UK: Web Accessibility

Last Updated: 30 July 2001

A US federal law, "Section 508" taking effect June 21 2001, promises to make major commercial hardware and software products, as well as federal government websites, more accessible to users with disabilities.

Section 508 was passed in 1998 and requires the federal government to purchase computers, software, and electronic equipment that meet new standards for accessibility. Any "electronic technology" developed, used or maintained by the government must also meet the new standards. In other words, the new requirements also apply to the federal government's millions of publicly accessible Web pages.

The new standards are designed to prevent web designs that depend too much on one sense, such as sight or hearing so that those who are blind or deaf will still be able to access the Internet.

The Section 508 accessibility guidelines closely resemble the first stage of a multi-level protocol established by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WAI is supported in part by the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, European Commission's Information Society for Technologies Programme, Microsoft Corporation, IBM, and Verizon Foundation.

WAI have issued Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which oblige web content developers to:

  • provide a text equivalent for every non-text element (for example, via "alt" or "longdesc"). This includes images, graphical representations of text, image map regions, animations, sounds, audio files, audio tracks of video and video etc;
  • ensure that all information conveyed with colour is also available without colour;
  • clearly identify changes in the natural language of a document text's and any text equivalents (e.g. captions);
  • organise documents so they may read without style sheets;
  • ensure that equivalents for dynamic content are updated when the dynamic content changes; and
  • use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site's content.

A copy of the W3C Guidelines can be found at

While Section 508 only applies to the US federal government and its subcontractors, its impact will be felt throughout the IT industry. The federal government is one of the US's biggest, if not the biggest, single customer for hardware and software. Commercial producers say that it is easier to make their off-the shelf products compliant with the federal accessibility standards rather than customise their products for the government.

A recent report by Forrester Research discovered that only one in four sites surveyed met even minimum WAI requirements for disabled Internet users, for example providing text descriptions of images for the blind. The precise size of the disabled Internet population is not known but it is estimated that between 4 and 17 percent of the online population have some form of sight, hearing, cognitive or physical disability.

Companies whose sites are not accessible to the disabled could face discrimination claims under legislation such as the UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Successful discrimination claims have already been made in the US and Australia.

Bank of America and the Californian Council of the Blind settled an agreement in March 2000 under which the bank agreed to make its website accessible and to provide universal ATM machines in California and Florida. A case between AOL and the National Federation of the Blind was recently settled out of court under which AOL is required to produce an accessible version of its software and browser by the end of this year.

Last year the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) was forced to make its Olympics website accessible to a blind user who made a complaint pursuant to Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (which contains similar anti-discriminatory provisions as its UK equivalent). The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission ("the Commission") determined that SOCOG both directly and indirectly discriminated against the complainant in failing to provide a web site which was accessible to him because of his disability. It ordered SOCOG to do all that was necessary to render its site accessible to blind Internet users and awarded the complainant A$20,000 compensation.

In reaching their decision the Commission referred to the fact that an alternative source of information was not available to the complainant. It is therefore possible that the provision of a service by alternative means could mitigate against a Web provider's conduct being found unreasonable and discriminatory. For example, a Web provider could offer equivalent telephone services for visually impaired users.

SOCOG raised the defence of unjustifiable hardship which was based on two grounds Firstly, it was too expensive to make the site fully accessible to visually impaired people and secondly, visually impaired people could obtain Olympic results from the radio or print media. However, the Commission held that the expense estimates provided by SOCOG for making its site accessible were exaggerated and that results from radio and print media were significantly less favourable alternatives.

Such high profile decisions and the adoption of Section 508 have boosted awareness of issues concerning accessibility of the Internet for those with disabilities. IT experts agree that the most cost-efficient solution to making the Internet accessible to everyone is to build it in accordance with the WIA from the outset. Retro-fitting a site can be very expensive. In the SOCOG case, the site's creator, IBM, estimated that fixes would cost SOCOG around US$2.2 million.

Those concerned about the accessibility of their website can test it free of charge on a non-profit site commonly known as "bobby" which checks for compliance with the basic W3C standards. Bobby can help web designers identify any changes needed to make their web pages more accessible to disabled users. Further details of this tool can be found at

© Herbert Smith 2002

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

For more information on this or other Herbert Smith publications, please email us.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.