john Gill technology header image

Legislation and Regulation

Several countries have developed policies regarding accessibility. Some countries' policies specifically cover information technology and web sites (Australia and the United States of America); others provide more generic accessibility coverage (India); still others cover only access to technology for all, with no mention of people with disabilities (Argentina).


The "argentin@internet.todos" program was created by decree in September 1998 to promote universal access to Internet and information technologies. However, it does not specifically mention people with disabilities.


Commonwealth departments and agencies are obligated by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) to ensure that online information and services are accessible to people with disabilities. Section 31 of the DDA allows the Federal Attorney-General to make disability standards about employment. This involves providing employees with services and/or facilities to make sure that they are provided with equal opportunities in the workplace.

Also significant is the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999. Of relevance are the sections on Universal Services Obligations, the National Relay Service and Industry Development Plans, and the Telecommunications (Equipment for the Disabled) Regulations 1998.


The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 gives effect to the principle that "all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted."

The Government of Canada has a policy (effective since July 1999) to "provide technical aids, anthropometrics equipment, attendant and other specialized services to ensure that the identified employment-related needs of employees with disabilities are met within reason; that is, to make the required accommodations so that the employees can perform their tasks and functions without significant additional effort or risk, thereby eliminating barriers that would obstruct their employment opportunities in the federal Public Service. This may include adjustments to a task and to the work environment of these employees."


The "Freedom to Choose - Action Plan for IT Use by People with Disabilities" follows up the Government's IT Policy Action Plan 1995. It says that States should ensure that new computerized information and service systems offered to the general public are either initially accessible or are adapted to be made accessible to persons with disabilities.

European Union

In December 1996, EU Member States politically endorsed a Communication entitled "Equality of Opportunity for People with Disabilities - A New European Community Disability Strategy" in a Resolution of the Council of Ministers. The resolution now serves as a framework to identify Member States' common goals and to determine best-practice procedures in creating policies to achieve the goal of full participation of disabled people in all aspects of life. It also led to the creation of a High Level Group of Senior Officials from the Member States who meet regularly to monitor developments pertaining to the Resolution throughout the Union.

In May 2000, the European Commission adopted "A Communication Towards a Barrier-Free Europe for People with Disabilities" which is intended to build the framework for improving access for the disabled at the workplace and beyond. The Communication outlines key objectives which the Commission believes the European Union should pursue.

According to the Directive on Radio Equipment, Telecommunications Terminal Equipment and the Mutual Recognition of Their Conformity (99/5/EC), the Commission may decide that apparatuses within certain equipment classes or apparatuses of particular types shall be so constructed that they support certain features in order to facilitate their use by people with disabilities.

In 2002 a telecommunications legislation package was enacted. It includes five directives and a regulation. One of them is the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Universal Service and User’s Rights Relating to Electronic Communications Networks and Services (OJ L 108, 24.4.2002, p. 51-77).


The Constitution Act (731/1999) contains an explicit prohibition against discrimination. Section 6(2) of the Act states that without acceptable grounds no one may be afforded a different status on account of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, state of health, disability or any other reason related to the person. The rights of those who use sign language and those who require interpretation or translation services because of disability are guaranteed by an Act of Parliament. The amended Penal Code (1995) also includes a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of disability.


With the adoption of Book Nine of the Social Code - Rehabilitation and Participation of People with Disabilities - and the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons (German Disability Discrimination Act) the labour market situation of people with disabilities was improved as well as their position vis-à-vis the public authorities in Germany. Equality includes also barrierfree access to the internet. For this purpose the government enacted an ordinance providing for the establishment of barrier-free IT design. The objective pursued by this ordinance is that people with disabilities can have access to all Internet presentations of federal institutions without any restrictions. An information service on disability and the internet as well as a hotline for advice on barrier-free Web design are available.


The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 establishes that government and public sector establishments shall set up schemes to ensure the employment of disabled people, for example by promoting training and welfare, health and safety measures, and creating non-disabling environments in the workplace.


The Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 outlaw discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other opportunities to which the public generally have access on nine distinct grounds including disability.


e-Japan Priority Policy Program (March 2001) is committed to improving the "digital divide" due to geographic, age-related, and physical constraints.


Article 71 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic of 1976 (revised in 1982 and 1997) determines that citizens with disabilities "enjoy the rights and are subjected to the obligations contained in the Constitution, with the exception of the exercise of compliance with those for which they are incapacitated". The Constitution also stipulates that the State should develop a national policy for prevention, treatment, re-education and integration in relation to disabled people. Moreover, it should act to make society aware of its duties of respect for and solidarity with disabled people, and should ensure that they fully enjoy their rights, without prejudice to the rights and duties of the parents or guardians". Item number 3 of the above mentioned Article states that "The State supports citizens with disabilities". With regard to education, Article 74 of the Constitution states that, in the enactment of education policy the State is committed to "promote and support access of citizens with disability to education and to support special education provided it is necessary. [The State is also committed] to protect and encourage Portuguese sign language as a cultural expression and instrument facilitating access to education and equal opportunities".

The Resolution of the Parliament nr. 23/98 recommends that the Institute for the Media make TV companies aware of the need to include sign language in the main news about national and international events. Law nr. 31-A/98 of 14 July 1998 (TV Law), Article 45, makes it compulsory for TV companies to guarantee, progressively, that television broadcasting may be attended by deaf people or people with hearing disabilities, by including captioning or sign language, as well as by creating specific programmes directed to that special segment of the public.

