Are you breaking the law?

There’s a law that’s positive to all Norwegians who use the Internet, but very few know about it. Why is it that an infringement on personal liberty get a lot of attention, but increased opportunities are met with silence? A comparison between the Norwegian law banning smoking in restaurants and the Discrimination and Accessibility Act, is almost a philosophical exercise.

When the Norwegian ban on smoking in restaurants was being introduced in 2004, it was widely known among the public more than six months before coming into effect. The Discrimination and accessibility Act (DTL), a Norwegian law that stipulates that all websites targeted to the public have to be accessible to all, is on the contrary almost completely unknown even though it has been in effect for more than five years. We often come across decision-makers that are totally oblivious to the law, let alone that it affects their area of responsibility.

Many similarities

The disparity in knowledge of these laws, among businesses and the general public, is really quite curious, since the similarities between the laws are many:

  • Both laws apply to large sections of society
  • Both laws provide specific demands on businesses
  • Both laws affects the population as a whole

The smoking ban, in effect only the latest restriction regarding tobacco in Norway, applies to restaurants, cafés and bars. There are quite a few of these in Norway. The DTL concerns websites for all private and public organisations. The smoking ban affects all restaurant-goers, while the DTL affects all Internet users, the latter probably being a much larger group.

The DTL has a wider scope, places demands on more businesses and probably affects more people. So why hasn’t the law generated more attention?

What are the differences?

Despite the similarities, there are also differences. And this is where it becomes really interesting.

The smoking ban sparked a fear of decreased turnover, which proved to be correct in some cases. The DTL on the contrary creates the opportunity of increasing revenue since the client-base expands when more people have the ability to find information, shop online and use online services.

The smoking ban shut the door to smokers but the DTL welcomes people in from the cold. Many restaurants have made significant investments in outdoor seating to recover turnover that was lost when smokers had to go outside to smoke when visiting restaurants. Investment caused by the DTL will also increase turnover but without risking the initial drop in revenue.

A ban on smoking is an infringement on some people’s individual liberty, but the DTL means increased opportunities for many individuals and an easier daily life for most people.

So why is no one cheering for the DTL?

The road ahead

It appears that most people are more aware of things negative than positives, but it’s probably rather the lack of knowledge that creates the disparity in how the laws are perceived.

Many of us get annoyed from time to time at complicated forms or information that is hard to find. Besides, often in your daily life you have decreased motoric skills because you’re surfing on your smartphone or reduced vision due to poor lighting conditions. You may also suffer from mental weariness caused by stress, pain or fatigue. Yet the law that is supposed to increase the quality of websites, and to diminish problems and frustration among users, have been very little spoken of.

All Internet users can contribute by highlighting problems that they encounter. Sooner or later all websites must comply with the law. In 2014 Difi, the Norwegian authority with responsibility for information accessibility, have begun evaluating how Norwegian websites comply with the DTL.

For years we’ve talked about the positive effects of the DTL. More clients, increased usability, less need for manual service and positive socio economic effects are but a few. But even still, we often need to ask:

Do you know if you abide by the law?

Glenn Ivar Husom