Carrots versus sticks: how accessibility strategies measure up

How do you get people to embrace accessibility? Do you need the stick of a heavily policed legal approach, or is better to highlight the benefits, using the carrot to change behaviours? Hear from European experts and find out how approaches differ by country. 

Image shows a gavel and stopA recent ‘stick’-based approach to compliance is the Public sector accessibility regulations introduced to the UK in 2018.

The Law 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 (Accessibility Regulations 2018) also apply to downloadable documents, mobile apps, intranets and extranets, so, there are wide-ranging implications for councils, government agencies and universities. 

The Act set out a series of deadlines with the latest being that as of September 2020, existing websites still in use for delivering services must comply.

Compliance with accessibility regulations

So how successful has it been in terms of driving UK compliance?

Chris Heathcote, Creative lead at Government Digital Service says the UK government is monitoring progress across a “real spread of public sector websites…just so we understand what's going to be hard or different between the different sectors. I will say we've found accessibility errors with every site so far.”

Key dates within the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018:

  • 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.

Heathcote says that some issues are relatively minor and are quickly fixed.

“Larger councils generally have either newer websites or have used the regulations as a push to get a new website so fixes are a bit easier for them,” he said. 

However, he acknowledged it’s harder for small councils, GP surgeries, schools and nurseries that have older websites, which may not be designed for use with mobile devices.

“There's quite a lot of work to be done with some sectors about that,” he said. 

A Norwegian perspective

The experiences are relatable, says Malin Rygg, Head of Department at the Norwegian Digitalisation Agency. Norway has had legislation in place since 2013 and it has, to an extent, acted as a motivator for change. 

“We have had a very similar regulation to WCAG AA level since 2013,” she said. Rygg added, “[Having] deadlines caused a real push and there was lots of work that happened to get to the deadlines.”

Where organisations don’t comply, they face fines, as Rygg explained. 

“There's an audit and you have and you normally get 12 weeks to correct whatever errors we find. Fines are assessed in accordance to how big the business is and also how serious the areas are."

Implementation: a phased approach

Rygg says enforcement is a good way of getting management to pay attention to accessibility.

“You have to do it. So, the question become how to do it. For management it becomes a priority, for funding and such.”

However, she also acknowledges that a “one-shot” approach isn’t helpful and that staggered deadlines help in terms of setting achievable goals. 

Angela Matthews, from the Business Disability Forum agrees. 

“The phasing in of these regulations has been really helpful. What we see some of our organizations saying is we've got to do this now. So, we need to get an accessibility audit or we need to get the skills and the knowledge to, to develop it. That needs a budget.” said Matthews who is Head of Policy and Advice for the BDF.

She added “A lot of businesses will plan that in”.

Carrot and stick: business vs public sector

image shows a carrot with a tape measure alongside itMatthews believes you need both carrot and stick, especially when talking to business. “What is a carrot and what is a stick looks quite different depending on the context, depending on the sector and depending on what an organization's approach to doing this [accessibility] is,” she said. 

Matthews added: “We've got some organizations we work with who say this is so important to us because we want to retain employees, we want great employees, but we also want to expand our customer base. Everyone on the board and in the senior leadership team is going to work on this.”

“We also have members who are putting accessibility and web accessibility, and other digital accessibility in all performance appraisals; some organizations are saying you don't get your bonus this year, unless you have done everything that you have said you would do on this. That's a huge stick,” said Matthews.

Perspectives may differ between the public and private sectors although there are interdependencies, too.

“For the private sector they said, you know what, if we do these as a private sector where we don't have to, this gives us a huge competitive edge [and] it means that we are already fulfilling the public sector elements of public and government contracts.”

She added “I think the carrot and the stick, the lines have blurred.”

Rygg agrees saying the drive to include accessibility in mainstream solutions is growing. “A disability is situational and it might be temporary. So, it's so important for you to not think of it as that accommodating a small group of people, but it's getting this into your mainstream solutions,” she said. 

She added that we may see an increase in accessibility forming part of procurements and contract requirements. “Then the business industry has to deliver on it,” said Rygg. “And then it points its way into the fabric of ICT solutions.”

Empathy as a motivating factor

Three emojis on a dial with an arrow pointing to a smileAnother powerful motivating factor is to encourage empathy for disabled people. “We published a report this year, a survey amongst people with disability, that makes everybody aware of digital exclusion really feels,” said Matthews.

She added, “As a blind person, it's not this one service that you are excluded from. You get up in the morning, you you're excluded from papers. You're excluded from buying a bus ticket and so on and so forth in the workplace.

“This is part of a systematic exclusion of big numbers of people, which I think we really have to address as a society.”

Matthews cited initiatives such as the GDS empathy lab as a means of motivation.

Sharing knowledge is important, too, she says. 

“What we're seeing is businesses wanting to get together more to, to share what doesn't work as well as what works. 

They want to, they want to learn from where other employers have got it wrong and learn from that. So, there's this sort of lived experience of getting it right and wrong.”

“The sharing and learning from one another's experience is something that we're seeing in BDF is valued over sort of being told what to do in a written word.”

We couldn’t agree more, hence we’re looking forward to TechShare Pro 2021.