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Digital accessibility is a global phenomenon. From its origins with the rise of the world wide web in the 1990s to the globally connected world we live in today, the voices calling for a more digitally accessible world have only increased across the globe. Eventually, this led to changes in the law in many countries. This happened in the United States with the inclusion of digital accessibility to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, many countries have their own approaches to digital accessibility law. This article will tackle digital accessibility in the United Kingdom, where the approach is different from the United States.
Setting the Scene.
The Equality Act 2010 is a current piece of British legislation that was passed during the tenure of the country’s Labour Government. Its main purpose was to consolidate, update, and supplement several acts and regulations that formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in England, Scotland, and Wales as well as some sections which also apply to Northern Ireland. These include Acts such as the Equal Pay Act 1970, or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Equality Act 2010 updated existing anti-discriminatory Acts to consider discrimination that was either not previously recognised in older Acts or did not exist at the time the earlier acts were passed, such as discrimination in digital access.
It’s worth remembering the nations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland make up the United Kingdom (UK). Each nation can sometimes be subject to different, or slightly different, laws. If you’re doing business in the UK, it’s worth checking which UK nation’s laws your business will need to adhere to.
Equality For All (websites)?
Under British law, the Equality Act 2010 stipulates all website owners are required to make “reasonable adjustments” to their websites to accommodate disabled users. The act requires service providers to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers and make reasonable adjustments where necessary. However, there is a difference concerning UK commercial websites and UK public sector websites.
What constitutes a “reasonable adjustment” under British law is difficult to ascertain as the law has never been tested in court. There have been examples of companies facing legal action brought by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), but these cases were settled out of court. Yet, the British Government has adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 level AA as a suitable standard for public sector sites. So, it’s a good idea to use that as a benchmark for a decent level of digital accessibility coverage in the UK.
Under the Equality Act 2010, the main difference in digital accessibility regulation is between public and commercial websites. As of 2019, all public sector websites must meet a certain accessibility standard. This includes all central and local government organisations, as well as charities that receive most of their funds through public money. This is a huge undertaking considering the size of the British state. For example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is the largest employer in Europe. According to research undertaken in 2020, only 74% of public sector sites in the UK currently comply with WCAG 2.1 AA.
There are also some exemptions to the law. One of which is if becoming digitally accessible would cause a “disproportionate burden”. If a small charity is lacking in funds and it receives no public money, then you could likely claim meeting regulations was a disproportionate burden. This would also apply to someone’s personal blog, for instance. Yet, you would need to have a formal assessment to make this case.
Facts & Figures:
It’s always a good idea to get accessible as soon as you can. It’s the morally right thing to do. If you’re unsure, just look at some of our facts about disability in the UK:
– Two million people in the UK have a visual impairment.
– 15% of the British population have a learning difficulty.
– 1 in 5 British people are considered disabled.
What’s more, in 2019 the UK spent £693 billion GBP on e-commerce sites, that’s almost equivalent to one trillion USD, and accounts for 26.9% of the entire retail industry in the UK. That’s a huge market your business might be missing out on if your website is not accessible.
Even if you’re less likely to get taken to court under the Equality Act 2010, it’s still best to get accessible as quickly as possible. Not only is it the right thing to do morally, but it’s also the best thing to do for your business and for your customers. By being accessible, you can increase your customer base, improve your SEO ranking, and gain an improved user experience on your website. Being a champion for equality whilst improving your business has never been easier or made more sense.