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TX: 03.10.03 COMPANIES FACE LEGAL ACTION IF WEBSITES ARE INACCESSIBLE

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

ROBINSON
Today the Disability Rights Commission is launching a new campaign to make companies open up their premises to disabled people. From next October, when a new part of the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force businesses must remove any physical barriers which block the way for people with disabilities. But access isn't just about buildings, if you run a website - whether you're a company or an individual - making sure that your website can be used by disabled people is already a legal obligation. This year, for the first time, the Royal National Institute for the Blind has taken legal action against two companies whose websites were not accessible. The cases were eventually settled out of court.

Mark Smith works for the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind, he's blind and he enjoys using the internet, his favourite website is Norwich City Football Club's.

SMITH
I've got a standard computer and with the computer underneath the Qwerty keyboard is a brow display. It's got little pins that pop up and down and display a line of text, at the same time as having the speech feedback. The speech program I'm using is called Jaws and it's just a software program that gives me speech feedback, so in other words it's speech output. Well I use it for looking at information to suppliers, looking at local news from the local football team, you can either have it set to read letter at a time or word at a time or line at a time, so that the actual speech program can be manipulated to however you like it.

This is the link I'm in at the moment for the result on Saturday - Crystal Palace 1 - Norwich City 2. But it's really looking at having good layout of your website and looking at having good text links and also having good clear contrasted prints and not too cluttered layout. Having a link explaining about how you navigate around the website, either with a screen reader or with screen magnification software.

ROBINSON
Mark Smith. Well I'm joined now by Julie Howell, who's from the RNIB. What does the law say about web design?

HOWELL
Good afternoon. Well the actual law itself - the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 - if you scrutinise the actual Act you'll find it doesn't say anything at all about the web, it's not that specific. However, RNIB has been, for a long time, convinced that on occasion a service offered by the web is a service and would be liable under the Act and indeed we knew this for sure in February of 2002 and the Disability Rights Commission published a code of practice to accompany the Act which stated very clearly that websites are covered and websites can be considered as a service. So we're absolutely clear about that now.

ROBINSON
How much are the providers responsible and how much do individual users have to do for themselves if they have disabilities, because listening to Mark Smith obviously he has got lots of adaptations for his computer so that he can use the websites that he wants to?

HOWELL
He does, that's right, and it's very important, I think, to make clear to any service owners out there, who are the ones who would be liable under the Act, that there is a process involved here. When a person who's blind comes to RNIB and says I've found a website and I can't use it, I'm blind and I find I'm unable to get the information that I want. The first thing that we will do at RNIB is speak to the blind person and find out what technology they're using because if they're using something that's five or six years old that's probably not going to be up to the job. If we find they are using up-to-date equipment we then gently find out if they've received appropriate training, to make sure that they know what they're doing online, to make sure that they know how to get the best out of their equipment. But if we decide that the blind person has got good equipment and knows how to use it, we'll then take a look at the website and it's a very easy matter for the IT experts at RNIB to check out the website and see if the problem is actually in the way that the site has been designed. If we find that there are these coding errors RNIB will then approach the company, who's responsible for the service, and speak to them about the problem and discuss with them ways that they can put it right and suggest to them a timeframe for putting it right.

Now up to July this year every single company that we'd spoken to, as soon as we'd made them aware that blind people want to use your website, they're locked out because of the way it's been designed, they put the matter right, which was fantastic and that's what RNIB wants. But in July this year we had a couple of companies we were dealing with who weren't convinced of the need to make their sites accessible, so that's why we turned to the Disability Discrimination Act as an instrument and eventually we did settle out of court, although we did issue proceedings against one of those companies. So it's important to be aware that there is legislation here that enforces this issue.

ROBINSON
Julie Howell, we have to leave it there. Many thanks.



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