Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Unintentional Discrimination – Custom Built Applications

Someone was recently telling me about how they are using jQuery for a web-based application they are working on. It took a bit before they said it was a custom built application for a client, so at first I pointed out the issues with JavaScript, even with jQuery on.

Why Using Javascript On Websites Is A Bad Idea

There are the ususal suspects of not all users are on browsers that support Javascript. Yes, all "modern" browsers support Javascript.

  • But not most mobile browsers.
  • And not the millions of people in countries who don’t have access to the bandwidth & speed to upgrade their browsers.
  • And not for people with disabilities who can’t afford to shell out NZ$1,900 or so for a new copy of JAWS (screenreader), so they stay with their old version that does NOT support Javascript
  • And let’s not forget the corporate users that sit behind a firewall that blocks Javascript at the source – they don’t even know Javascript isn’t working on their system.

Right, so those are a few reasons not to rely on Javascript for functionality on websites. There are more, but let’s stick to that at the moment.

Bespoke Applications

But we’re talking about a custom application, built for a specific company, which won’t be used by people in 3rd world countries, and are unlikely to access the software from their phone, and obviously they’d have hardware/firewall meeting the application’s requirements. And if they don’t have anyone with a disability on staff, then it isn’t a problem, right?


Here’s the thing – in the USA anyway, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers employment and basically states that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee, or a prospective employee, on the basis of their disability. Other countries have similar anti-discrimination legislation and regulation.

For instance, if an employer holds interviews for a job on the second floor of a building without elevator, and refuse to relocate the interview for a wheelchair user, they are breaching Title I of the ADA.

In a similar way, if an employer hires a firm to code a bespoke application, and the application is not usable by people with disabilities, and is required to complete one of their primary job function, it could be argued that the employer is discriminating against potential prospective employees – they could not hire the person because the job requires the use of a non-accessible piece of software. This is discrimination – whether intentional or not.

Other Similar Cases

There is another case where I could see this being a problem – if a company selects a CMS for their website, and the CMS in question doesn’t allow users with disabilities to add/maintain content from the back-end. If their role in the company would include updating/adding content to the website, they can’t be hired on the basis of the system used, and that constitutes discrimination.

So there you go, something to consider when selecting a CMS or purchasing a custom-built software solution.