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How we’re helping public sector websites meet accessibility requirements

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Accessibility

A close up of an example accessibility statement which focuses on the words "Known limitations", suggesting the website has failed to meet requirements because it is missing captions on images and videos do not have subtitles

New regulations have just come into force which means from next year, every new public sector website will need to meet certain accessibility standards and publish a statement saying they have been met. Existing websites will have until 2020 to comply. All apps will have until 2021 to comply.

The aim of the regulations is to ensure public sector websites and mobile apps are accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities.

The new regulations are called ‘The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018’. They are now law in the UK and implement the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications.

At the Government Digital Service (GDS), we’ve published guidance that will support organisations to meet the requirements and help make public sector websites more accessible. We also offer a range of support to help public sector websites become more accessible.

Here’s what public sector website owners will need to do and and how we’re supporting them:

The important dates

You’ll need to comply with the regulations from 23 September 2019. This is when it will start applying to new websites (those published on or after 23 September 2018). They come into force in 3 stages:

What’s covered

Deadline to comply with the regulations

New public sector websites (published on or after 23 September 2018) by 23 September 2019
All other public sector websites by 23 September 2020
Public sector mobile applications by 23 June 2021

The requirements will apply to all public sector bodies, although certain organisations and types of content may be exempt.

Even where you are exempt by these regulations all UK service providers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 (or, in Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995). Meeting accessibility standards is a way of proving that you’ve made reasonable adjustments.

What you need to do

There are 2 main requirements:

  • meet accessibility standards - this means making your website ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’ for all users - you can achieve this by making sure it meets the international accessibility standard, WCAG 2.1 AA or its European equivalent, EN301 549
  • publish an accessibility statement - this must be based on a template statement that will be provided by early 2019

How to do this and how GDS can help

Here are some steps you can take to meet the requirements and to make sure your website is as accessible as possible:

  1. Read the GDS guidance on what accessibility is and why you need to invest in it. This provides more detail on the key dates and what you need to do. It also provides links to resources that can help you.
  2. Ask fellow employees working on web content and digital products if they are preparing to comply with the regulations by September 2019. Make sure they are familiar with the guidance.
  3. Consider including accessibility as part of the contract evaluation when signing off on technology spend or procurement.  
  4. Make sure your organisation is aware of the responsibility to communicate the requirements to its associated agencies and bodies. If so, consider nominating an official to be accountable for this communication.
  5. Make sure there is expertise within your organisation by advocating for people to receive training in accessibility. GDS offers regular accessibility training which is open to anyone in central government. You can see dates and details on how to register on our events and training page.

Understanding accessibility

As well as providing guidance and support specifically relating to the regulations, GDS also offers other resources around accessibility.

This includes the cross-government accessibility community, which is open to everyone in central government regardless of whether you are in an accessibility-related role. The community is a place where you can get support, ask questions and share best practice.

We have an accessibility empathy lab at our London office, which features different technologies and software that people use to interact with online services.

And we have also put together a reading list on accessibility featuring advice, tips and case studies of people experiencing accessibility barriers.

Helping organisations meet the new regulations is just one part of our work to make public services accessible to all. We aim to make sure there are no online or offline barriers preventing people from accessing services they need to use.

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  1. Comment by Welsh Clerk posted on

    I echo the concerns of Frustrated Clerk. You state that you are providing a 'cross government accessibility community' which is open to everyone in central government. So where do all the Clerks of Parish, Town and Community Councils go for the same sort of advice and help?

    The majority are part- time workers, and IT is something that they have to pick up as part of their daily work usually - so a non-tech guide is essential in my view. Whilst I fully support the idea of accessibility for all with online documentation, I am concerned that the practicalities for those really at the sharp end, such as solo - workers with no back office support at all, has not been considered. Can you tell me whether bodies such as SLCC, NALC and OVW have been consulted, and are they involved in the ongoing plans for this, please?

  2. Comment by Frustrated Clerk posted on

    I would be interested to know how a small parish council who only has one employee that works a couple of hours a week is expected to know how to do these things listed above. Councils whose income is minute and can't necessarily afford to buy Acrobat Pro. Yet these councils are expected under transparency regulations to have websites and therefore comply. Where is the guidance written in plain English? Not tech speak by those who are experienced in such things? Because they operate on a shoe string, parish councils don't have 'web designers' or IT teams. They find a free/low cost platform and do it them selves without any back up or support.

