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November 30, 2008

Web Accessibility and the Law - EU Part I

Continuing our discussion on the laws dealing with web accessibility around the world, this blog focuses on the legislations and regulations in the European Union (EU). It should be mentioned here that the European countries have been one of the key funding contributors (besides US and Japan) to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). To that extent there is an acceptance of the recommendations of the WAI across the EU. But the efforts are not limited only to passive contribution to the WAI. The EU has independently adopted several recommendations from councils and commissions set up especially to address the issue of an inclusive global information society.

The following section lists some of these recommendations and policies. 

  • This was immediately followed in 2002 by the Seville European Council which launched the ‘eEurope 2005 Action Plan’. This had an objective to provide all citizens of EU an opportunity to participate in the global information society. The action plan aimed at “stimulating secure services, applications and content based on a widely available broadband infrastructure”. 
  • In the year 2005, on the conclusion of the above program, another initiative was introduced by European Commission named i2010 Strategy Framework. It was the EU policy framework for information society and media and aimed at promoting “the positive contribution that information and communication technologies (ICT) can make to the economy, society and personal quality of life”. 
  • Also in the year 2005 a report titled the European Commission’s Communication on eAccessibility was adopted. This report proposed a set of policies to foster eAccessibility and exhorted its members and stakeholders for a voluntary positive action for making ICT products and services accessible to far wider group of people in Europe. This report also intended to contribute to the i2010 Strategy Framework. 
  • In 2007 a study “Measuring progress of eAccessibility in Europe" (MeAC) was commissioned as a follow-up to the European Commission’s Communication on eAccessibility of 2005. The report assessed the then prevailing status of the eAccessibility situation in the member states; state of development of the policy in member states, and the future needs of a new policy or enhancements into current policy. 
  • The latest on the eInclusion initiative is a best practice report prepared on the entire campaign,  which provides a snapshot and some illustrations of the activities and the outputs of this campaign.

This list and the frequency with which the initiatives are being proposed and followed through, should indicate the serious awarded to the issue of web accessibility in the EU. In the Part 2 of this blog i will cover the legislations in some European countries over and above the EU legislations.

November 27, 2008

Web Accessibility and the Law - India

I would really like to thank Vijay Krishnamani for his comment on the previous post. Essentially, because it helped me dedicate this post only for the law in India. Vijay, thanks for your interest in the post and also for your question. Let me start with a short answer – To the best of my knowledge, we do not yet have a law that governs web accessibility in India. The last I know of is that a working group has been set up, in Jan 2007, under the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The stated objective of this committee is to formulate “Policy and Procedures for Implementation of Web Accessibility Standards”. This is the only public information available.

Vijay is right as for the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD). India signed this convention in March 2007 and ratified it in October 2007. One of the eight guiding principles of this convention is “Accessibility”. Also according to Article 21 of the convetion "Freedom of Expression and Opinion, and Access to Information" covers the provision of public information to persons with disabilities in accessible format and appropriate technologies,  encouraging private enterprises providing services, including via the internet, to enable such services in accessible and usable formats, and likewise for mass media providers. This convention came into effect in May this year. Hopefully we will see more serious thought and action on web accessibility in view of this convention.

There are several other laws dealing with disabilities in India.

  • The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act,1995 governs the general rights for people with disabilities in India in connection with education, employment and public utilities such as transport and buildings/premises access . One of the key section in this act deals with non-discrimination. However, a clause used in defining the provisions says “ [Authorities / Governments / Entities shall  provide ] within the limits of their economic capacity and development….”. This in itself a huge indication of the likely results for such provisions. 
  • Another regulation that deals with disability in India is The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999. One of the stated objectives of this act is “to facilitate the realization of equal opportunities, protection of right and full participation of persons with disability”. This act specifically discusses provisions for legal guardianship of the four categories of disabilities and the creation of an environment for enabling as much independent living as possible for such people. 
  • A more recent addition to the set of regulations is National Policy for Persons with Disabilities released in 2006. The policy “seeks to create an environment that provides them (persons with disabilities) equal opportunities, protection of their rights and full participation in society services”. It deals with prevention of disabilities, rehabilitation measures, social security, and creation of a barrier free environment besides several issues related with persons with disabilities.

So it is evident that there is no dearth of legislation that can be resorted to when it comes to equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities in India. However, the question on their implementation remains as difficult as ever.

