Accessibility for everyone

Feature

Accessibility for everyone

As increased security measures threaten to limit personal Internet freedoms, some users are still fighting for equality of access.

The commonly held perception that the Web is a universal platform that is accessible to all rings hollow to those who suffer from visual impairment or other disabilities that make it difficult to use a computer. In recognition of this, the World Wide Web Consortium produced guidelines on Web content accessibility for disabled people earlier this year. Just recently, it has followed this up with new draft guidelines for designing software and browsers. In the UK, however, the issue of disability discrimination relating to the Internet, technically covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the DDA), is a largely untested area of law - a state of affairs that is unlikely to continue for much longer.

According to section 20 of the DDA, discrimination occurs if a service provider treats a disabled person less favourably, for a reason related to his/her disability, than a non-disabled person, unless this treatment can be justified. However, it is hard to imagine any scenario in which discrimination could be justified, and the criteria prescribed by the Act are open to interpretation. So, with is in mind, web service providers should consider the following points:

  • Under the DDA, a disabled person must not be discriminated against in the standard of service provided. So, for example, if preferential interest rates are on offer in an online banking service - but that site is not accessible to the disabled - then this will constitute discrimination.

  • Where a service provider has considered making a site accessible, perhaps by consulting a website designer, but decided against so doing for aesthetic reasons, then this may amount to discrimination since it is effectively a refusal to provide a service to the disabled.

  • The DDA prescribes that web service providers are under a duty to change any policy or practice that makes it impossible for disabled persons to make use of a service - but only if it is reasonable for such a change to be made. However, the definition of 'reasonable' can be far-reaching. For example, in a claim brought against the Sydney Olympic Organising Committee, the high cost involved in upgrading an inaccessible website was considered reason enough to cancel the project.

  • For more information on the US guidelines see www.w3.org Calling Big Brother


Last year, the passing of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which updated the interception regime to allow surveillance of emails in the course of criminal investigations, unleashed fears about Big Brother. However, following the recent terrorist attacks in the US, the question for many now is how to make Big Brother Bigger... or at least more effective.

For some, the key to countering global anxiety is to deploy information technology more effectively. Over the next few months, a number of security measures are likely to be implemented, all of which will no doubt impact on privacy. Here are a couple of examples of what we might expect:

  • In a move to improve airline security, passengers may be asked to register biometric information. This is the automated machine verification of an individual's identity by measurement of a unique or physical characteristic. Since biometric information may constitute 'personal data' (as per the EU Data Protection Directive), then such software - as well as the data system vendors and travel businesses involved with the processing of this information - may potentially be in breach of the Directive.

  • The inevitable increase in surveillance will be particularly marked in the US since the legislative framework is less specific than that in the UK. Already, US ISPs, such as AOL and Yahoo!, have reportedly been asked to install the FBI surveillance system known as 'Carnivore' on their networks. Whether or not they will be obliged to do this may well hinge upon whether the FBI can prove that the ISPs activities and services pose any real threat to the state.


Spam, spam, spam
And yet more spam: the debate as to whether UK businesses will be required to adopt an opt-in policy for email marketing remains uncertain. The European Parliament has voted to ban companies from sending emails without consent and so the draft Directive has been referred to a European Committee for further debate.

EBR will be tracking this. Until then, target with care!


Further information on all of the above is available at ebldirect.com, an online service that offers legal assistance to professionals working in e-business. As well as providing analysis across the spectrum of e-commerce legal issues, it provides case reviews and legislation.

Please call 0845 608 1188 for details or sign up for a free trial at www.ebldirect.com

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This was first published in October 2001

 

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