UK Web Accessibility: New Requirements for the Public Sector
There are changes underway in web accessibility regulation in the UK.
From 23 September 2020, websites of public sector bodies will need to satisfy new accessibility requirements.
These regulations were brought into law in 2018 as part of the disability-focused Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
Websites that don’t meet the new requirements after 23 September 2020 deadline could be found to be breaking the law. This includes intranet services (or internal company websites) as well as websites for external audiences.
How do I make my website compliant?
Websites must be made ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’ for people with disabilities and different access needs, according to the regulations.
This means that website content must be consumable by people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, those who are blind and have low vision, those with mobility access needs, and those with psychological or learning access needs (such as people with intellectual disability and certain mental illnesses).
Basically, your website will satisfy the new requirements if you meet the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standard, as well as publishing an accessibility statement on your website.
The WCAG Guidelines include solutions to the most common website accessibility issues, including poor colour contrast on webpages, lack of alternative text for images, PDF forms that can not be read by screen readers, inaccessibility of mobile websites, and difficult website navigation using a keyboard.
In addition to this, ‘reasonable adjustments’ will need to be made on a case-by-case basis for website users that contact you directly requesting access to a piece of content if it is not accessible to them.
Who do the regulations apply to?
All public sector bodies will have to meet the accessibility requirements, unless they satisfy exemption criteria.
The UK Government defines public sector bodies as ‘central government and local government organisations’, including public education.
Non-government organisations including most charities will be exempt, unless they are ‘mostly financed by public funding, provide services that are essential to the public or aimed at disabled people’. Public sector broadcasters and their subsidiaries are also exempt from the regulations.
Some organisations including primary and secondary schools may be partially exempt.
What if I can’t make everything accessible?
If your organisation has too few resources, or another reason why you think satisfying all the accessibility regulations is not possible for you, you can claim a ‘disproportionate burden’.
To legally do this, you will need to carry out an assessment of your organisation.
Even if you are deemed to be exempt from WCAG compliance, you will still have to publish an accessibility statement on your website stating why you have not made your website accessible, and you will still have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to content when directly requested by a website user.
How will the regulations be enforced?
The Government Digital Service (GDS) will assess the compliance of a sample of public sector websites each year. GDS can ask for information and request access to intranets and other websites.
From June 2021, GDS will also check mobile applications published by public sector bodies.
How did these regulations come about?
Unfortunately, most public sector websites do not meet basic web accessibility requirements. So it might be little wonder that around a third of people with disabilities living in the UK report difficulties accessing goods and services.
Because of this, new accessibility regulations for public sector bodies were introduced on 23 September 2018. These regulations build on the foundation of the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland), which supports equal access for people with disabilities.
Why the regulations are important
We probably don’t need to tell you that providing equal access to online information is the right thing to do. Everyone deserves access to the same information, the same services and the same support.
You can find more information on making your website accessibility-compliant on the UK Government website.