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Can we be sued if we don’t make our web site accessible? – written by Jojo Esposa Jr.

Web accessibility is for any person using the Internet. These persons may or may not be physically handicapped.

According to Republic Act No. 7277 otherwise known as the “Magna Carta for the Disabled Persons”, a disabled person is defined as those “suffering from restriction or different abilities, as a result of a mental, physical or sensory impairment, to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”

It is disadvantageous for a person to limit or prevent the function or activity that is considered normal given the age and sex of the individual because of his impairment or disability.

Although Republic Act 7277 was enacted a year after the invention of the World Wide Web in 1991, it is expected that there won’t be any section within the law that explicitly mentions the phrase “accessible web sites.”

However, certain provisions within the law may be used to justify providing free and unhampered access to vital information and services whether electronically or otherwise. These are:

TITLE THREE – PROHIBITION ON DISCRIMINATION AGAINST DISABLED PERSONS

SECTION 21. Auxiliary Social Services. – The State shall ensure that marginalized persons are provided with necessary auxiliary services that will restore their functioning and participation in community affairs.

CHAPTER 3 – Discrimination on the Use of Public Accommodations and Services

SECTION 36. Discrimination on the Use of Public Accommodations. –

(a) No disabled persons shall be discriminated on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges,… The following constitute acts of discrimination:

(1) Denying a disabled person, … benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of an entity by reason of his disability;

(2) Affording a disabled person, on the basis of his disability …benefit from a good, service, facility, privilege … that is not equal to that afforded to other able-bodied persons,

…(e) Prohibitions – The following shall be considered as discriminatory:

…(2) A failure to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities…

Now the hanging question is, “Can we be sued?” The answer is YES. Although it is not deliberately stated, using the Internet and accessing information from it can also be interpreted as a public service and falls under the assistive technologies. Since the World Wide Web is designed to be accessed by everyone, preventing others to use it by putting barriers can be a cause for discrimination.

A disabled person must have the same rights and privileges to benefit from goods or services that are provided to other able-bodied persons. And that definitely includes barrier-free information access. If we fail to make reasonable changes to remove the obstacles in our web sites, we are liable of discriminating them. These can be a breach of the law and may be sued.

What are the potential violations?

If the Secretary of Justice has reasonable cause to believe that any person or group of persons is engaged in a pattern of practice of discrimination under this Act; or any person or group of persons has been discriminated against under this Act and such discrimination raises and issue of general public importance, the Secretary of Justice may commence a legal action in any appropriate court.

SECTION 45. Authority of Court – The court may grant any equitable relief that such court considers to be appropriate, including, to the extent required by this Act:

1. granting temporary, preliminary or permanent relief;

2. providing an auxiliary aid or service, modification of policy, practice or procedure, or alternative method; and

making facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

SECTION 46. Penal Clause – Any person who violates any provision of this Act shall suffer the following penalties:

1. for the first violation, a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (P 50,000.00) but not exceeding One hundred thousand pesos (P 100,000.00) or imprisonment of not less than six (6) months but not more than two (2) years, or both at the discretion of the court; and

2. for any subsequent violation, a fine of not less than One hundred thousand pesos (P 100,000.00) but not exceeding Two hundred thousand pesos (P 200,000.00) or imprisonment for less than two (2) years but not more than six (6) years, or both at the discretion of the court.

However, the law is still very vague on this issue. It can easily be manipulated by some unscrupulous people together with their equally deceitful lawyers. The need to revise it is imperative. We need to clearly specify access to other technologies and that includes the Internet. We must make the words “accessible web sites” and “Internet web accessibility” appear inside the law itself so that it cannot be interpreted differently.

This law is toothless and worthless unless vigilant monitoring from the concerned sectors is used and their rights are protected. We at Philippine Web Accessibility Group would like to appeal for our own sense of social concern and make our web sites accessible to our brothers and sisters who have disabilities.

Visit this link http://www.apcdproject.org/Countryprofile/philippines/appendix01.html from the Asia Pacific Center for Disability Web Site for the complete Magna Carta for the Disabled Persons.