WebThing is a technology solutions provider, but is not qualified to offer legal advice. Nothing at this site should be seen as representing the law of any country, unless by coincidence. This page is for background information only.

References to Legislation

A US Legal Opinion

Regarding whether the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to online information, in an opinion letter dated September 9, 1996, The U.S. Department of Justice stated that "Covered entities under the ADA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well." More.

Is your site legal?

In August 2000, legal history was made in Australia, when the official olympics website was successfully sued by a blind user who found the site inaccessible (see Maguire v SOCOG). That should never have happened if the developer had shown due care and professional competence. More cases are in the pipeline around the world, and the numbers seem likely to grow rapidly as precedents are set.

How does that affect your Intranet?

Of course, websites and intranets are not the same. However, an intranet will typically be used to disseminate information and run systems required by employees in the course of their work. Where a disabled employee is unable to access the intranet, a case could arise under employment discrimination law (including Human Rights law). Employers should take due care to ensure all information systems are accessible. WebThing can help to review your systems and company standards, while Site Valet will help to implement and enforce your standards.

Remember - technology is cheaper than law. We believe it's always better to get it right than to fight your own customers or employees!

 

A UK Study

In August 2000, the RNIB published a survey of 17 UK household-name company websites, including banks, supermarkets, fast-food chains, clothing and department stores. Not one of them passed all of five basic tests, while many failed spectacularly badly, including four that failed every test.

Such sites are losing potential trade from 1.7 million vision-impaired UK customers (source: RNIB). Since these people may often experience difficulty shopping by traditional means, they should in principle be a natural market for Internet traders.

Open access, please

It is not only disabled users for whom accessibility is important. People on the move, on business, holiday or fieldwork, may wish to access information and services without their normal equipment. Some sites make the serious mistake of assuming everyone has use of Microsoft Windows, and create access problems for users of other fully-capable desktop systems such as Unix, Linux, or MacOS as well as older or more obscure systems. Once again, it is less work to get it right than to create problems!

Gratuitous Technology

In fact, accessibility is built in to the core technologies of the Web, including HTML and XHTML. It is in general less work to make a website standards-compliant and accessible than to subvert the technology and break it. Yet many - indeed seemingly a majority of all websites - fail on very basic tests. There are many causes of this: poor understanding of the Web, poor communication between developers and website owners, ill-considered "bells and whistles", and last (but by no means least) severely defective authoring tools and publishing systems.

 
 

* References to relevant legislation

This list offers just a few references, though it may grow with time. For further information, you may wish to seek appropriate legal advice from a qualified practitioner in the country or countries where you are operating/trading.

Australia Disability Discrimination Act
Canada See WAI references
Denmark See WAI references
E.U. See WAI references
France See WAI references
Ireland See WAI references
Italy See WAI references
Japan See WAI references
Portugal Report and Resolution by the Parliament of Portugal regarding Web Accessibility
UK Disability Discrimination Act
USA Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, Section 508
Americans with Disabilities Act

For further information, see also The WAI pages on public policy and accessibility. Please let us know if you have a URL for a relevant government publication from any country not referenced above.