    • Replies to Frustrated Clerk>

      Comment by Joshue O Connor GDS posted on

      These are excellent points. We are aware that these cases do represent a vast part of the cohort. While we are talking about legal requirements for accessibility, it needs to be said that people in smaller organisations can only reasonably be expected to do their best.

      IMO, if this is the case and they still fall short they shouldn't be unnecessarily penalised, as the purpose of this whole accessibility 'thing' is to reduce barriers and increase inclusion - not develop a punitive culture of compliance.

      In terms of the 'plain english, non-techy/nerdy speak versions' of stuff we're working on such things right now.

      • Replies to Joshue O Connor GDS>

        Comment by Frustrated Clerk posted on

        I know that there are a lot of clerks that would appreciate plain English help. I have just run a 'check my colour' programme on our website. That was very easy. Trouble is, I have no idea how to 'correct' the fails. The contrast ratio and colour brightness are apparently AA but the colour difference is a fail. I am not expecting you to offer a solution, I am aiming to illustrate the problems.

  3. Comment by AM posted on

    Like Anon 22 Nov 2018 comment, I too work for a LA with the same PDF issue for committee agendas and reports (which are located in an inaccessible third party website) so eagerly await the response to that. We also have an increasing volume of other inaccessible documents including food hygiene reports which are generated from a database, financial information in the form of tables and lists of transactions for transparency purpose and the councils constitution made up of many articles and appendices. I would be very grateful for advice on what is the best way forward. Kind regards

    • Replies to AM>

      Comment by Joshue O Connor GDS posted on

      Thanks AM. Really the advice is the same (as with Anon's comment). Spending some time getting to grips with using Acrobat's Accessibility tools to make (in the beginning) your most downloaded/important PDFs as accessible as possible, is really important. Really in a few hours you will be surprised with how much you can achieve! A good place to start is here.

      What is also very important is that you try to have these PDFs (again the most popular) in an alternative format like HTML and provide links to these pages, as options, wherever a user can download a PDF. These do need to be structured, with text alternatives for images, clear link text etc.

      However, there really is a lot you can do that is relatively simple, even for a non-techy person, that will help make your content accessible to many users of AT. A good place to start is the 'HTML Accessibility' page on WebAIM

  4. Comment by Anon posted on

    Hi - I work for an LA whose agenda system is full of PDFS that don't and probably never will fully meet accessibility standards (the ones I've run through adobe pro test) . Staff who produce PDFs will never do stuff like use h1, h2 structure properly, add alt tags to chart images, images in general etc) and if someone regularly requests these PDFs as fully accessible versions the teams involved would not be able to cope. Any thoughts/advice.....

    • Replies to Anon>

      Comment by Joshue O Connor - interim Head of Accessibility, GDS posted on

      Staff who produce PDFs will never do stuff like use h1, h2 structure properly, add alt tags to chart images, images in general etc

      This is exactly what they need to do! Except with creating accessible PDFs they don't have to write any code. This can be done by using Acrobat Pro and it's built in accessibility tools, to 'tag' PDFs and provide some structure to documents. This isn't actually technical work but for larger or complex docs, is a little time consuming and requires some care.

      As a bare minimum, it's also worth creating HTML versions of the most popular PDFs and being able to link to those as alternatives. Structured HTML is the preferred medium for an accessible user experience.

  5. Comment by Tristán White posted on

    The best thing for companies to do is to get an audit of their website to see what they need to fix in order to comply. There's lots of companies out there, such as AbilityNet, Dig Inclusion, Digital Accessibility Centre, the Shaw Trust and XSIBL.

    XSIBL's website has links to all of them here:

  6. Comment by Joshue O Connor - interim Head of Accessibility, GDS posted on

    There is no league table - as such, but as a part of future monitoring and evaluation there will be data gathered that can help us understand where some websites work better than others.

    Right now however - (to answer both your questions) this is down to subjective assessment.

  7. Comment by Mr Tom posted on

    Is there any sort of audit/analysis/league table available for how well public services are generally doing on their respective journeys' towards of reaching the looming deadlines?

    Which public services are considered 'the most accessible?' for inspiration purposes.

  8. Comment by Gordon H posted on

    Thanks, that's all very concise and helpful.