Complaints guide for encountering online accessibility barriers
Website owners have many priorities for changes and improvements. So it’s important get feedback from disabled service users . Organisations are more likely to make accessibility a higher priority.
Some organisations are not aware of the importance of making their website accessible. This is despite there being clear accessibility legislation (UK Equality Act 2010).
Giving feedback can help improve digital accessibility for everyone. This could include websites, mobile apps or kiosks.
Who this guide is for
This guide is for people who have access needs that are not met when they use digital services. This could be because of different needs. For example, impaired vision, hearing, dexterity, or ability to remember and process information.
How it can help
It provides clear guidance on how to give feedback on digital accessibility barriers. Good guidance should help users to influence organisations. This will make positive change for people with access needs. The guide explains:
- where to go
- what to say
- how to say it
Accessibility legislation gives clear information so organisations can build accessible digital services. What is often unclear is:
- how it is enforced
- how users can make complains
- how users can raise these to an ombudsman
Why it’s important
Many disabled people encounter barriers online. Only 1 in 10 will complaint. The other 9 will give up or take their business elsewhere.
This is because complaining can be complicated. It can involve inaccessible feedback systems and leave consumers feeling unheard. We need to make it simpler to complain about accessibility issues. This should encourage more disabled people to point out where barriers still exist.
What this guide covers
- Step-by-step guidance on how to complain about an online barrier to an organisation.
- What to say and how to say it in a firm way.
- Where to direct your feedback or complaint so the organisation takes action.
- What to do if you do not get a response and how to raise your complaint further if needed.
- Charities and consumer advice groups who can support you through the later stages.
Complaints steps when encountering online barriers
Step 1: Give feedback directly to the organisation
1. Identify the main contacts
This could be:
- an accessibility help page. It may give useful information or contact details for their accessibility team
- a general ‘Contact us’ form
- a complaints process you could use to provide your feedback
- messaging their social media team or account if the other contacts fail. This should be a last resort.
2. Describe the problem
To help the organisation find and fix accessibility barriers, clearly describe the following:
- Where is the problem? Include the web address (also called URL), or a description of the page.
- What is the problem? Give details about what you were trying to do, and why it was difficult or impossible to do it.
- What computer and software are you using? Most accessibility barriers are caused by poor website design. But some might relate to settings in your web browser or assistive technology.
3. Share accessibility guidance
It can be helpful to assume that the organisation is unaware of accessibility. Signposting to useful information can help them to find out more.
Under the UK Equality Act 2010, organisations must deliver accessible digital services. And make sure they are easy for everyone to see, hear, understand and use. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can support with this.
If they do not comply, accessing digital services will be difficult for disabled users. This means organisations are breaching their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
4. Ask for a response
As well as being clear on the problem you’re facing, be firm in requesting a response back and your preferred communication method. For example, email, phone, or letter.
It’s useful to keep a detailed record of dates. For example, when the problem occurred as well as any conversations you’ve had.
Find out more with W3C’s guide on contacting organisations about inaccessible websites.
Step 2: Escalate to the organisation
You can take further action if you do not get an acceptable or timely response. You could contact a disability charity or advocacy group for help with this.
Here are some examples of what you could do:
Make formal complaint
If you haven’t done it already, raise a formal complaint with the organisation. Large organisations may have dedicated complaints teams and timescales for responding to you.
Contact someone senior
If you don’t hear anything back, you may want to consider sending your query to their senior management or CEO.
Contact a regulator or ombudsman
There may be an industry regulator or ombudsman to escalate your complaint to. This is an option if the organisation is unable to provide an acceptable response.
There are also other ways to attract attention to your issues:
- Consider using the organisation’s social media or blogs. This is a way to raise your concerns with the organisation in a public forum.
- Consider contacting the press, your local MP or starting an online petition.
It’s always better to have a constructive dialogue with the organisation directly. But in rare instances you may need to escalate your complaint further or take legal action. For example, if the organisation is unwilling or unable to make improvements.
Step 3: Escalate to the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS)
The Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) helps with issues about equality and human rights. They operate across England, Scotland and Wales.
Issues with public or private sector websites should be raised to the EASS. Public sector are organisations like local authorities or the NHS. Private sectors are online retailers or banks.
The EASS Helpline can support with discrimination issues from a service provider. They can offer bespoke, informal advice on a person’s rights under the UK Equality Act. Their helpline and online resources explain how the Equality Act protects disabled people. They also give advice on how to raise an informal grievance with the organisation.
If you follow the EASS advice and are still unhappy with the response you get, the EASS can help. They can contact the organisation for you in the hope of solving the problem.
On rare occasions, you may need to take legal action with a discrimination claim. You should follow all other routes of raising formal complaints first. Keep in mind that a discrimination claim needs to be raised within 6 months of facing the barrier.
Paul Smyth is the Web Accessibility Disability Sector Champion for UK Government. He is also Head of Digital Accessibility for Barclays. Views expressed in this article are his own.
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