Regulatory Compliance and Web Accessibility of UK Parliament Sites

By Kuzma, Joanne M. | Journal of Information, Law and Technology, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Regulatory Compliance and Web Accessibility of UK Parliament Sites


Kuzma, Joanne M., Journal of Information, Law and Technology


1. Introduction

After decades of discrimination and a digital divide between individuals with and without disabilities, several initiatives have been implemented in the past decade to allow these people greater access to web content. First, international standards groups such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have created design checkpoints and standards for developers to use when creating their site content. Second, in 1995 the UK enacted the DDA law to provide users with disabilities the same ability to access web content as those people without disabilities. The DDA law incorporates some guidelines developed by the W3C group into the legal mandate. In addition, the United Nations (UN) recently adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which recognizes and secures the rights of disabled throughout the world. However, even with the combination of laws and standards, fully accessible e-government sites remain rare. Most sites do not meet certain common guidelines, yet some of these factors can be easily implemented by web designers during initial site design or even retrofitted into sites that have already been developed.

2. Framework for Accessibility Needs

2.1 UK Legal Framework

With the increasing number of people, including those with disabilities, accessing government web sites, these sites have the potential to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities by providing more political participation and making government information more available (Rubaii-Barrett and Wise, 2008). The UK Office for Disability Issues estimates there are over 5.7 million people of working age in the UK who have some form of physical impairment and of this number, 42 percent of disabled people are currently or have used the web in the past (Williams et al., 2007). This is a sizable number of people with disabilities who could benefit from using web sites that are properly designed for accessibility, and would make a significant difference in their lives. Therefore, governments should ensure that as many people as possible have equal access to their sites.

Two methods can be used to provide better accessibility for disabled web consumers: legal mandates and industry guidelines. Friedman and Bryen (2007) indicate that individual countries should not merely rely on guidelines and industry standards. Instead, individual countries need to enact their own standards or legislation because these legal regulations carry the force of the law rather than voluntary guidelines. The legal mandate in the UK is the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), civil law which was passed in 1995. Part III of the Act (Code of Practice) was enacted in 1999 and obliges providers of goods, facilities and services to provide equal access to all customers. Section 19, sub-section (3, c) of the DDA lists accessibility to and the use of information services (Office of Public Sector Information, 2009). This section states that providers have a 'duty to take all steps that are reasonable to change any practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to make use of a service' (Sloan, 2001). Under this section, there are three ways in which a provider of services can discriminate against a disabled person with regards to web accessibility:

* In refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, to the disabled person any service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to members of the public

* In failing to comply with any duty imposed on him by section 21 in circumstances in which the effect of that failure is to make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for the disabled person to make use of any such service

* In the standard of service which he provides to the disabled person or the manner in which he provides it to him (Sloan, 2001).

According to Sloan (2001), while the DDA does make a passing reference to accessible web sites as a possible auxiliary aid or service, there is no specific mention of a web site as an example of a service. …

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