back to article UK sight-loss charity sues BMI

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has taken the unusual step of suing BMI after the airline failed to make changes to its website to make it accessible to blind and partially sighted people. The RNIB was first alerted to a problem back in 2010 when one of its members complained that they could not use the …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Ben Tasker

    Misread the title

    Read BMI as IBM and thought "fuck me, they're in for a kicking".

    I'd guess the guy's right and it'll push the issue back to the top of BMI's agenda. Shouldn't be surprised if it all gets resolved before it actually gets to court.

  2. The BigYin

    The problem is...

    ...all the marketing people want whizzo graphics, flashing lights etc to "deliver the message on our cores values" or some such crap. This has a few side-effects:

    1) Pages get bigger and bigger;

    2) It gets harder and harder to make them cross-platform;

    3) Accessibility goes out the window.

    I say good on the RNIB. I wonder if they will promote Trisquel to their members too?

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      You forgot:

      4) The entire site becomes a massive Flash application and becomes practically impossible to use with Flash, and completely impossible to use without flash.

      I vote for a cripling win, to bring this to the minds of all the web designers who think that every site needs to be a flash video game.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Flash CAN BE accessable

        There are tonnes of features in flash to handle screen readers and keyboard access, it's just that commercial websites don't care or pay enough to do the job properly. Good on the RNIB forcing the issue.

        I've written education Flash applications and they're very keen to ensure the widest possible audience and a good thing too - decent keyboard access to a drag and drop app improves it for everyone.

        Everyone can be disabled if you try to operate an application while doing something else :

        listening to music - reduced hearing

        wearing gloves - reduced mobility

        driving a car - reduced vision

        1. AndrueC Silver badge

          If you try to drive a car while 'operating' a web site you could be disabled permanently. As could anyone else you happen to run into.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Yeah, not websites, but sat navs, radios and phone interface systems are all used while driving.

          2. richard 7

            If you try to drive a car while 'operating' a web site you SHOULD be disabled permanently.

            There, sorted

      2. Steve Renouf
        Thumb Up

        Yes! Yes!

        Just YES!

        1. Jedit Silver badge


          It seems we also need legislature to assist people who spontaneously orgasm when they view websites. We can't have them ... deprived ... can we?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Pointless flash

        Oh, you mean like a restaurant website with a Flash menu (for selection of options), the entire function of which is to change the content of an iframe, and that when you select the Dinner Menu option displays a page with a link to download a PDF.

        I'm sure the same is true of sites that make heavy use of JavaScript to serve up static content.

  3. johnnytruant

    This is good

    Because it means web agencies/devs with a clue can say "well, of course we can do [stupid flashy thing X] on your webpage, but it does risk you being sued by the RNIB like BMI did."

    I've lost count of the number of times I've gently pointed out to a client that the inane animated nonsense their four-year-old daughter thought would be good on their corporate web page was shutting out users with access issues. To no effect whatsoever, most times.

    A precedent for actual legal action is an effective hammer to use on even the most rabid marketing types.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They're welcome to use the phone so it's not like they have no other options.

    I'm kind of sick of these disability groups expecting the whole rest of the world to accommodate them to everyone else's detriment. Soon we will see homes built with ramps instead of staircases, in case it discriminates against someone.

    1. Ben Tasker


      Sure you'd feel the same way if you had an accident?

      It's about making things accessible for all, not quite sure how adjusting a site so accessibility software can use it properly is to everyone elses detriment?

      Some of the stuff should be basic common sense. I have issues with stairs (and to some extent long or steep ramps). All I want is a handrail so I can pull myself up, don't need a stairlift, don't need a proper lift (would be nice though) is that really too fucking much to ask?

      Just because you've been lucky, born healthy and not been disabled in an accident, not everyone else has. There are (in my mind) levels of reasonableness, but I don't think this crosses it.

      Many who are disabled are just as capable as you are mentally, and excluding them from the world because you can't be arsed doesn't quite cut it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Could any website owner theoretically be dragged to court for failing to offer integral options which enable its use to those with sight issues, though? Because that's a bit excessive, if its the case.

