Web Accessibility and Compliance: Everyone’s Obligation?
The concept behind web accessibility is that people with disabilities should be able to use the Web just as any other user can and has been around for a very long time. In fact the W3C first published web accessibility guidelines in 1999 and continues to do so under the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Much of the emphasis in providing web accessibility has generally been placed on web professionals. However, the ever growing demand and dependence on the internet has compelled governments to act and in the UK The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 placed obligations on website owners to make their sites accessible to disabled users and make reasonable adjustments to resolve any access issues.
More recently these requirements have been replaced by provisions in The Equality Act 2010 which came into effect on October 1st of this year (2010) and places the obligation of ensuring websites are accessible and compliant on website owners by ensuring that a person with disabilities must not be put at a "substantial disadvantage", compared to a non-disabled user.
Website owners, however, may ask themselves that despite all this legal guidance how can they ensure that the site they are delivered is accessible by people of all abilities. Step in the British Standards Institute: "Most website owners acknowledge the need to eliminate existing barriers that keep millions from accessing online services. Yet although they may be willing to implement accessibility, they lack the "know-how" to do so."
Last week the British Standards Institute published the first British Standard on web accessibility: BS8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice. According to the BSI this Standard addresses the "growing challenge of digital inclusion" and "presents a detailed guide for businesses to make web products more accessible to disabled and older users. "
With all the legal guidelines why is this Standard important?
Many people are left confused by the law and since the Equality Act has only just come into force and we have yet to see the weight it places on information providers and website owners. Though British Standards are not legally binding and act mainly as guidelines, the Standard is aimed at introducing "non-technical professionals to improved accessibility, usability and user experience for disabled and older people" and may provide clarity for many.
It has even been suggested that compliance to the Standard may even provide good evidence if an information provider is challenged legally.
So, Is compliance to Web Accessibility standards not everyone’s obligation?
The world wide web is based on the idea of information sharing. As Tim Berners-Lee said once: "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect". For the internet to remain the 'inclusive' it is not just for website owners to question the accessibility of their site, but for web professionals to continue to strive towards creating truly inclusive sites.
If your considering how accessible your site is consult your web agency who will inform you about its practices and how it ensures your sites are compliant.