Website Accessibility: Legalities to Consider

More and more countries are enforcing legalities around Website Accessibility. It’s only a matter of time before it will become a legal requirement the world over.

With the expert assistance of the Little forest team, we recently introduced you to the world of Website Accessibility.

We learnt that the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed with individuals and organisations around the world to provide standards for Web Accessibility. 

The W3C states that, Web Accessibility:

  • “Encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web”
  • “Allows people with disabilities to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with and contribute to the web”

In this article, we will delve deeper into the legalities of Web Accessibility to ensure you know the exact steps to be compliant and avoid hefty penalties going forward.

Let’s jump in! 

Web Accessibility Laws: What Are They?

In a nutshell, Web Accessibility laws protect the rights of people with disabilities who access digital services and content on the Internet, making digital accessibility a reality for everyone.

The accessibility of UK web sites is covered by the Equality Act of 2010. It promotes a fair and more equal society and protects all individuals from unjust treatment.

In the US, it is a legal requirement that all “federal, state and local government websites meet Section 508 regulations. Section 508 requires all website content (web applications, web pages and all attached files) be equally accessible to people with disabilities. It applies to intranet as well as public-facing web pages.”

While there are currently no enforceable ADA legal standards to follow, users are covered under the Americans Disability Act (ADA) Title III. Similar to the UK’s Equality Act, this prohibits discrimination based on disability in public businesses as well as commercial facilities. 

It is important to note that the WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 are universally accepted sets of guidelines for ensuring web accessibility. 

TW Tip: Each country has its own set of guidelines which can be found here

Web Accessibility Laws: Who Benefits From Them?

While Web Accessibility is there to improve the web experience of all users, they mainly benefit people with disabilities.

According to the Centres for Disease Control & Prevention, 1 in 4 American adults lives with a disability. In the UK, at least 1 in 5 people have a long term illness, impairment or disability

The main disability categories are:

  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Visual

Additionally, Web Accessibility aims to support people facing socio-economic restrictions such as living in rural areas or developing countries. It also goes as far as to support users with situational disadvantages. These include slow network connections or those using mobile devices.

Web Accessibility Laws: Who Should Follow Them?

In America, federal agencies and their contractors, are required to conform with WCAG 2.0.

As of 23 September 2020, it became law for all UK Public Sector organisations (Councils, Universities, Schools etc.) to have their websites comply with the WCAG 2.1 AA standard.

For private businesses, the answer is a bit more complicated. While they aren’t legally required to comply with any specific standards, their websites must be accessible.

TW Tip: We recommend that any organisation looking for more information on legal compliance refer to WCAG 2.1.

Web Accessibility Laws: How Are They Enforced?

According to www.gov.uk, Website Accessibility regulations in the UK will be monitored and enforced as follows:

“The Government Digital Service (GDS) monitor public sector bodies’ compliance on behalf of the Minister for the Cabinet Office. GDS do this by examining a sample of public sector websites every year. GDS can ask for information and request access to intranets, extranets or any public sector website.

Public sector bodies must publish an accessibility statement and review it regularly.

If GDS decides that a public sector body has failed to publish an accessibility statement or that the accessibility statement is incorrect, it will publish:

  • the name of the body
  • a copy of the decision

From June 2021, GDS will also check mobile applications published by public sector bodies.

Organisations that do not meet the accessibility requirement or fail to provide a satisfactory response to a request to produce information in an accessible format, will be failing to make reasonable adjustments. This means they will be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The EHRC and ECNI can therefore use their legal powers against offending organisations, including investigations, unlawful act notices and court action.”

In the US, the Federal Government, through the Department of Justice, can sue for the enforcement of ADA laws.

According to the New York Journal, “In 2019, there were 2,256 ADA website-accessibility lawsuits filed in the nation’s federal courts.”

How to comply with Accessibility Standards?

Based on past court rulings, businesses following the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines published by the W3C, have seen the most success. 

These guidelines are organised under what is considered the four core principles of accessibility, easily remembered as POUR

Perceivable – The website must be available through sight, touch or hearing. The information presented cannot be invisible to any of their senses.

Operable – Websites must be compatible with a keyboard or a mouse.

Understandable – The information as well as the operation of the user interface must be easy to comprehend.

Robust – Content on the websites must remain accessible as user agents and technologies evolve and grow. This includes Assistive Technologies.

Conclusion

Digital inclusion is a right, not a privilege. The quicker businesses (both private and public) get on board, the better for everyone.

It’s also a fact that businesses with accessible websites have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. 

Tenacity Works has the services to assist you in making that a reality. Together with the expertise of the Little Forest team, we will ensure that you are 100% compliant and able to welcome users (able-bodied or differently-abled) from all across the world.

Ready to get started? Get in touch.

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

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