        To continue your comparison: Wheelchair ramp legally required at train station = good law. Legislation can be used to sue someone who neglected to build wheelchair access for their garden shed = bad law.

        1. Ben Tasker

          The test is reasonable

          It's whether or not it's a reasonable adjustment. For a big business, if the cost of re-designing is low compared to other things they spend on (especially if unnecessarily) then it'd be reasonable (doesn't just have to be cost that can prevent it).

          So failing to build wheelchair access for garden shed isn't something you'd be found liable for (though might not stop someone trying their luck). The OP's example of a ramp instead of stairs is also something that wouldn't be seen as a reasonable adjustment.

          The reverse is also true though, if you build a big fuck-off step when a ramp would have been better suited, that can be discrimination (unless you can reasonably justify it).

          Contrary to the OP's opinion, thing's don't simply have to happen because a disabled person needs/wants it (or might be offended). I can't reasonably ask that the company puts a lift in so that I can get to my office without using stairs (as that would be very disruptive and expensive). I could reasonably ask, however, that I be given a ground floor office (and they could reasonably say no if theres good reason - for example an office would need to be built).

          The reality under _any_ law is that you could in theory be sued for something totally ridiculous. There's very little to prevent that (especially if the lawyers are being paid upfront) but it's not so likely you'll lose in court.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ben Tasker

        Wazzock #

        "Sure you'd feel the same way if you had an accident?"

        I sure would dude. Although I would like accessibility in those circumstances, I would not expect to be entitled to it and be able to sue for it. Some companies would provide it and they would get my business.

        I sympathise with those who have disabilities (though apparently they hate that too so you can't win) but the thing I have a problem with is forcing the website of a private company to provide accessibly. Think about how an airline booking site works - it wont be simple to implement this, and it certainly won't be cheap to add it later. It will result in a minuscule amount of bookings, and the people who it is aimed at will probably still ask someone else to help them with it anyway. Meanwhile we will all pay for it.

        Downvote away - I'm off to the pub :-)

        1. Ben Tasker

          @AC 15:24

          See thats a bit more reasonable than the original post you made.

          My assumption is that this may also be about raising awareness, as others have noted with a bit of forethought its quite easy to design an accessible site. Although you may not agree with the means, surely you must agree that itd b good if all sites were accessible in 10 years time? It will obviously never be 100% but could still be a high proportion.

          Im not convinced that disability legislation translates well to the web, but you do find that in meatspace big companies will sometimes make noise about making the change whilst having no apparent intention to do so. Thats where the law becomes important, especially if its employees that are affected by the lack of action.

          Sometimes there isnt an alternative (not that thats an issue here if the competition are accesible) and thats why anti-discrimination legislation exists. Its down to courts to decide what is and isnt reasonable - either of us could quite legally be sued for anything, its down to the court to decide if theres a case to answer.

      3. phr0g
        Big Brother

        Bad publicity should be making these changes, not laws.

        1. Ben Tasker

          Which I suspect is why the laws talk about reasonable adjustments. What they don't do is say every business has to bend to every whim.

          If BMI can show it's going to cost a fortune to re-do their site, it won't be seen as a reasonable adjustment. The problem IMO with leaving to bad publicity is it means there's no good measure of reasonable;

          1. You run a shop and haven't put in a ramp. The reason being (for whatever reason) it would cost a fortune, you may not necessarily own the land the ramp would need to absorb (call it a big step!).

          2 .However, I'm something of a media whore and manage to whip up a serious storm of people slating your business.

          Or, of course, we could take option 3 - use the law. You'd present your case, I'd present mine. The court would probably find that it didn't constitute a reasonable adjustment and so you'd walk away. Of course I could still then try step 2, but you would have won at court and might be able to defend yourself a bit.

          The problem with trial by media (aka bad publicity) is it tends to be very one-sided and represent the feeling of the day. By putting these things into law we can at least aim for some consistency (not that we always get it).

          It's much the same as Health & Safety - most of it should be common sense, there should be no need for it to be in law. The reality in the cold light of day is that we live in a world where sometimes things have to be in law otherwise they will just be ignored.

