Legal and Liability Considerations

Legal and Liability Considerations - Technology for ElderlyIn many countries, it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people.  In August 2000, legal history was made in Australia, when the official Olympics Website was successfully sued for damages by a blind user who found the site inaccessible (see Maguire v SOCOG).  An understanding of legal and liability issues is important in designing technology for elderly people.

In the United States, recent amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 bars the Federal government from procuring electronic and information technology goods and services that are not fully accessible to those with disabilities.  Beyond federal procurement, Department of Justice guidelines state that “Covered entities under the Americans with Disabilities Act are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.”

The European Union also has regulations, policies and plans that provide a unified framework for accessibility in electronic and information technology goods and services.  Individual European Union member countries also have their own laws and regulations (most notably the UK, France and Germany).  Its important to be aware of these when designing technology for elderly people.

In addition to laws at the national level, many state and regional governments have additional accessibility regulations and policies (for example, in the United States, California and some other states go well beyond federal guidelines).  Additionally, if a product’s target market is a certain type of organization (e.g., a college or university) still stricter accessibility policies may apply.

Lawsuits pertaining to the laws, regulations and policies cited above, go well beyond web pages, and may involve other types of electronic user interfaces – personal computers, tablets and smartphones, as well as products such as ATM’s and mass transportation ticket kiosks.

In cases where older people suffer from ageing related disabilities, it’s very likely that they are covered by accessibility laws, regulations and policies.  Our best practices recommend that product designers understand all applicable laws, regulations and policies that may pertain to their products and target markets.  The trend is clearly moving in the direction of greater regulation, and greater liability for those who ignore accessibility.  Be sure to consider this when designing technology for elderly people.

The following links provide references to applicable laws and regulations for certain countries:

Related Articles:  Usability vs. Accessibility

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