UK government monitoring and enforcing the accessibility of public websites

Two people looking at a computer screen with code on it

Written by Claudia Cahalane, AbilityNet

The UK government is about to step up its efforts to ensure public websites and apps can be accessed by millions more disabled people across the country.

In line with the EU Directive (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/accessibility-of-public-sector-websites-and-apps-new-duties-and-regulations/government-response#consultation) on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications due to be implemented on 23 September 2018, government says it will be more closely monitoring and enforcing the accessibility of public websites.

Currently, the vast majority of websites are not accessible to some or all of the UK’s 14 million disabled people. In its response to the Directive, the Government says that accessible websites can be more cost-effective to produce and will ensure a wider audience.

The Directive requires the UK to make sure that the websites and apps of UK public sector bodies are made more accessible, “in accordance with common accessibility requirements, except where it would be disproportionate to do so.”

You can see common accessibility requirements here: https://www.abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/6-quick-checks-website-accessibility

In the Directive, ‘accessibility’ refers to the principles and techniques to follow when someone designs, builds, maintains and updates websites and apps to make sure people can use them, especially people with disabilities.

Narrowing the digital divide

The government states in the consultation that “an accessible website or app can provide access to information on a wider scale than previously possible.

“This means that disabled people have easier access to printed, audio or visual material; that citizens can access services and information, regardless of experience or ability; and that people using all kinds of devices, from the oldest to the newest, will be able to use the website – helping to narrow the digital divide.”

It adds that: “A user-friendly and accessible website can reduce costs since accessible web pages also tend to be lighter (physically smaller). This lowers bandwidth costs and improves page response times – leading to an improved experience.”

Deadline for accessible websites and apps

Deadlines for public sector organisations to comply with the regulations will come into effect between 2019-2021 (depending on when content was created).  However, to comply with the Equality Act, UK websites should already be accessible to people with disabilities.

The Government’s response to the EU consultation outlines how the Government Digital Service will monitor and record public sector bodies’ compliance with the Directive. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Minister for the Cabinet Office will also play a role in monitoring/ enforcement.

In the US similar laws are enforced more widely and firmly, with brands finding themselves sued for millions of dollars and tarnishing their name for failing to comply.

Note that the Directive currently excludes schools and nurseries, public sector broadcasters such as the BBC, some NGOs and some third-party content that appears on public sector websites.

The UK Government’s full response to the consultation process the European accessibility legislation for public sector websites can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/accessibility-of-public-sector-websites-and-apps-new-duties-and-regulations/government-response#consultation

 

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