    2. Ian Ferguson
      Thumb Down

      How would the website being accessible be to your detriment?

      Equality =/= positive discrimination.

    3. Giles Jones Gold badge

      So long as the people who make phones provide accessibility features and the people on the other end of the phone are helpful.

      I'm guessing you don't know anyone with disabilities, perhaps you have no friends at all?

      Making websites accessible is easy, you just don't over-complicate them and this helps everyone as it makes them more mobile friendly too.

    4. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Well Mr. AC at 11:26

      If I can afford a Rolls Royce with chauffeur to drive me anywhere, I don't see why everyone else shouldn't use one. Hell; make the roads for Rolls Royce with chauffeurs only and get rid of the busses and trains too. I don't see why they should let little pricks like you on the roads, just because you can't afford one. Now fuck off before I get really angry.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        WTF are you talking about!! Where did Mr AC mention anything about a Rolls Royce?

        1. Ben Tasker
    5. YP
      Thumb Down


      They may be welcome to phone, but so many web sites have the phone numbers hidden away you'd think the companies don't want you to call them (OK not in this instance).

      I fail to see how you are inconvenienced by a web site that is designed to actually let you see what the hell is going on rather than hiding it all away in Flash/tiny text. How is this a 'detriment' to you? Oh and by the way most people with disabilities hate anyone that thinks they are special, and certainly anyone that takes offence on their behalf.

      I have sight problems (not registered blind/partially sighted. but not far off). And whilst I generally have no problems if I can't easily read the text or simply enlarge it (you won;t believe the number of sites where you can't do that), then I'm off, same goes for sites that think pale blue on white is easy to read. I'm not advocating that all sites should be yellow text on a black background, just that designers and marketing people actually THINK for change.

      And as for the people that up voted the post; may your eyes fall out and your legs fall off! I just hope you all get macular degeration! Twats!

    6. JimmyPage Silver badge


      that's all

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge

        So I get downvoted for ?

        Not agreeing that disabled people should stfu and be happy with their lot ? Or did I get downvoted because someones a twat and can't read very well.

    7. John 180

      Free to pay more as well, as lots of organisations like this charge extra for call centre bookings. I hope they either take the hint and sort their act out or take a right good suing to set the example for others.

      In the greater scheme of things, and especially if built in early enough, this sort of stuff has negligible cost.

      You do know you only have to build ramps on entrances to new build houses don't you? And that its cheaper and easier to build an assessable ramp than steps? /voe

    8. JP19

      Upvote from me

      The world doesn't owe the disabled.

      There is nothing wrong with being nice and taking reasonable steps to accommodate the disabled because of it. I don't take kindly to being forced to be nice under threat of prosecution. Such legislation is destroying our society and I have no respect for people and organisations using it to their advantage.

      Shaming people and organisations who are not nice is fine, prosecuting them isn't.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just use wordpress for the base site and give out the RSS feed for accessibility. Simple.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kudos to BristolBachelor, TheBigYin, and johnnytruant so far.

    But as for this:

    "I'm kind of sick of these disability groups expecting the whole rest of the world to accommodate them to everyone else's detriment"

    Let's put your personal morality and logic to one side for a moment and stick to websites.

    Just how much harder is it to build a website which is accessible to folks with vision problems, or to folks using low bandwidth connections, or to the increasing numbers of folks who are on the Web but are not able/willing to use Flash?

    If good (but not flash) web design helps those with a vision problem, and if the RNIB's action against BMI means other organisations are encouraged to "think smarter", then thank you thank you thank you RNIB. Finally, an actual constructive use for a lawyer!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Ben Tasker

      Deleted my previous ^ for an attack of bad typing!

      If businesses put some thought into this when commissioning a new site they'd save the cost of having to go back and re-do it!

      Interesting to see quite how far the case gets, but the laywers will be the ****only**** buggers making any money

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Another word for people with disabilities is...

      .. customers.

      If you do business online, those customers want to spend their money on your goods and services.

      RNIB have all the stats you need to calculate how much business you're losing out on through poor accessibility.