November 25, 2008

Web Accessibility and the Law - UK

Another country that has taken web accessibility and regulations thereof very seriously is UK. The primary regulation there, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) dates back to 1995. The Part III of this act that is applicable to websites and requires them to be accessible came into effect on 1st October 1999. In the same year the Disability Rights Commission Act came into effect to set up the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), which was responsible for “elimination of discrimination against disabled persons” besides other tasks. This commission actively promoted the Part III of the DDA 1995.

In 2002, the Disability Discrimination Code of Practice (Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises)  came into existence. This Code of Practice (The Code) offers practical guidance on how to prevent discrimination against disabled people in accessing services and spells out the duties on those providing such services to the public under Part III of the DDA. It aims to expedite the elimination of discrimination against disabled people and to encourage best practices. This Code is not a statement of law and hence does not impose legal obligations. However in case of litigation or legal proceedings, the Code can be used as evidence under the DDA.  According to the Code, a service provider must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for the disabled people to be able to use the said services.

In 2005, the DDA, 1995 was amended to include certain employers and service providers previously exempt from the Act (primarily the small employers) to comply with the Act and hence make their websites accessible. From 1999 until 2006, the DRC worked extensively to create awareness of the DDA as well as the Code. In 2004 it released an investigation report of over 1000 websites. One of the key findings of that report was that @ 80% of the websites investigated were inaccessible to people with disabilities. As a consequence a strict warning was issued to the erring organizations about a possible legal action under the DDA as well as enforcement of compensatory benefits to the challenged users.

In the year 2006, an overarching Act called the Equality Act, 2006 was passed which meant to establish the Commission for Equality and Human Rights; to dissolve the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission. Amongst other duties of this commission, the ones that have relevance for web accessibility are “each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society” and “work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination”. Since passing of this act and the formation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it has been spearheading the efforts for bringing equality and eliminating discrimination against people with disbabilities.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is another institution that has been promoting the DDA and now the Equality Act. It has worked on investigating several possible violations of the DDA and the Code of Practice. One such instance has been its investigation of the Ryanair’s online ticketing services.

Another act that has relevance here, is the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, 2001 (SENDA), which was an amendment to the DDA, 1995 to include education as one of the services. This enabled that the students in the pre-and post-16 education, were not discriminated against in training and any other services provided wholly or mainly to students. This includes higher education as well as vocational training.

In the next post I will cover the regulations and guidelines from EU.

November 23, 2008

'DMV' for enterprise social media?

Most modern enterprises are in the rush towards understanding & rolling out social media to help with their marketing efforts or to reduce support costs (among others). Most of this effort is in figuring out where to set up a blog, or communities. Companies pay little or no attention to who does the blogging and commenting - in fact they're grateful that someone volunteers!


Such lax attitudes are beginning to hurt companies. Witness the case of Virgin Airlines. Some of its employees had posted inappropriate articles about its passengers and the lack of cleanliness on its flights.

The more sophisticated companies are fighting back. One of our clients, is setting up a 'DMV' for Social Media participants and has mandatory courses that its employees must take before being allowed to blog etc. This may seem a little stifling, but better that than have your brand tarnished by your own employees.

What are you seeing at your clients? How are other companies tackling this?


Web Accessibility and the Law - Australia

Continuing from the previous post, if the changes in the US regulatory systems have been more visible as a consequence of the Target vs. NFB case, the laws in other parts of the world have actually been in existence for quite some time now.

Australia has particularly taken a lead in institutionalizing regulations / guidelines that make web accessibility a mandatory requirement. This blog lists some of these regulations.

The Australian Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 (DDA, 1992) is probably the earliest regulation that has been extensively referred to while seeking accessibility of the Web for all. A section in this law talks about the type of discrimination towards people with disabilities in the provision of goods, services and facilities. In August of 2002, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) of Australia, as per the powers conferred on it by the DDA, issued the World Wide Web Access–Advisory Notes for the DDA, 1992. These notes contain specific guidelines for “authors and designers to make their Worldwide Web documents accessible to the broadest possible audience”.  The notes help clarify the requirements of the DDA with respect to web accessibility and enable organisations developing or modifying web pages to understand how compliance with these requirements can be achieved.

