From September 2019, all public sector websites in the UK will be legally obliged to comply with new accessibility standards.
Each organisation must also publish an Accessibility Statement, detailing alternative ways to find inaccessible information and providing contact details for the website owner.
September 2019 Regulation Changes
The new accessibility regulations are called ‘The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018’. This new law enforces the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications.
The regulations are not totally new: they are an extension of the existing Government Digital Service (GDS) guidelines on accessibility. The aim of the regulations is to make public sector websites accessible for all users, especially those with disabilities.
Deadline for compliance with Accessibility Regulations:
Any websites published since September 2018 will need to comply with the new laws by September 2019. Older websites may require more extensive adjustments, so they have an extended deadline, in 2020.
Deadline for Compliance
New public sector website (published since 22nd September 2018)
22nd September 2019
All other public sector websites
22nd September 2020
Public sector mobile apps
22nd June 2021
Exemptions to Accessibility Compliance:
The new regulations govern public sector bodies, including central and local government organisations, as well as some charities and non-government organisations (NGOs).
The following organisations are exempt from the 2018 regulations:
- Non-government organisations (NGOs) & charities
- unless they are primarily financed by public funding, provide essential public services, or specifically provide services aimed at people with disabilities.
- Schools or nurseries
- Apart from content required to access services, e.g. preference forms.
- Public sector broadcasters and their subsidiaries.
Some public sector organisations can apply for a partial exemption, if compliance will be a ‘disproportionate burden’. This means if the burden of implementing all accessibility regulations outweighs the potential benefits for users, compliance may be waved.
Next Steps For Public Sector Organisation
All public sector websites must be ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’ for all users. This includes considerations for users with impaired vision or hearing, motor difficulties, or cognitive impairments. Therefore, websites and apps must:
- Meet accessibility standards set out in the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). (See WCAG 2.1 AA or their ‘Quick Reference’ guide.)
- Publish an Accessibility Statement, based on the official template provided.
To prepare for the new regulations, we recommend the following actions:
- Read the GDS guidance - to gain a clear understanding of the importance of accessibility.
- Nominate a representative to communicate the new accessibility requirements to all associated agencies and bodies.
- Review and test existing websites - to ensure compliance and identify areas for improvement.
- Schedule regular testing for users with access needs and those using assistive technology, such as screen readers.
- Begin writing an Accessibility Statement.
- Plan for the future by advocating staff training and adding accessibility considerations into the technology procurement process.
- Get in touch with User Experience (UX) and digital accessibility experts, for further guidance.
How to Write an Accessibility Statement
Every public sector website will need to have an Accessibility Statement available to guide users.
The first step is to audit your existing website thoroughly, to identify any areas that may need to be acknowledged in the statement.
Once you have gathered all of the necessary information, your Accessibility Statement needs to:
- List any inaccessible parts of the website or app.
- Point to alternatives for any inaccessible content.
- Provide contact details, for users to report accessibility issues.
- Detail the enforcement procedure, if users are unhappy with the response.
Of course, Accessibility Statements must be published in a fully accessible form and follow a consistent format. The statement must also be updated annually, to present the most relevant information.
Accessibility Best Practice
An accessible website will enable as many people as possible to use and benefit from your online content. Luckily for content editors, digital accessibility guidelines overlap with SEO best practice, to help you reach wider audiences with your content.
Make sure that your web content at least satisfies the following recommendations:
Make content easy to find:
- Ensure that all content is filed under relevant navigation sections.
- Simplify the user journey, with clear next steps and instructions.
- Segment text, with clear subheadings.
- Group related content together
Make content easy to understand:
- Provide the most important information first.
- Write for an audience aged 14 or below.
- Avoid assumptions of prior knowledge.
- Avoid double negatives.
Provide Text Alternatives to Media Content:
- Provide captions and description ALT text for images.
- Avoid trapping content in PDF format (as screen readers cannot read it).
- Transcribe video content.
Use Simple Font and Formatting:
- Use sans serif fonts, in size 12-14.
- Avoid underlined or italic text.
- Do not change the text colour.
- Use bullet points, rather than continuous prose.
Find Out More
For further reading, explore the official Accessibility Reading List available on the government website.
For further guidance on designing a user-friendly and accessible website, contact our team of accessibility experts for a free consultation.