Accessibility is increasingly being taken serious by legislators. During the 90's a number of disability laws have come into effect of which many now begin to address access to electronic information. Web accessibility is an issue that has only become acknowledged over the last few years.
The last few years have seen several cases brought to courts around the world where organisations were sued for failing to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.
In The United States, the National Federation of the Blind filed a case under the Americans With Disabilities Act against AOL to make their software accessible to visually impaired people.
In Australia a visually impaired man sued the organisers of the Sydney Olympics under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth DDA), arguing that they were in breach of their obligations to provide an accessible website.
Even the organisers of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, who should have learned from Sydney's experience, came under attack for providing limited accessibility.
In October 2002 confusion was added by two court cases where in a case against an American airline the judge ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to the web while in another case against a local transport agency the judge decided that its 'Inaccessible Website Violates ADA' .
Access to education, and in our case to e-learning, in the UK is regulated by Part IV of the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act, 1995). The DDA, when enacted in 1995, aimed to regulate access to employment, services and premises by disabled people but did not explicitly cover education.
In 2001 Part IV of the Act was amended by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) to address these shortcomings. This act comes into effect in September 2002. Universities now have certain duties in regard to admission and services to disabled students.
In 1999 the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) published its Code of Practice, which aims to support and assist higher education institutions in improving the quality of learning opportunities for students with disabilities.
As a consequence of this law institutions are required to make 'reasonable adjustments' for students with disabilities, which, in the context of ICT might include the provision of assistive technology, equipment and software such as text magnifying software, screen readers, Braille output, alternative input devices, etc.
It also means that course material that is offered via the web or an Intranet must be accessible to disabled students. Information for prospective or current students, press information, information for staff regarding training or job vacancies, websites for libraries, all should be provided in an accessible form.
Example of implementation in policies:
Office of the e-Envoy: Guidelines for UK government websites.
Anglia Polytechnic University: Web Accessibility Guidelines.
In 1996 the Justice Department stated clearly that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which guarantees access to goods and services, also applies to electronic information and specifically to the Internet.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. By June 2001, all federal agencies had to comply with these new rules.
A list of useful links can be found in the resource section.