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Campaigning Peer Blocks Weakening Of Web Access Law

A campaigning peer has ensured that the new Equality Act, an update of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), includes a commitment to online accessibility, by successfully moving an amendment as the law passed through the House of Lords.

Lord Low of Dalston, vice president and former chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People and himself blind, moved a change of wording to the Act to state that when providing information, organisations’ processes should “include steps for ensuring that… the information is provided in an accessible format.”

The Act ( http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2009-10/equality/documents.html ) passed into law last week after being rushed back through the Commons without a vote in the ‘wash-up’ period before this week’s dissolution of Parliament for the General Election.

Lord Low said the change would allow for easier regulation by enforcement authorities such as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC has separately released a draft code of practice on the law ( http://bit.ly/aN8W5i ) which refers to website accessibility: “As well as giving rise to an obligation to make a reasonable adjustment to their website, [failure to make a website accessible to those with visual impairments] will be unlawful (unless they can justify it).”

However, the Equality Act has been criticised for its complex language and ambiguity. Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons and editor of legal news website Out-Law.com ( http://www.out-law.com/ ), told E-Access Bulletin that parts of the new law are “borderline impenetrable”.

“For me, the biggest disappointment about the Equality Act is that for an act on accessibility, it’s difficult to access,” said Robertson. “That’s unfortunate, because one of the great things about the DDA was that it was easy to identify the duties that people were under”.

Robertson said that although the new Equality Act as amended may provide clarification on web accessibility for some businesses, the law remains broadly the same as its predecessor, the DDA. “The differences are quite subtle and it will not have a material impact on the state of accessibility of website across the UK,” he said.

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