Compliance snapshot shows big gaps in Accessibility Statements across UK

Research gathered about Accessibility Statements in the UK has revealed that only 23 out of the 601 public sector websites tested have a 'compliant Accessibility Statement'. Compliance relates to the introduction of new digital accessibility regulations for public sector bodies, that came into force on 23 September 2019.

Leading the research is George Rhodes, formerly of Kent County Council, and now newly in position at the Home Office. During an interim between roles, George decided to embark on some research into the adoption of Accessibility Statements across the UK something which is required by the new Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

“I had time on my hands and wanted to know what else was out there, to better understand my own work in a wider context and see what examples of good practice I could find," says George.

"The results speak for themselves - only a tiny portion of the websites we looked at have a compliant statement before the first deadline. It appears that there's still much uncertainty to address in light of my findings and follow up discussions with the Government Digital Service and organisations I reviewed.”

George was also keen to discover whether the information about accessibility statements could be linked to other related findings, to create insight connected to the new digital accessibility regulations for public sector bodies.

When the research took place

"This research is not perfect and was completed as a personal endeavour that I'm gladly sharing publicly in the hope that it can prove useful to improving accessibility across the UK Public Sector," says George.

Research was gathered during late August and early September, and completed on 16 September 2019 - so provides data for just before the 23 September 2019 deadline. "I have already been informed that some organisations have updated their statements during since the data was being collected, so this may not be an exactly representative picture and we are looking forward to updating it again soon," says George.

Less than 4% of accessibility statements are compliant

Of the 601 local authority, university, police and fire services included in the research, the findings were:

  • 23 (<4%) have a compliant statement 
  • 148 (25%) have a partially complying statement 
  • 430 (72%) have a poor statement, or no statement at all

This UK Accessibility Statements Map available via Google Maps provides a picture of each of these organisations mapped out across the UK. Green shows compliant statements, yellow partial statements and red indicates no statements were found.

The breakdown of the 601 organisations checked:

  • 369 Local Authorities (County and District Levels)
  • 131 Universities
  • 48 Police Forces
  • 53 Fire and Rescue Services

What the research aimed to discover 

Some of the questions George wanted to answer with the research:

  • How many statements are out there?
  • What different approaches have been taken?
  • Does the presence (and quality) of an accessibility statement correlate with better accessibility?
  • Does the dataset indicate levels of awareness for the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018?
  • Are there geographical areas that are better at statement take up and accessibility overall than others?

Other findings

"Through the basic data I gathered, I identified a few trends and answer some of my original questions," says George.

Compliance was broken down into three categories:

  • Compliant Statement – A statement that includes the required information per the regulations.
  • Partial Statement – A statement exists and ranges from good attempts that are useful but do not fulfil all regulatory requirements, to poor attempts that do not provide accurate information and in some cases are misleading to users. (Within the Partial Statement category George's team has started to distinguish between good and poor attempts but has not yet made this ready for publishing.)
  • No Statement – There is no statement present for the website or a blank or single sentence page exists which often belittles the user expectation of accessibility from the organisation.

Sites with statements were more likely to be accessible, according to the results. But overall awareness of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 was low, says the report, with only the compliant statements and a few 'good but non-compliant' statements mentioning current legislation.

"Location of the institution was not found to be a factor in accessibility," says George. "I believe that the geographical information is not really relevant to accessibility as the map suggests that there are no distinct clusters of accessibility that can be identified at this time," he says.

Accessibility #fails

Some of the negative trends identified throughout the research were:

  • Many mentions of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (1999) which have been superseded by later versions.
  • Many mentions of browser support for Netscape and IE4 which are long defunct.
  • Many mentions of the superseded Disability Discrimination Act (1995).
  • Accessibility information often hidden away and very difficult to find.
  • Some organisations specifically stating they will not publish a statement, demonstrating clear lack of understanding of their legal requirements.

Some bad examples of accessibilty, which George shared at a recent UCISA event, include:

One Accessibility Statement page said: ''I Am Blind' screenshot from Accessibility Statement page example from George Rhodes presentationAll modern browsers allow you to change colours and font sizes. We’ve tried to create a site which doesn’t get in the way when you change these settings.' And another said, 'The team behind this web site hope that whoever needs to use it, can do so easily.'

George also wanted to share his favourite example (pictured, and explained in the text below).

"It's of someone completely missing the point and not understanding their target audience," says George. "The page is titled 'I am blind' - they have a separate one for the partially sighted - and directs users to the Browsealoud toolbar on this website.

"The problems begin when they direct users through the toolbar. Although they do provide a text description of what to click, they then illustrate it with an image with red circles showing the buttons to press! This image has no alt text and is not marked as decorative as would be required.

"This is bad, but at least there is a text description," says George. "What compounds the problem is that the toolbar cannot be navigated to using a keyboard.

"So their advice to blind people uses pictures to direct them to tools they have made available but aren't accessible."

Thinking ahead

This is only the first iteration of the dataset and George would like to do more with it to further improve understanding of the UK-wide situation.

"I will be continuing to develop this research, adding more organisations to the list and posting updates when new information is ready," says George. "We plan to update the existing dataset records after the 23 September 2019 deadline, which we hope will give us a demonstrable change in uptake to show. I have already identified 411 Colleges and am working on a list of NHS trusts to add to the map. The aim is to get version two live by the end of October."

Watch this space for an update soon!

About the research

All the latest updates for the research, maps and analysis will be available as part of the LexDis Accessibility Toolkit

If you have any questions about achieving compliance with the new regulations, please contact the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Further resources