Is your public sector website prepared for new regulations?

Student looks at mobile and works on laptopIn August 2018, a new law was passed that means that public sector websites will need to meet accessibility standards so that people who use assistive technology or have additional needs can easily access services and information.

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 also apply to downloadable documents, mobile apps, intranets and extranets, which means wide-ranging implications for councils, government agencies and universities. 

The regulations are not completely clear about what constitutes “public sector,” but if you receive public funding then you are likely to be required to comply with these regulations.

Non-government organisations like charities (unless they provide services that are essential to the public or aimed at disabled people), schools or nurseries are exempt from the regulations - except for the content the public need to use their services, and public sector broadcasters and their subsidiaries.

The regulations are made up of 3 parts:

  1. Websites, apps and documents hosted on websites must comply with accessibility standards. There is a timeline for when new and existing websites must comply as well as mobile apps.
  2. Public sector organisations must publish an accessibility statement on their websites and in apps to inform visitors about the accessibility of their websites.
  3. Government is required to monitor if public sector websites are meeting these regulations by checking accessibility statements and the accessibility of a sample of sites.

Accessibility standards

The regulations state that websites, apps and documents meet a European standard called EN 301 549, which is aligned to WCAG 2.1 Level AA.

You may be familiar with WCAG 2.0 but WCAG 2.1 Level AA is the latest version published in 2018, which added 12 new guidelines at Level A and AA. This standard also covers all types of technology including documents and applications.

If you have been working to the WCAG 2.0 standard, don’t worry as this is all incorporated into this new standard.

Timeline

The regulations do not expect organisations to achieve this all in one go.

There is a sequence of deadlines that organisations can work towards. See the following timescales within which websites, downloadable documents (such as PDFs) and mobile apps need to comply with the new regulations:

  • By 23rd September 2019: websites published or substantially revised after 23rd September 2018. 
  • From 23rd September 2019: new content published on intranets.
  • By 23rd September 2020: existing websites still in use for delivering services.
  • By 22nd June 2021: mobile app.
     

What are the exemptions?

Some content remains exempt, including:

  • Live audio and video and pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020.
  • Maps - although if the map helps users find a service, you must provide directions another way.
  • Documents such as PDFs published before 23 September 2018 that are not essential for services and heritage collections.
  • Third party content that isn’t under the organisation's control or hasn’t been purchased (e.g. social media ‘like’ buttons).

Find further details on the Government Digital Service website

Organisations can exempt content or aspects of their websites from the regulations if they assess that this would cause a disproportionate burden to address the accessibility issue. This assessment must consider the benefits to disabled users of meeting the standards, the cost of meeting the standards and how this content or website element is used by disabled people. It should also consider your organisation’s size and resources.

This rationale and how disabled visitors can acquire an accessible alternative must be published in the accessibility statement.

Accessibility statements

Organisations are required to publish accessibility statements on their websites explaining which parts of the content of a website or mobile application are not accessible, and, where appropriate, provide links to accessible alternatives. It must also include contact information to raise any accessibility issues and details of the government’s process for escalating accessibility complaints to its monitoring and enforcement bodies.

What can I do next?

We have some great resources to get you started. AbilityNet's free webinar recordings share guidance about the regulations:

Join our HE Accessibility workshop series - sign up for our online workshops to learn how to test your site for accessibility issues: 4 and 18 September.

Take a look at a free accessibility toolkit put together by contributors from University of Kent, McNaught Consultancy and AbilityNet.

Find further advice on Government Digital Service Accessibility requirements for public sector websites and apps and its guidelines to make your website or app accessible and publish an accessibility statement.

Jisc provides specialised HE services, as does McNaught Consultancy and AbilityNet.