Written by Mark Magennis Friday, 25 June 2010 10:11
People with disabilities in many countries have a legal right to access information and services on the web. Legislation such as the Disability Act 2005 and the Equal Status Act 2000 here in Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK and the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States mandate accessibility of services delivered to the general public. This right often extends to services delivered online. Although the web is rarely mentioned explicitly in such broad-based disability legislation, supplementary codes of practice and court decisions often confirm that the legislation does encompass services delivered through the web.
The problem is that these legal rights are often denied and doing something about it can be a daunting and difficult task. To make it easier for people with vision impairments in Ireland, NCBI has created an easy to read guide to exercising your right of access to information and services. Much of this guidance applies equally to persons with any disability.
What's in the guide?
The guide leads web users with disabilities step-by-step through the process of requesting access to buildings, information and services, making a complaint if it is denied and, if necessary, taking it further until they get satisfaction.
For public websites, emails and electronic documents, the guide describes the process of making a complaint to the public body under the Disability Act. It details how to make a complaint, who to write to and what to say. It even provides a template for a complaint letter. It then describes how the complaint should be dealt with and what to do if you do not get a satisfactory response. This involves going to the Ombudsman or, in extreme cases, taking a claim of discrimination to the Equality Tribunal (CFIT recently helped the Equality Tribunal make its complaint form accessible). For private websites, the guide explains how to take a claim of discrimination under the Equal Status Act.
Encouraging people to use the guide
For people with disabilities, being denied access, even to important public information and services, is very much the norm. For instance, one of the most important public debates in recent Irish history has been the one concerning the national referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But when CFIT carried out the accessibility and standards assessment for the 2009 Golden Spiders web awards, we found that the official Lisbon Treaty referendum website was one of the worst of all 378 entries for accessibility!
We want to encourage people to demand accessibility of such resources, so we will be keeping a check in future. Whenever we see a public website or online publication of widespread public interest that is not accessible, we will put out a call for people to demand access, following the steps outlined in the guide.
So we encourage all people with disabilities in Ireland to read the guide on the NCBI website and exercise your rights!