The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) comprises of three parts, and covers rights of access to "products and services" for the people with disabilities. The DDA very much includes e-business as those with a web presence, from companies operating full e-commerce solutions to those with simple flat sites, have a legal responsibility to make their sites accessible to disabled people.
With media activity relating to web accessibility being high and the exemption from the full remit of the act which currently applies to small businesses expiring on 1 October this year, free-rein decided to further extend their research and understanding of this vital area with the willing help of the RNIB Resource Centre in Judge Street, London.
Although there are a few organisations offering help and assistance regarding the DDA, for example the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) which has been set up by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to provide guidelines on making web sites accessible. However, there is no substitute for personally gaining an understanding of how someone with a sight impairment will use the web. We discovered that there are many technologies available to assist the visually impaired, these include screen reading software (JAWS), Braille output devices and simple screen magnification systems.
At the RNIB the majority of people use computers on a daily basis. During our visit we had the chance to meet a PA who uses screen reading software to create and read documents. More impressive still they have a fully impaired web programmer / designer, who through a combination of reading software and Braille output is able to create and view web sites.
Communication with Everyone
The use of websites as a means of communicating, selling and marketing to the disabled appears to have been very overlooked. Many people with disabilities use the internet on a daily basis as a means of keeping in touch and, perhaps more importantly to those of us in the business community, as a place to shop and do business.
A recent report by the Disability Rights Commission includes a survey which indicates that 81% of websites fail to meet the minimum standards for disabled web access. The survey also found an average of 108 barriers on a normal home page that make it impossible or at least extremely difficult for disabled people to use. Also included in the survey were website developers: of all those surveyed only 9% had any expertise in designing DDA compliant sites.
Bert Massie, Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, writes in the report:
"Organisations that offer goods and services on the web already have a legal duty to make their sites accessible. It is clear from the investigation that these duties are not being fulfiled. The Commission's policy is to seek improvement in the first instance through advice and conciliation. However, where the response is inadequate, we shall be vigorous in the use of our enforcement powers; these range from "named party" Formal Investigations which can lead to sanctions against the owners of inaccessible websites, to the provision of support for test cases being bought by individual disabled people."
Unlike many buildings and offices websites have no access restrictions for wheelchair users or those with otherwise impaired mobility. Why then should those with impaired vision be excluded?
Here are a few simple pointers to take into consideration when looking at the DDA compliance issues around your website;
Use logical naming for links, i.e. if the link is to a products section, call the link "products", and not "click here for products".
Use contrasting colour schemes, those with visual impairments may use high contrast settings and so may struggle with light text on a white background.
Always provide alternative text for images, the text should describe the image. If the image is simply a spacer or a placeholder leave the alt tags blank and the screen reading software will ignore it.
Do something to ensure that your website is DDA compliant and do it quickly. Currently the DDA allows exemption for any small (fifteen or less employees) business from prosecution for being non-DDA compliant. This exemption expires from the 1st October 2004. If your site is not DDA compliant, you may find yourself being prosecuted for discrimination.
Rely on scripting to navigate your website; a compliant site should be useable without any scripting capabilities.
Where possible try to avoid using tables for layout purposes, if using tables try to provide headings and summary information.
Prevent access for approximately 8.3million (15%) of the UK who are registered disabled.
Commission a new website or plan a 'revamp' of your existing site without ensuring that your new design incorporates the right elements to make it DDA compliant.
For help and advice on how to comply with the DDA, which comes into full force in October 2004, please don’t hesitate to contact us.