The National Initiative for Citizens with Special Needs in the Information Society - August 1999 aims to guarantee access to new information technologies to citizens with special needs (elderly and handicapped).

ACESSO - Accessibility to Citizens with Special Needs in the Information Society. ACESSO is a support unit affiliated to the Ministry of Science and Technology; its aim is to fulfill the objectives set by the National Initiative for Citizens with Special Needs in the Information Society and the related item of the Digital Portugal Program. It is responsible for monitoring government policies in this area, as well as testing accessibility to web pages by citizens with special needs.

South Africa

An anti-discrimination clause in the National Constitution of 1996 includes disability policies to be implemented. The government's policy is described in a White Paper, about the Integrated National Disability Strategy of 1997. The communication stipulates that "Technology that will ensure inclusive use of public amenities by all consumers is required (Sign Language and subtitles on television, availability of documents in braille and/or on cassette, availability of communication boards for non-speaking people, and assistive listening devices and systems for deaf people, such as TTYs and closed caption decoders). The white paper does not cover information technology.


Article 49 of the Constitution (1978) determines that public authorities must carry out policies for integration of people with disabilities, specially in order to provide them with equal rights as granted for all citizens.

The General Telecommunications Law (1998) establishes (Article 3) that the government should promote the development of new services, networks and technologies and may impose conditions to ensure that all citizens can access them under equal conditions. It also establishes (Article 15) that 'access to telecommunication services by people with disabilities and special needs' can be a condition for granting licenses for telecommunication networks.

The universal service concept is developed in Article 37 where it is stated that disabled users or users with special needs should have access to the fixed phone network under equal conditions to other users. Among the general obligations for universal service are to ease the communication among certain groups that are in special circumstances and not sufficiently covered.

The Law 34/2000 of 11 July about Services of the Information Society and e-Commerce, provides the following concerning disabilities: "Public Administrations will take the necessary means to guarantee that disabled and elderly people will be able to access their web pages, according to accessibility criteria previously recognized. In the same way, accessibility facilities will be provided by software and equipment manufacturers, so as to ensure an easy access to digital contents for disabled and elderly people".


The ordinance on the agencies' responsibility for accomplishing the disability policy (SFS 2001:526) states that government agencies shall work for giving disabled people full participation in society and equality of life. In particular, agencies shall work for making their premises, activities and information accessible by disabled people.

There is in place a law intended to counteract discrimination in working life against people with functional impairments. An employer must not treat a functionally impaired applicant or employee less favourably than they would persons without such impairments if the employer can not show that this unfairness has no connection to the impairment. An employer must not treat an applicant or employee with a certain functional impairment less favourably by applying a rule, a criterion or a procedure that may seem neutral but in reality is unfair to persons with such an impairment compared to persons without impairment. This applies unless the purpose of the rule, criterion or procedure can be shown to be motivated by objective reasons and the measure is appropriate and necessary to fulfil the purpose. Applying this law means among other things that an employer who purchases a computer programme that can not be used by an employee with a certain functional impairment is in danger of violating the law. (Act Concerning Prohibition of Discrimination in Working Life of People with Functional Impairments, SFS 1999:132.)

The Electronic Communications Act (SFS 2003:389) was enacted on 25 July 2003.


"Discrimination against handicapped forbidden under Article 30 of the New Constitution. Debate on this article has led to the 'Universal Access' issue, which has become part of the National Information Infrastructure draft, which calls for people to have equal access to information." Source: Cynthia Waddell, Nov 04, 1998.

United Kingdom

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) makes it unlawful for disabled people to be discriminated against in:

  • employment
  • trade organisations and qualifications bodies
  • access to goods, facilities and services
  • the management, buying or renting of land or property
  • education

There are also DDA regulations dealing with buses, coaches and trains, which set out access standards for those vehicles to help people with mobility or sensory impairments and learning disabilities.

The DDA 1995 introduced new measures aimed at ending the discrimination which many disabled people face in their everyday lives. The DDA 2005 made important changes to the scope of the original legislation, including creating a legal duty for public authorities to actively promote disability equality - Disability Equality Duty.

Together, the legislation provides disabled people with rights and it places duties on those who provide services, education and employment. It also encourages employers and employees to work together to break away from rigid employment practices, identify what adjustments and support might be needed, and find flexible ways of working that may benefit the whole workforce.

The DDA defines discrimination in a number of ways and outlines four specific types of discrimination: direct discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, disability-related discrimination and victimisation.

Codes of Practice
A number of Codes of Practice, explaining legal rights and requirements under the DDA, have been produced by the Government and the Disability Rights. These Codes are intended to be practical guidance - particularly for disabled people, employers, service providers, tranpsort providers and education institutions - rather than definitive statements of the law. However, courts and tribunals must take them into account where relevant.

United States of America

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some individuals with disabilities may need accessibility-related software or peripheral devices in order to use systems that comply with Section 508.

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 generally requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, a political subdivision must provide an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election. This law also requires states to make available registration and voting aids for disabled and elderly voters, including information by telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs) which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs).

Section 255 and Section 251(a)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. These amendments ensure that people with disabilities will have access to a broad range of products and services such as telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services, that were often inaccessible to many users with disabilities.

Further information


John Gill Technology Limited Footer
John Gill Technology Limited Footer