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The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and new sections of the Disability Discrimination Act, which explicitly concern education, came into force from September 2002. Under this legislation it is unlawful for academic institutions to discriminate against disabled people. This has had major implications for academic institutions, in particular, ensuring equality of access to ICT provision including online resources.

Factfile: Web Standards - Is your website accessible to all?

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  • W3C recommended standards (eg HTTP, HTML)
  • W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Recommendations
  • (WAI) level A and AA

There are well-established guidelines for the accessibility of websites and online content. When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web he wanted to make it freely available and accessible to everyone. To realise its full potential, he founded an international membership organisation, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Membership includes commercial and public-funded organisations (such as JISC), all of which are represented on the W3C Advisory Committee.

W3C was established to develop common standards for web technologies to guide the evolution of the web and ensure that web-based applications could work together (be interoperable) no matter who designed them.

The international membership, expertise and inclusiveness of the Consortium ensures W3C’s recommended standards take account of the needs of the entire web community. All W3C recommended standards are designed to ensure content on the web is accessible for all users no matter what web browser (eg Internet Explorer) or hardware they use (eg laptop, PDA), or their situation. JISC content providers with webaccessible content are ‘expected’ to comply with W3C recommended standards, such as the use of HTML; however, some are mandatory (see the JISC IE Architecture document for further details).

Providing ‘persistent’ URLs that will work for at least 10–15 years is important to ensuring ongoing access. If this cannot be achieved, the URL should direct users to a page that explains why the resource is unavailable and from where a copy might be accessed.

Accessibility is covered in W3C by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) committee, which has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The recommendations cover a range of issues. Some concern the way information is presented on web pages (eg language level, font, colour contrast) and the navigation within and between pages. Others are to ensure websites can be used with assistive technology (software or hardware to support disabled access) such as screen readers that ‘read aloud’ the web page contents.

Within the W3C WAI WCAG is a series of checkpoints and conformance levels, Level A, Double-A and Triple-A. Most UK education institutions are working towards a minimum of Double-A (priority 2) compliance. A level of guidelines should be selected that meets the needs of a broad user group including vision-impaired users, deaf users, users with mobility/dexterity difficulty or RSI, users with dyslexia and users with cognitive difficulties. JISC expects its content providers to make their websites accessible to everyone: the WCAG are a good place to start and Double-A compliance is preferred.

Legal obligations

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and new sections of the Disability Discrimination Act, which explicitly concern education, came into force from September 2002. Under this legislation it is unlawful for academic institutions to discriminate against disabled people. This has had major implications for academic institutions, in particular, ensuring equality of access to ICT provision including online resources.

Content provider benefits

Academic institutions will expect your products to comply with W3C recommended standards, especially those related to ensuring accessibility for disabled people. Adopting W3C standards will also add value to your products for other customers by making your product more accessible for all users. With most UK education institutions working towards a minimum of Double-A (priority 2) compliance, this is likely to be the minimum expected level.

User benefits

Users often complain that websites in general are not very easy to use. Adopting the W3C recommended standards can help improve usability for all. If users find your site easy to use, they are more likely to return when making a future choice from a range of possibilities.

References and further information

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