2003

The web access campaign at the RNIB is run by Julie Howell, who also runs Jooly's Joint, one of the first web communities for people with multiple sclerosis, and - in my opinion - kick-started UK web designers thinking about accessibility. She has her detractors, but to me it's a good example of what a charity should be doing; campaigning to raise awareness of the problems, and work out solutions; the blind in the UK have been served well by the RNIB working with an on-line grocery store that delivers to their house, for example.

Full disclosure: I met Julie while researching web accessibility. I asked a high-street bank what they advised for my 73 year old mother, who used their internet banking service but had lost her vision. Their customer service people responded that she should carry her PC to the branch (a 73 year old blind woman!), where a member of staff would key in the password and then read out the screen. D'oh!
posted by Pericles at 1:27 AM on October 23, 2003

The web aspect of this has had profound repercussions within government and academic institutions, where the legislation is especially strict. I do web programming for a very large Scottish university, and there are many hard and fast rules, including:
  • Alt tags for images. (Obviously.)
  • Labels for form tags.
  • Absolutely no pixel specifications, including font sizes. (Although with any luck MSIE will work more like Mozilla in its next release. Hah.)
  • Everything is tested in audio browsers, text browsers etc.
And at our specific establishment, we have several people who spend their time wandering around hosted sites ensuring they stick to the rules.

The thing is, before I knew about the DDA, I didn't really pay attention to this stuff (much like the way I didn't pay attention to subtitles before I started going out with my [deaf] girlfriend). The fact that most websites are very badly designed and thought out when it comes to accessibility is, I think, indicative of a much wider ignorance in society. This legislation aside, the government does a really lousy job of promoting disabled causes; hilariously, even the BBC's own promo advertising the fact that most some programmes have subtitles wasn't captioned for a long time.
posted by bwerdmuller at 2:18 AM on October 23, 2003

So there go Flash websites, I guess.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:48 AM on October 23, 2003

Since Flash MX, Flash movies can be marked up to be accessible, if the designer chooses to (like HTML then). I believe that the technology hooks into MSAA which is baked inside all Win95+ versions of Windows, so dunno about Linux, Mac versions of Flash Player.
posted by Pericles at 3:32 AM on October 23, 2003

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