17 September 2019

How to comply with the UK’s new public sector web accessibility laws

Around one in five people in the UK have a disability and this number is rising as the UK has an ageing population and most disabilities are acquired with age. But evidence shows that many public sector websites don’t meet accessibility standards, which means they are inaccessible for people with disabilities.

For example, a study published earlier this year found that only 60% of local authority websites’ home pages are accessible to people with disabilities. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 are set to change this. The first deadline of these regulations is on September 23rd 2019 and the laws set new website and mobile app accessibility standards that public sector bodies must now follow.

Web accessibility and the new laws

The Local Digital Declaration underlines the commitment of local authorities and other public sector bodies to ensure their digital services are designed around the needs of the people using them. But as the evidence referred to above suggests, too often people with disabilities face digital exclusion because of the unnecessary barriers that stop them accessing essential information and services through public sector websites.

The new public sector website and mobile app accessibility regulations have been introduced to address the accessibility of public sector websites and apps. They apply to public sector bodies including NHS Trusts, local government, central government, and some charities and other non-government organisations. However, some types of public sector organisations are exempt from the regulations.

In order to comply, new public sector websites and mobile apps (published on or after the regulations came into force in September 2018) must follow the principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 accessibility Level AA standards by 23 September 2019. They are a set of guidelines to follow produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make a website or mobile app accessible to all users.

How to comply with the laws

Every new public sector website or mobile app (published on or after the regulations came into force in September 2018) must publish an accessibility statement by 23 September 2019. Each public sector body should also provide an accessible alternative format for any content that doesn’t meet the standards within a reasonable time, if someone requests it, where it’s reasonable to do so.

Central government recommends that public sector bodies ensure their design team or external agency responsible for their website and/or mobile app understands WCAG 2.1. Here are some of the main points to consider to make your website and mobile app accessible:

  • Use alt text tags for all images and video.
  • Use web page headings correctly.
  • Ensure people using screen-readers can easily navigate around websites.
  • Use high contrast between the text and background.
  • Add web accessibility software.
  • Make documents accessible, e.g. PDF’s Word documents, etc.
  • Make online forms accessible, e.g. accessible labels for screen readers.

Central government also recommends ensuring the content is accessible and running basic accessibility tests before publishing a new website or app. As well as this, public sector bodies can also run manual user testing to test the accessibility of websites and mobile apps. This requires getting a variety of people with different disabilities to carry out different tasks using a website or mobile app. User testing can be run internally or organisations can use an outside provider. Once feedback has been gathered from user testing it can be passed on to the design team to fix any relevant accessibility issues.

Ultimately, public sector bodies must act now to make their websites and apps comply with the requirements of the new regulations or face possible action by central government and costly damage to their reputation.

Ross Linnett is the founder and CEO of Recite Me

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