A rather popular case that might have been a pre-cursor of these advisory notes is that of Bruce Maguire vs. the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) in June 1999. In this case Bruce Maguire complained to the HREOC that the website of the Sydney Olympic Games’ organising committee was not accessible as per the provisions of DDA, 1992. The commission declared in August 2000, only a few weeks before the inauguration of Sydney Olympics (15th Sept. 2000), that the complainant had been discriminated against and ordered the SOCOG to make certain access provisions to be complete before the inaugural date. SOCOG failed to comply with this order and hence in November 2000, the HREOC fined the SOCOG a sum of Australian $20,000.

Other regulation / guidelines in Australia that have a possible impact on web accessibility include:

  • The Australian Government’s Web Publishing Guide which is meant to help Australian Government agencies to manage their websites, and to identify their legal and policy obligations.
  • The Australian Government’s Guide to Minimum Website Standards published in 2000 and revised in 2003. This guide included a separate section on web content accessibility. However, this has now been superseded by the Web Publishing Guide mentioned above.
  • The Commonwealth Government’s Strategy for Online Services “GovernmentOnline” published in 2000. This strategy was meant to provide common framework for provision of appropriate government services online as proposed in 1997 by the then Australian PM John Howard.
  • The Internet Industry Association (IIA) of Australia’s Accessibility Web Action Plan. The plan “encourages web accessibility awareness and helps members develop and maintain accessible websites” and envisions that “members' web sites will set benchmarks for best practice in web accessibility”.
  • Another report by the HREOC on Access to electronic commerce and new service and information technologies for older Australians and people with a disability investigates the challenges faced by the said category of people in accessing online services and commerce. It suggests minimum standards that need to be followed when bringing out new services. It also explores other steps such as education and training in removing barriers from usage of IT and online services.

This series of blogs is getting more detailed than expected hence let me stop here and write the next one on the regulations and guidelines in UK. I’m also retrospectively changing the title of the first post from ‘Web Accessibility and the Law_ Part 1’ to ‘Web Accessibility and the Law_US’.

November 22, 2008

Web Accessibility and the Law - US

A few days back Chandan Gokhale’s blog discussed web accessibility and the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) via its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). It briefly touched upon the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 (draft 11)).  While the WCAG is an independent effort being driven by W3C, there are several legal / regulatory efforts being steered in countries around the world. This blog discusses some of these regulatory requirements for web accessibility in the US.

Perhaps one of the most well publicized cases is that of the Target vs National Federation of the Blind, which was filed in February of 2006 and certified as a class action lawsuit by the Federal District Court of California in October 2007. In August 2008, NFB and Target settled this class action lawsuit wherein Target agreed to set aside a sum of 6 Million US $ in a separate account which will entertain all valid claims, submitted until January 2009, of inaccessibility of the target.com website. This lawsuit has suddenly accelerated the regulatory machinery to make websites accessibility as a mandatory requirement in the US. Several regulations are being considered to cover this requirement. The more prominent of these are:

  • Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 amended as per the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. This act requires Federal Agencies, both as employers as well as providers of information, to make electronics and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The act includes specific standards for software, web-based information and applications, desktop and portable computers, video and telecommunication products as well as other office electronics.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights legislation and does not specifically deal with accessibility of the Internet. However, this act has at least two sections that are being considered as applicable to web accessibility. One of this section deals with public accommodation (which includes kiosks, sales counters, checkout counters) of people with disabilities. The other requires that the communication with people with disabilities be as effective as with others. Several cases (such as NFB vs. AOL, Access Now vs. Southwest Airlines, Spitzer Agreement in the cases against Priceline.com and Ramada.com) have referred to the ADA in their pleadings.
  • Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires manufacturers of telecommunication and office equipment to ensure that such equipment is designed and manufactured to be usable / accessible by people with disabilities. While this law again does not apply directly to websites, it is felt that this covers the accessible design and hence enforceable even without filing a complaint for its requirements to be fulfilled.

In part two of this blog I will cover the regulations from Europe and Australia.

November 21, 2008

Economics of Web Accessibility - Part 2

The above statistics underline the fact that the size of the market for accessible technology is larger than commonly perceived. This is important because for disabled users, everyday actions can often be completed more quickly and efficiently on the web. Moreover of the 54 million Americans with a disability, 4 in 10 are online and these users tend to spend more time logged on and surfing the Internet than nondisabled users. The number of people with disabilities – and income to spend – is likely to increase as the likelihood of having a disability increases with age, and the overall population is aging. As the world’s population is living longer, there are more older adults using the Internet and physical impairments hamper web usage for users. Moreover over 20% of the EU will be over 65 years of age and the number of people aged 60 or over will double in the next 30 years. This will account for a large section of population which needs effective and efficient access to the Web.


