Author: Kevin Phillips
10 years on, and the UK’s DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) is struggling to extend its reach across technological advances. App development should be responsible, and ‘because-we-can’ features should always be considered in the light of this important legislation.
The UK Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 (DDA) was a milestone in defining and ensuring the rights of everyone to have access to all facilities and services, whether provided by government, local authorities, charities or private business.
The DDA was a long overdue civil rights law designed to force service providers to recognise and eliminate discrimination based upon the needs of people with disabilities. Some of the requirements on the provision of physical access were demanding, especially where this would mean the introduction of ramps and lifts, and so the enforcement of the law was phased over a number of years. The final year of implementation came in 2004, by which time, in theory, civil action could be brought against organisations that did not comply.
The internet is a vital service, and should be accessible for everyone
The period of introduction from 1995 to 2004 was, coincidentally, the period in which the internet grew from a bulletin-based text service to a fully grown global information channel.
Back in the early 1990s very few could predict the potential of the internet, yet 10 years later it had become a must have service channel for every organisation looking to reach out to clientele. The importance of the internet had become so great that it became a mandatory channel, and therefore could fall into the categories defined by the DDA.
W3C accessibility standards and undoing the mess
By the end of 2002 organisations were looking for guidance as to whether they need to do anything to their websites in order to avoid a hefty fine, or worse, court action. The W3C accessibility guidelines became the measurement by which many decided to benchmark requirements for any necessary changes.
By early 2004 there were hundreds of projects in flight upgrading (a.k.a. fixing) public and secure sites to ensure that they complied with the standards.
Of course, much of the activity was to undo what had become a plethora of quirky website features using a variety of technologies mashed together to try to create ‘something original’. As well as these because-we-can features many websites had also been written in what could be described as rather amateurish way, in part because HTML had become easier to code and accessibility to anyone willing to spend a bit of time learning how.
Of course, self-taught skills can often lead to bad habits, and it didn’t take long before there were millions of sub-standard lines of code that did not mark-up screen elements correctly and did not respond to well under scrutiny.
This cacophony of garish colour schemes, wild use of fonts and crazy coding created a digital symphony that was staring into the headlights of the DDA. No one was willing to take the chance that they could avoid litigation, and the risk of even the chance that they could be in the headlines was enough to ensure the necessary change.
The Equality Act and cross-device accessibility
Nearly 10 years after the final implementation of the DDA, and now merged into the Equality Act (EQA) 2010 for England, Scotland and Wales, we should expect that every website is slick, professional and accessible for all regardless of their abilities.
We should also expect that this is carried over to new technological advances such as eye gaze systems and sophisticated voice recognition, and to the most part this is true.
But if this is true for websites, can the same be said for apps?
Very soon, smartphone and tablet use will dominate our browsing habits, but with more than one OS for app development, standards have become proprietary. We are already seeing the same mistakes of the past with poor quality apps, “differentiating” interface design and inconsistent navigation.
How long will it be before we need more legislation to bring inaccessible applications into line?