New accessibility law for public sector websites and apps

A new UK law has just come into effect on 23rd September: The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. It is intended to make all Public Sector websites and apps more accessible. It puts an obligation on Public Sector organisations to provide accessible websites and mobile apps, and to provide details of that in an accessibility statement.

By "Public Sector bodies", it means organisations at all levels of government (central, regional, local), including Councils, Police and NHS. If your organisation is covered by the EU procurement regime, it would be covered by this new law as well.

Timings

It is not a case of being too late now, there is a lead-in time which is:

  • September 2018: Directive transposed into UK law;
  • September 2019: new websites of Public Sector bodies created after 22 September 2018 will need to comply with the requirements from 22 September 2019;
  • September 2020: All Public Sector websites must be accessible;
  • June 2021: All mobile apps must be accessible.

However, if you haven't given much consideration to accessibility so far, I'd strongly recommend making sure any new website project has a solid process for testing. Also, Sept 2020 is only 2 years away. How long would it take to find the current issues across your websites, fix them, and then create accessibility statements?

What is covered

All websites and slightly later mobile apps are covered. There are some exceptions though and the categories of exception include:

  • "Disproportionate burden", so if the cost out-weighs the benefit you could state that as an exception. However, I suspect you need to really understand the user-benefits in details, probably through research, and be sure there is not a cost-effective way of avoiding that issue
  • Some organisations such as schools and non-governmental organisations only have to apply this to certain areas
  • Some content, such as documents and video, has a grace period before the rules apply
  • Intranet and extranet content published before 23 September 2019, until those websites undergo a substantial revision
  • 3rd Party content not under the control of the Public Sector body.

That last one (3rd party content) appears to be a huge loophole. However, Public Sector procurement is covered by the EU's EN 301 549. Both laws now use WCAG 2.1 as the accessibility standard, so the requirements for 3rd party content are aligned with websites produced by the organisation.

The Government Digital Service guidance has more detailed information on exceptions.

Accessibility statements

The accessibility statement is intended to provide the public with details of the site's accessibility, including saying which areas or features are not covered or currently accessible. It should be seen as a living document that gets updated as the site does.

The first step when creating an accessibility statement is knowing what the current accessibility issues are. If no-one in the organisations knows, then there are probably quite a few issues!

The second step is to fix as many issues as possible, so the accessibility statement does not become a critical document. Allow plenty of time for this.

Finally, create an accessibility statement. We have a simple tool for that, however you will notice there are 50 things to tick-off at WCAG 2.1 level AA. If you aren't sure about any of those, you need to talk to someone who is.

The official format for the accessibility statement has not been finalised yet, but hopefully there will be some flexibility to make it useful to the people who need it. For example, listing issues by task (e.g. paying a bill) and how people can accomplish their task. Once the official format is finalised we will update the accessibility statement generator tool.

GDS provides guidance on getting an accessibility audit, but if you would like our expert advice on how to scope it effectively, take a look at the accessibility services we provide for Public Sector organisations. Call us on +44 (0) 117 929 7333, email hello@nomensa.com or send us a message.

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