This Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), I'm writing an open letter to the UK government asking it to check that the websites and apps of companies, organisations and public sector adhere to the accessibility standards legally required under the Equality Act 2010. You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government’s wardens of the internet? Why can't every law be enforced equally?
The Equality Act states that those supplying goods and services, as well as employers and schools, should make reasonable adjustments to ensure that what they offer is accessible to people with disabilities. The standards are clear and reflect global requirements - the trouble is that our authorities don't appear to feel that checking for compliance is their job.
Who checks that websites and apps are legal?
Instead it's been left to individuals, or those representing them, such as the RNIB bringing a case against bmibaby, and it's unclear how many other cases here in the UK go under the radar as they are more often than not settled outside of court (and it’s usual that part of that settlement agreement is anonimity for the company involved). Whilst we in the UK are not nearly so fond of litigation as our American cousins, my suspicion is that there have been quite a few.
In the US the Department of Justice has brought several such cases against those not complying with accessibility laws. I've had conversations with policy officials both in our government and at European level who agree, off the record, that government should be doing more to enforce the law in this area, but it has yet to impact policy here in the UK. I find it a mystery that the government doesn't do more when it would so evidently benefit everyone.
Simple web and app accessibility checking
While it can take considerable time and expertise to ensure your site is compliant, it's simple to check AA-level compliance (the legal minimum) with an auto checker such as WAVE. It would only take a small department to work on and if they had powers like traffic wardens or those issuing speeding fines, it would also generate a lot of money!
If you're reading this and you have a website or app, do it anyway. There are 12 million disabled people in the UK who would benefit, and that means more traffic and business for you. Let's make this GAAD the time that businesses start doing this in earnest. I'm not hopeful, but who knows.
It could be that 90% of websites are not legal
From our experience at AbilityNet, I'd say that under 90% are double A standard, some aren't even single A.
I'm not asking for every single hardware device or first-person shoot ‘em up game to be made 100% accessible, but please do basic checks where possible.
From next year, all public sites will be extra scrutinised under new European accessibility guidelines. We hope these have an effect, and we hope European accessibility guidelines also step up to include all business and charity websites.
Website traffic wardens?
You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government’s wardens of the internet? This law matters too - arguably much more so for those disabled users directly impacted and indeed for our digital economy more widely. Because, what’s good for someone with a visual impairment is good for someone using a small screen, and what’s good for someone with dyslexia makes readability easier for everyone etc, etc (I really could go on).
So why leave it to disabled individuals to enforce the law? That seems wrong to me. Let’s get companies to sit up and take note after all this time, once and for all, today, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016.
To help make a difference, please share this letter using the hashtag #gaad16 #gaad
Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet