Encouraging essential services to meet accessibility regulations

Why the pandemic is the right time to expand the demand for equal services for all.

In this guest blog, George Rhodes (pictured, left) and Nick Jarvis-Smith (pictured, right) discuss George's recent research into accessibility statements in the UK and beyond. They share how they have expanded the research to investigate accessibility statements of organisations classified as essential services.

George RhodesNick Jarvis-Smith

In this time of crisis the nation has pulled together and demonstrated that reasonable adjustments such as remote working are not only possible but straightforward for many organisations to have achieved for vast swathes of their workforce.

This challenging situation has put a strain on many digital services as people have been forced to use remote means to work, receive food and medical support. It has also highlighted the digital accessibility agenda as never before, showing the government that other crucial services should be available to all when they need them.

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Accessibility in the spotlight during lockdown

Two months ahead of the 23 September deadline to meet the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (PSBAR), we will be appearing as panellists on AbilityNet's webinar on 23rd July - HE/Public sector update: Is your accessibility statement ready yet? 

The session focuses on ensuring public sector organisations have made the necessary adjustments to their website accessibility statements, in time to meet the requirements of the regulations.

In the webinar, we will highlight our research into accessibility statements in the UK in the countdown to the PSBAR deadline, and also discuss how we can encourage other essential services to proactively seek to meet similar requirements for the benefit of their customers and service users. While the Government has said that PSBAR will never apply to private businesses, we think that there is still value in encouraging private companies to adhere to the same deliverables that public bodies have to under PSBAR. 

But first, an update on what public sector accessibility statements need to contain....

What your accessibility statement needs to be compliant

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has specified additional ‘legally required’ parts of an accessibility statement which now must be followed. You can see this in full in the GDS sample accessibility statement.

What a statement must now deliver is:

  • A contact method for reporting accessibility issues
  • Information on the Enforcement Procedure
  • A specific sentence detailing the level of compliance (full, partial, not)
  • Known issues and reasonable adjustments or other actions being taken to resolve the issues. This must be in the specific heading structure detailed below and you must include these headings:
  • Non accessible content 
    • Non-compliance with the accessibility regulations 
    • Disproportionate burden
    • Content that’s not within the scope of the accessibility regulations 
  • A specific sentence detailing when the statement was prepared.

What are essential services and are they compliant?

According to the United Nations (UN) definition the following count as “essential services” (this has expanded since the pandemic began):

  • the hospital sector
  • electricity services
  • water supply services
  • police and the armed forces
  • firefighting services
  • public or private prison services
  • provision of food
  • air traffic control

We know that as part of the Government guidance for Covid-19 other businesses have been classed as essential including:

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Medical services (such as dental surgeries, opticians and audiology clinics, physiotherapy clinics, chirpody and podiatry clinics, and other professional vocational medical services)
  • Pharmacies and chemists, including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
  • Post offices
  • High street banks, building societies, short-term loan providers, credit unions and cash points

If something is essential ie. people cannot do without, then surely excluding individuals from accessing something that they require this fundamentally is wrong. So why are “essential” businesses allowed to operate services that exclude disabled users?

In truth they are not allowed because the Equality Act 2010 exists, but this does not help disabled users in 2020 still struggling to use these services. So, what can be done to encourage other essential services to deliver accessible services? Let's look at some examples from one of the most important industries during this pandemic; the supermarkets.

Supermarkets and accessibility statements

We completed some analysis of the websites of the main supermarkets in the UK, which we will be covered in a more detailed blog soon. The analysis included: automated testing, manual user testing (using Accessibility Assistive Technology Software) and thirdly, some analysis of their current online accessibility information, below.

Supermarkets do try to provide some information on the accessibility of their services. It is a common approach across businesses to have an accessibility page or accessibility statement somewhere.

Out of the four main UK supermarkets we looked at (because they provide online delivery) only three had a page for accessibility. 

  • One supermarket provides no information to its users for accessibility support to use the website. 
  • Another supermarket provides a short message about its commitment under the Equality Act 2010.
  • One supermarket provides more technical information about how the website is built, and links to its 'facilities for shoppers with disabilities' page.
  • Another supermarket provides a more informative page that gives some tips, information about the standards it works towards and most importantly a clear contact route for people experiencing accessibility issues.

In the UK, digital accessibility is governed by The Web Accessibility Regulations 2018. The Web Accessibility Regulations 2018 determine that only public sector organisations are required to comply with the WCAG AA standard. Nevertheless, there is a clear argument for increasing the scope of these regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. If someone is visually impaired or is currently being ‘shielded’ it is arguably more important than ever that supermarkets, for example, have accessible websites so that these vulnerable individuals have access to essentials. 

So, in the webinar on 23rd July, as well as guiding public sector organisations to providing clear and compliant accessibility statements, we will share our research to highlight that we not only want to improve accessibility within public sector organisations covered by the regulations, but also how important it is to collectively drive to raise awareness and speak up to commercial companies not covered by the regulations, when we see areas in which they could improve their inclusive practices. 

REGISTER NOW: HE/Public sector update: Is your accessibility statement ready yet?
Join us on Thursday 23 July 2020, 1pm to hear from George Rhodes, Nick Jarvis-Smith, Alistair McNaught and James Baverstock about how you can adjust your statement to meet the accessibility regulations.

Further resources:

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