So, my earlier blog covers what accessibility is. But what does this mean for public sector organisations and their systems, platforms and content?
All public sector websites should be accessible, meeting the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. These came into force for public sector bodies on 23 Sept 2018. Th regulations build on your existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland). They say you must make your website or mobile app more accessible by making it ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’.
What systems do the regulations cover?
- Intranet and extranet websites (published after 23 Sept 2019)
- Public sector mobile apps developed for use by the public. These regulations cover areas such as the public sector body using bespoke app choices of functionality, or branding.
- Mobile applications (since 23 June 2021)
They don’t cover mobile apps for specific defined groups like employees or students. Older intranets and extranets (published before 23 Sept 2019) need to be made accessible when they are updated.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in England, Scotland and Wales and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) in Northern Ireland enforce the requirement to make public sector websites and mobile apps accessible.
Organisations that don’t meet the accessibility requirement or fail to supply a satisfactory response to a request to produce information in an accessible format, are failing to make reasonable adjustments. This means they will be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The EHRC and ECNI can therefore use their legal powers against offending organisations, including investigations, unlawful act notices and court action.
Check with your legal adviser (if you have one) if you’re not sure whether the new accessibility rules apply to you.
W3C and WCAG
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. Led by Web inventor and Director Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, W3C’s mission is to lead the Web to its full potential. They’ve developed international standards to ensure accessibility on the Web. There’s a 4-minute video on the site that gives an overview of these.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 define in detail how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
Things you might not need to fix
You don’t need to fix the following types of content because they’re exempt from the regulations:
- pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020
- live audio and video
- heritage collections like scanned manuscripts
- PDFs or other docs published before 23 September 2018 – unless users need them to use a service, for example a form that lets you request school meal preferences
- maps – but you’ll need to supply essential information in an accessible format like an address
- third party content that’s under someone else’s control if you didn’t pay for it or develop it yourself – for example, social media ‘like’ buttons
- content on intranets or extranets published before 23 September 2019 (unless you make a major revision after that date)
- archived websites if they’re not needed for services your organisation supplies and they aren’t updated
You’ll need to explain in your accessibility statement that you’ve not made things like this accessible because they are exempt. For more information on the accessibility statement, see the “How to meet them” section.
You’re legally responsible for your website meeting accessibility requirements, even if you’ve outsourced your website to a supplier.
If you’ve outsourced some or all your website to a supplier, you’ll need to work together to make sure your website meets the accessibility regulations.
How to meet them?
Your website or mobile app will meet the newer legal requirements if you:
- meet the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard – although there may be valid legal reasons for not meeting accessibility standards
- publish an accessibility statement explaining how accessible your website/mobile app is
Not sure of what an accessibility statement looks like? Here’s a sample accessibility statement from GOV.UK, including ample wording.
If you’re unsure that your site or app currently meets WCAG 2.1, the best way of doing this is to ask your team to check. Then, create a plan to fix the problems found. Your web team should use the guide to making your website accessible and publishing an accessibility statement.
Who is exempt or partially exempt?
All public sector bodies must meet the 2018 requirements unless they are exempt.
Public sector bodies include:
- central government and local government organisations
- some charities and other non-government organisations
All UK service providers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland).
Partially exempt organisations need to publish an accessibility statement on their website or mobile app. For more information on the accessibility statement, see the “How to meet them” section.
Primary and secondary schools or nurseries are partially exempt from the accessibility regulations EXCEPT for the content people need to use their services, for example a form that lets you outline school meal preferences
Some organisations aren’t exempt but may not need to fully meet accessibility standards. This is the case if the impact of fully meeting the requirements is too much for an organisation to reasonably cope with – the regulations call this a ‘disproportionate burden’.
You need to think about disproportionate burden in the context of what’s reasonable to do right now. If your circumstances change, review whether something’s still a disproportionate burden.
To declare that making specific things accessible is a disproportionate burden, you’re legally required to carry out an assessment. In this, you weigh up, roughly speaking:
- the burden that making those things accessible places on your organisation
- the benefits of making those things accessible
When making your assessment, you need to think about:
- your organisation’s size and resources
- the nature of your organisation (do you have services aimed at people who are likely to have a disability?)
- how much making things accessible would cost and the impact that would have on your organisation
- how much disabled users would benefit from you making things accessible
You might judge that the benefits of making some things accessible wouldn’t justify the cost to your organisation. In that case, you can claim it wouldn’t be reasonable for you to make those things accessible because it’s a disproportionate burden.
You can’t take things like lack of time or knowledge into account or argue that making things accessible is a disproportionate burden because you’ve not given it priority.
Examples of disproportionate burden
You might be able to argue it’s a disproportionate burden to meet all the requirements if doing so would use up most of your organisation’s budget for the year and leave you unable to do any of your other work – and would not significantly improve things for disabled users.
A simple code change that improves your website or app’s colour contrast is low cost and would improve things for a lot of users with sight impairments. You might not be able to argue that changing this is a disproportionate burden.
You’re less likely to be able to claim disproportionate burden for services that:
- are specifically aimed at disabled people, for example ‘apply for a blue badge’
- enable people to take part in society, like ‘register to vote’ or ‘find a job’
You’ll also need to work out what’s reasonable to fix now, and what you’ll be able to fix in the future. There’s guidance to help you or your web team plan and prioritise what you’ll fix.
If fixing something would be a disproportionate burden, you’ll need to say so in the accessibility statement you publish on your website or mobile app.
Even if you’re exempt from the accessibility regulations, or judge that meeting them would be a disproportionate burden, under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland) you’re still legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when they’re needed. A user might ask for information in an alternative, accessible format, like large print or an audio recording. There are several factors that determine what makes something a ‘reasonable’ adjustment.
So that covers what’s in and out of scope for accessibility regulations, and what you need to understand and decide for your sites and platforms. If you’ve got any thoughts, comments or questions on accessibility regulations, comment below, or email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org