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US organisation liable under UK law

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 8 Feb 07, 09:19 AM

Have you ever tried to buy something off a website in another country and been frustrated because it is inaccessible? Well, until recently there was nothing you could do about it, as the website is based outside the UK. But a new legal ruling seems to suggest that this could all be changing.

Sam Latif, who is visually impaired, took a business course offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), who are an American organisation. When the PMI would not allow her to install screen reader software on her computer to sit the exam, but instead insisted that she have a sighted person read out the questions to her, she took them to court. She won, and was awarded £3,000 in compensation.

The PMI initially claimed that as an American organisation, UK law did not apply to them. But a pre-hearing review ruled otherwise. Because they were providing a course and qualification in the UK, then The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) did apply.

That is the important bit. If you live in the UK, it is UK law that is relevant, not US law. Which is handy, as the DDA covers websites, and the US equivalent, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not.

So if you have tried to buy something off a website based in the US that provides services like education courses, or sells products, and you haven’t been able to because it is inaccessible, then this ruling might help to build a case. I say might, because until this ruling is referenced in court, we won’t know for sure what importance it has.

Full details of the case and what the lawyers say about the ruling can be read on the Out-Law website.

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