PAS 78; What it means for you

Written by Jamie Freeman

This 'Publicly Available Specification', titled Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites, explains the issues from the ground up, starting with the basic question as to why people should bother making their websites accessible. While we would recommend you read the document yourself, it can take a bit of digesting.

For informatoin about the PAS in simple terms and to get an overview of the accessibility requirements facing website owners read on.

Who is it for?

Firstly, PAS 78 is aimed at people who buy websites, rather than website developers like Message. "Why not just create a best practice guide for web developers?" I hear you ask. Well, I suppose the thinking goes that if those purchasing the sites are better informed as to their legal (and moral) obligations regarding accessibility, then the web developers will have no option but to buck their ideas up and deliver what will increasingly be asked of them.

(Luckily for us we've been keen practising advocates of accessibility in web design for many years.)

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)

As set out in the DDA there is a legal duty on service providers to make reasonable adjustments to their service provision in order to allow disabled people to use them. That includes websites, so if your site could be deemed to be delivering a 'service' then you need to take note.

The DDA really forms the basis for much of the document, but the authors sensibly point out that there's no such thing as a specification for a fully accessible website to satisfy the requirements of the DDA; I'm afraid it's much more subtle than that! For starters, there are those two words reasonable adjustments.

W3C Web Standards

Another central pillar to PAS 78 is reference to the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium). This international body sets out standards for web developers and software vendors to follow to ensure interoperability between systems. (Read our article Client guide to web standards for more information.)

Specifically, the W3C publishes Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to which PAS 78 refers extensively.

It all sounds a bit technical

So the DDA and WCAG form the cornerstones of 'good practice', but you don't need to know all the details they set out. However, your web developer does need to know the details, and you need to know enough so that you can make sure they're building you the site you require.

After all, with no clear case law on the subject, the website commissioner/owner is likely to be the one held responsible for any failings in the legal standing of the website.

Next steps

If you're commissioning a website you should get hold of a copy of PAS 78 from the British Standards Institute and familiarise yourself with the key points. You might not become an expert, but you will be better able to talk meaningfully with your web team, and if they're good you can trust them to take care of the details. If you are a regular web commissioner then you should make yourself conversant with the detail of the specification. You will then be in a position to lead the conversation with your web team, setting the standards you expect of them, rather than the other way around.

Creating an accessible website should be the responsibility of everyone involved, and if you can engender a team ethos that embraces the issue then PAS 78 can be a helpful reference document rather than a stick to beat people with.

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