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Accessibility law remains a hot topic for UK webmasters. It can be difficult for some people, however, to know how far their legal obligations really extend.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) mades it illegal for service providers to discriminate against a disabled person. This has now been updated to become the Equality Act 2010. Service providers must make “reasonable adjustments” to the way in which services are offered to enable the disabled to use them. The Act started off applying to buildings – ramps, wide doors and hearing loops, etc.– but was extended to include all digital marketing. Unfortunately, most digital marketers only think this means websites – in fact it also applies to IPTV and e-mails. The Disability Discrimination Act has now been superseded by the Equality Act, but the rules remain [almost] unchanged.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that websites of Federal organisations must be accessible:

On August 7, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, which covers access to federally funded programmes and services. The law strengthens section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the Federal government.

The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an “undue burden.”

Section 508 speaks to various means for disseminating information, including computers, software, and electronic office equipment. It applies to, but is not solely focused on, Federal pages on the Internet or the World Wide Web. It does not apply to web pages of private industry and unfortunately, this means that many US companies feel that this does not apply to them as they receive no Federal funding – ignoring the huge market, and social responsibility.

In the UK, the code of practice for section III of the Disability Discrimination Act states that all websites might provide accessibility features for deaf or blind users:

Provision for people with a hearing disability

5.23 For people with hearing disabilities, the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to ensure that services are accessible might include one or more of the following:

* accessible websites;
 Provision for people with a visual impairment

5.26 For people with visual impairments, the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to ensure that services are accessible.

Although the word “might” leaves room for debate, it is unlikely that deliberately making a website inaccessible simply to make it rank higher in a search engine would be legal. There are many spamming techniques that create inaccessible websites. Ironically, websites that use cloaking-type-technology for enhanced search placement can easily remain compliant with disability laws (while at the same time falling foul of deceptive advertising laws).

Websites should be designed to avoid liability under the Act; there is a wealth of guidance online about how this should be done. (all links open a new window)

Please contact Jack Marketing Solutions™ for more information about the Accessibility Laws on +44(0)203 397 3557.

Glossary: Advertising, AIDA Marketing Communications Model, Alt Attribute, Alt Tag, Breadcrumb Navigation, Call to Action, Cloaking, Digital Marketing, Disability Discrimination Act, E-mail, Equality Act, Section 508, Trust, Usability, Usability Testing, Website

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