I read at the weekend that an appeal by RBS to overturn a court order ordering RBS to carry out £200,000 worth of remedial works to a branch in Sheffield has failed.
The case involves a successful claim by a customer that, as a service provider, RBS had breached its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the “DDA”) – in particular that it had failed to make “reasonable adjustments” (as required under section 21 of the DDA) to make the branch accessible to wheelchair users. The case is signifcant because it is the first time (as far as I am aware) that, in addition to a finding that discrimination had taken place, a court has ordered a defendant to incur capital costs to prevent discrimination from re-occuring.
Whilst this case relates to access to a physical building, it is also relevant for the purposes of considering the DDA and the accessibility of websites by users with disabilities. In particular, it confirms that the courts are prepared to order a defendant to incur substantial costs and carry out remedial work (whether to a bricks and mortar site or a clicks and mortar website). That doesn’t mean to say that costs of £200,000 fixing an inaccessible website will automatically be deemed “reasonable” (RBS did not appear to challenge the reasonableness of that figure), but it does set a precedent in respect of the use of court orders under the DDA.
It’s also interesting to note that the court rejected RBS’s argument that the claimant could access the same services through RBS’s Internet banking website, and therefore that RBS had discharged its duties under the DDA. The court differentiated the channels through which services are offered to customers on the basis that there are certain things that can be done in a branch that cannot be done online. This may make it harder for operators of inaccessible websites to say that other, alternative, channels offer the same functionality as the website.
You can read the judgment on the BAILII Website
On November 23, 2009