New regulations have just come into force which means from next year, every new public sector website and app will need to meet certain accessibility standards and publish a statement saying they have been met. Existing websites will have until 2020 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 after 22 September 2018). They come into force in 3 stages:
|What’s covered||Deadline to comply with the regulations|
|New public sector websites (published after 22 September 2018)||22 September 2019|
|All other public sector websites||22 September 2020|
|Public sector mobile applications||22 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Consider including accessibility as part of the contract evaluation when signing off on technology spend or procurement.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Anthony Ilona is a policy engagement manager at GDS.