Best practice in web design

Web accessibility issues

Guide

In Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) makes it illegal for a website provider to discriminate against a disabled person.

In practice, this means that a website providing goods or services to the public must be designed in a way that allows disabled people to access them, eg by using auxiliary aids or services such as screen readers.

The DDA still applies in Northern Ireland but elsewhere in the UK it has been repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010.

What is accessibility on a website?

Accessibility describes the practice of enabling access to websites for people with disabilities. It aims to address all the different needs of users, including those with visual, mobility, auditory and cognitive difficulties.

What are the Web Accessibility Standards?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has produced a number of accepted accessibility guidelines for websites. These set out three levels of conformance:

  •  A (priority 1) – the minimum level of access has been met
  •  AA (priority 2) – an acceptable level of access has been met
  •  AAA (priority 3) – a completely accessible website

The UK government recommends that websites must satisfy priority 1 and should satisfy priority 2 of the guidelines.

Is your company website accessible?

You can use a range of free online tools and services to check if your site is accessible.

Reasonable adjustments for disabled website users

If your website isn't accessible, it may put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who are not disabled. You may be required under the DDA to make 'reasonable adjustments'.

This means that, by law, you must:

  • change a practice, policy or procedure that makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use your service - eg using very small text that puts vision-impaired people at a disadvantage
  • provide an auxiliary aid or service if it would enable (or make it easier for) disabled people to use the service - eg offering an alternative point and click interface for visitors that can't use a keyboard

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has published a Code of Practice that deals with the duties placed by the legislation on those providing goods, facilities or services, including online services, to the public. To find out more about the rights of access to goods, facilities, services and premises, download the DDA Code of Practice (PDF, 808K).

How to make a website accessible?

People with different abilities will navigate websites in different ways, depending on their needs and preferences. Some may configure standard software and hardware to suit their needs. Others may use specialized software or hardware that helps them perform certain tasks.

You can make many adjustments to help disabled people to use your website - see suggestions of our best practices for accessible websites.

The WC3 website provides detailed guidance and resources on getting started with web accessibility.