      Anyway, if you design and build for progressive enhancement, accessibility comes easily. Where you're stuffed is when you run up against the print mindset and folks want their website designed in Photoshop, not the browser

  6. Jumble

    'bout time

    When BMI's site is sorted, that'll just leave another gazillion to be fixed.

  7. Richard Fletcher
    Thumb Up


    I hope this case goes to court. The WCAGv1 is hopelessly outdated, and WCAGv2 requires changes from the browsers, and ATAG is a pie in the sky fantasy.

    Actually it all is, when you start considering disabilities that are tricky, like dyslexia, or Down's syndrome. I'm assuming the legislation doesn't only cover specific disabilites, I may be wrong.

    In case you are wondering how you are supposed to deal with Down's, you try and replace as many words with images as you can, and keep all the concepts as simple as possible.

    There was one argument that a website just needed to provide another way to access it's services, which is what the BMI phone number seems to do, so again, I'd like to see what the court thinks of that defence.

  8. phr0g
    Big Brother

    It's another in a long line of dumb laws

    Europe is becoming a massive PC joke. Of course it's better if it's accessible, but to be illegal not to be? It's a feckin website, not a leisure centre.

    1. phr0g
      Big Brother

      <text="very very small because that's exactly what was going through BMI's minds...NOT">Hands up you psuedo-liberal-socialist worms that downvoted...

      The thought police are watching.</text>

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silly question?

    BMI state that they have "a message still up on". But for whom? If the site is non-accessible for the blind, how are they going to get the number?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Its important to distinguish between 'the blind' and the small % of them [even in the UK its <10] who use screenreaders. Most blind people are elderly and don't. Most people with visual impairments generally, are better served by content which scales up well visually.

      The moral argument in accessibility has always been that actual the numbers of screen reader users is irrelevant since the adaptations required fall within best practice and most content standards anyway. The commercial argument, even from disability friendly organisations, has always been that their actual customers prefer and require alternate modes of service delivery - and this is a better use of time and money.

      RNIB need to argue that providing an equivalent service is non-compliant - BMI will quote the number of blind passengers they carry, their feedback and the cost of the consierge service provided etc and will almost certainly win if they can take the bad PR.

      The DDA CoP actually uses online check-in as the exemplar so it seems like the obvious test-case, but its also the worst to lose. Would have been 1000x better to go after an inaccessible online business which has no alternative service mode - eBay or whatever.

  10. Steve Renouf
    IT Angle


    Do they all have Braille versions published every day too?

    1. Ben Tasker

      Things don't tend to be _much_ cheaper if you order using a newspaper though do they? You also don't get companies who only sell through newspapers (given they'd need a phone number ;) )

      The most you get is the odd exclusive deal.

      Compare and contrast that with companies that will charge you extra if you don't use the website to book. In the case of flights, they may even charge you more if you don't use their site to print your ticket!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Are there Braille newspapers?

      Nope, I don't believe so, but there are talking ones:

      The legal word is reasonable. Very important that. Designing website to fall back to text for screen-readers relatively easy. Braille newspaper, not so easy:

      I don't believe that text to braille transcribing software is all that accurate, so it would need some level of manual copy-editing.

      A braille paper would end up as a bound book almost 2' square by about 1-2 inches thick. Might cost more than 50p... And arrive a few days/weeks late. I seem to recall that the braille Lord of the Rings is 20 volumes of this size. Tape is slower, but braille is unwieldy.

      Of course, now you can get your paper on the web, so a screen-reader will do the job perfectly.

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge


        you can also get attachments to output in braille ... look for "refreshable braille displays"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward



  11. captain veg Silver badge


    Accessible? It's not even valid.

    Aspx, eh?


  12. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

    High phone charges

    Of course BMI are still imposing costs on blind people because as they well know, "local" calls are actually a rip off, costing vastly more than land line.

  13. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Clearly the more intelligent Reg readers go home early on Friday

    Actually, the UK DDA(s) are quite good laws, in that they prescribe a principle, which is up to the courts to interpret. As a rule, I'm not a great fan of open-ended legislation, but in this case it allows each case to be individually assessed, using the criteria of "reasonable". This means that bankrupting a small business to force provision of a ramp won't happen, whereas ensuring megacompanies (like McDonalds) provide level access and disabled toilet facilities will.