November 20, 2008

Economics of Web Accessibility - Part 1

A large part of the World Wide Web is not accessible to a large section of the disabled population (about 18-20% of the global population suffers from some form or disability). About 97% of websites fail to meet the most basic requirements for accessibility. These are rather shocking numbers given the fact that the Web plays an important role and offers significant benefits for people with disabilities. The below statistics highlights the economics behind making the World Wide Web Accessible to the physically challenged population:



Global Statistics:
          Worldwide, between 600 - 750 million people have a disability
          Three out of every 10 families are touched by a disability
          In 2001, 180 million people worldwide were blind or visually impaired

European Union Statistics:
          Across Europe approximately 37 million people have a disability and by 2015, over         20% of the EU will be over 65 years of age.
UK Government estimates that:
          The combined spending power of the disabled population is over £200 bn, with 8.5 million disabled people with a combined spending power of £40 bn and 20 million people over the age of 50 with a combined spending power of £160 bn

United States Statistics:
          In the United States, one in five people have some kind of disability and one in 10 has a severe disability
          According to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, the discretionary income of people with disabilities is $175 billion
          In 2001, 7.7 million people in the United States were blind or visually impaired

In the next post we will discuss more on how the above statistics provide an economic impetus to Web Accessibility

November 17, 2008

Understanding Web Accessibility

Starting this week, we will be addressing the area of Web Accessibility - organized in multiple blog entries – to address various facets of Web Accessibility.  In this posting, we will look at the big picture, the meaning of Web Accessibility and its relevance for promoting Equal Opportunity.  

What is Web Accessibility?

As stated by renowned accessibility expert Shawn Lawton Hewitt, Web Accessibility simply means that people with disabilities can use the Web.  More specifically, Web Accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the Web.
Web Accessibility addresses the entire breadth of disabilities that affect access to the Web – visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. It is easy for a non-disabled person to browse the Web. Point your mouse, see the screen, use the navigation and then concentrate of the area of the web page that contains the relevant content. But what about people with disabilities?

Some people cannot use their arms or hands to type or move a mouse. Some people with tremors and diminishing fine motor controls can use a keyboard but not a mouse. Some people cannot see at all and use a screen reader that reads aloud information in the webpage. Some people have blurry vision and cannot read text unless it is very large.

Web Accessibility tries to address these barriers that restrict access to information on the Web. 
To help include everybody in the Web, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), constituted a group called the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) whose mission was to develop the strategies, guidelines and resources to make the Web Accessible to people with disabilities.

This group issued the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 1.0 in May 1999 to help make Web content ‘understandable and navigable’. These s guidelines are the ‘touchstone’ by which most lobbyists, legislatures and web developers determine the accessibility of a website.  The guidelines are organized around check points that fall under three levels of priorities; Level 1 includes checkpoints that must be met, Level 2 includes checkpoints that should be met and Level 3 includes checkpoints that may be met to ensure improved Web Accessibility.

A simplistic way of understanding the gist of these guidelines is
·  Ensuring that pictures used for communicating information have text equivalents that can be accessed by blind people
·   Audio is subtitled/transcribed for those who are hard-of-hearing
·   Links and form controls can be easily accessed by those with motor problems
·   Site is well structured for those with learning difficulties or problems with the language

The WCAG 2.0 version is currently in the working draft 11 stage.

It is important to understand one aspect that most experts agree on – an individual web site can never be perfectly accessible to everybody. This has to do with the sheer diversity of disabilities as well as the potential overlap of multiple disabilities. But a systematic approach like implementing the WCAG guidelines can go long way in accommodating a very large number of people.

Use of Web is spreading rapidly into most areas of society and daily life. In many countries, the Web is increasingly being used for government information and services, education and training, commerce, news, workplace interaction, civic participation, healthcare and more. In some cases, the Web is replacing traditional resources used to do all the things listed above. Therefore, it is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities.

Encouraging (and sometimes mandating) accommodation of people with disabilities in the mainstream is a direct reflection of evolution of disability policy. Instead of prescribing a social welfare approach, under the medical model of institutional care, the new policies focus on rehabilitation and education.