According to the Annual Disability Status Report, around 10% of the world’s population (roughly 650 million people) lives with a disability. This makes the disabled population the world’s largest minority group. There are more than 11 million people in the United Kingdom (UK) alone that suffer from long-term illness, impairment or disability problems. 89.8% of the UK population was using the Internet by 2013; that figure has only risen since then. Ensuring equal treatment and access to information for the disabled has now become a necessity.
The UK is currently a member state of the European Union (EU). As such, they are bound by decisions made by EU institutions, including the ratification of the United Nations’ “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” which reaffirms that all persons with disabilities must have access to all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Convention requires that all member states take appropriate measures to promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies, including the Internet.
In addition to the mandates set forth by the UN and EU, the UK has also implemented its own country-specific legislation regarding web accessibility. On October 2010, the UK enacted the Equality Act 2010 (EQA), designed to deal with the issue of disability discrimination. The EQA replaced the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, which had no mention of discrimination relating to the Internet.
In 2011, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published guidelines on the provisions of the EQA that apply to service providers, explicitly saying that websites are included among them.
Section 20(6) of the EQA states that “the duty to make reasonable adjustments requires service providers to take positive steps to ensure disabled people can access services. This goes beyond simply discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers for reasonable adjustments.”
The requirements needed to ensure accessibility guidelines follow the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (see earlier posts for more in-depth discussion). Not adhering to the provisions of the EQA leaves organizations liable to discrimination lawsuits.