Digital Accessibility in the Workplace: what is in place to help employees?

Digital accessibility refers to how accessible electronic system are for people, regardless of whether an individual has additional needs for accessing particular platforms.

The measure of accessibility does not just refer to the measure of the actual delivery of a service, but also refers to how well digital materials take into consideration applicable statutes, regulations, and guidance from regulatory authorities (including for example the Ministry of Justice and Department of Education). These resources may include digital content such as websites; software and mobile applications; e-learning and learning management systems (LMSs); digital files such as documents, PDFs, presentations, spreadsheets, ; and other digital media, including conference call platforms such as Microsoft Teams.

Digital Accessibility Laws and Standards

Laws and standards regarding access to electronic information and communications continues to evolve as online activity becomes more prevalent, technologies advance, and employers and employees become reliant on digital integration. During the pandemic, and now in a Post-Covid world, we have seen the reliance on digital accessibility across platforms, reiterating the absolute importance accessibility holds and in particular digital accessibility at work. It is perhaps more important now than ever, that employees know their rights as to what is in place to help govern and help those who have additional needs, gain the access they need to be able to look at digital content.

*It should be noted that the below laws and regulations are based on the English and Welsh Courts and is not an exhaustive list.

**In the United Kingdom, discrimination on the grounds of disability, originally introduced by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, is now contained within the Equality Act 2010.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination by Employers. There are nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act. Discrimination which happens because of one or more of these characteristics is unlawful under the Act. We all have some of these characteristics – for example, sex or age – so the Act protects everyone from discrimination.

If you’re treated unfairly because someone thinks you belong to a group of people with protected characteristics, this is also unlawful discrimination.

The characteristics that are protected by the Equality Act 2010 are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership (in employment only)
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

This act also protects you if you are discriminated by association. This means, that it protects you if people in your life, like family members or friends, have a protected characteristic and you’re treated unfairly because of that.. Additionally, the act also protect you If you complain about discrimination in the workplace.

Employment: Statutory Code of Practice (Applicable in England, Wales, and Scotland)

The Codes are designed to provide detailed guidance to organisations about what the Equality Act means. Courts and tribunals must take the Codes into account in cases involving areas they cover.

Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018

The accessibility regulations build on your existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland). These say that all UK service providers must consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.

For example, somebody might ask for information in an alternative, accessible format, like large print or an audio recording. There are a number of factors that determine what makes something a ‘reasonable’ adjustment.

Reasonable adjustments for workers with disabilities or health conditions

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.

This applies to all workers, including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners.

The Human Rights Act 1998

This Act sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. It incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. The Human Rights Act came into force in the UK in October 2000.

Other laws and regulations in use:

  • The common law obligation for an employer to take care of workers’ safety.
  • Personal injury protection and duties to take care of workers arising out of Tort law.
  • Health and Safety at work etc Act 1974.
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

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