    My wife has MS, which has messed her vision up - being housebound, the www is a fantastic window on a world that would otherwise be lost. But it's too often the case a LAZY and DON'T CARE attitude make sites simply usless for a screenreader, or >100% zoom.

    Having worked for 3 companies now, where when I have flagged the inaccessible nature of their web offerings (and pointed out how it would cost nothing to factor it into the next redesign) and being fobbed off with apathetic (not unsympathetic, mind you) management, then I hope RNIB win, and BMI becomes a example to other companies.

    Oh, for the record, my wife is still the main grocery shopper for the household - so thank you Tesco for online shopping - long may you continue to take our money.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    0845 numbers are NOT local rate

    BT abolished the local rate charging distinction some time ago. 01, 02 and 03 prefixed geographic numbers are all charged at the same price regardless of distance, and come out of any bundled minutes. 0845 numbers are charged a flat fee per minute and typically do NOT come out of bundled minutes. If BMI were truly offering a "local rate" number, it would begin with 01, 02 or 03 and not 0845...

    1. Ben Tasker

      IIRC the actual title for these numbers was lo-call which has conveniently called local by the companies that use them!

  15. This Side Up


    “Web development is typically slow and while firms know it’s important to do, it probably isn’t a business priority unless someone sues them,”

    Not if you design it properly in the first place. If anyone reports a problem with one of my sites it's usually fixed within minutes (but admittedly I don't do travel bookings). The problem with big companies is that they outsource web development to some trendy outfit that promises them some gee-whizz graphics and animations. Then if they need to change anything outside the content management system they have to pay someone an exhorbitant fee to do it.

  16. kevin king

    Haven't BMI just been sold off to British Airways? So might be pointless suing if it just get merged with the BA booking system.

  17. dylan 4

    Screen scrapers?

    So the problems with accessibility of BMI's website for vision impaired people has nothing to do with BMI deliberately wanting to make it less accessible to competitors using screen-scrapers then ?(meaning competitors like expedia and similar sites, which reduce the ability of the originator to market hugely profitable add-ons like travel insurance, carbon-offsets and outrageous 'credit card surcharges') That would be a perfectly valid commercial reason for the opacity of their website.

    Would it be reasonable to force a company to be competitively disadvantaged in order to reduce discrimination against vision impaired people? Offering a low-cost telephone number seems like a reasonable compromise - even though I can see perfectly well I would be tempted to use it simply to avoid clicking through pages of add-ons which are selected by default . "I'd like your cheapest one way airfare to nirvana please, any time in this date range. Just the airfare please, no priority boarding, travel insurance, carbon offset, affiliated hotel offers or hire car. "

  18. lawyer_martin

    Equality law obligations are wider than just reasonable adjustments

    The statement in this article that the law only obliges website operators "need only" take reasonable steps to make their sites accessible is incorrect.

    The Equality Act (and its predecessor, the Disability Discrimination Act) contain a number of obligations in relation to non-discimination - including an obligation not to provide a lower standard of service to people with disabilities, and an obligation not to refuse to provide a service to an individual on the grounds of his or her disability.

    The obligation to make reasonable adjustments is simply the most often quoted one in relation to websites because at the time the law came into force (1999), most companies already had a website in place. Assuming that BMI Baby has refreshed its website since 1999, if the service it provides is inaccessible then it is likely to have breached a number of other non-discrimination obligations under the various acts.

  19. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

    The tube

    I've never been told why the Tube is apparently exempt from disability laws...

    I accept that some bits of it are primordial but when they refurbish then the cost and effort would drop hard.

    ...and it's not just disabled people.

    Possibly the toughest physical effort I've endured in recent years was taking a pushchair to the Science Museum. Not only had my shirt completely changed colour due to the sweat, but a couple of times the signal I was getting from some arm muscles was "if you do any more of this shit, you invalidate the warranty big time. I'm a reasonably fit and large bloke, god alone knows how mums do it.

This topic is closed for new posts.