Introduction to the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018

In September 2018, Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations became law. These require websites and apps created by public sector organisations to meet accessibility standards so that people who use assistive technology or have additional needs can access services and information. These regulations don’t just cover public facing websites, they also apply to documents that can be downloaded, mobile apps, intranets and extranets so this can have wide ranging implications for large organisations such as councils, government agencies and universities.

The regulations do not include a clear definition of what is meant by “public sector” but if you receive public funding then you may be required to comply with these regulations. This includes Further and Further Education institutions. Organisations that are exempt are:

  • non-government organisations like charities (unless they provide services that are essential to the public or aimed at disabled people)
  • schools or nurseries – except for the content the public need to use their services.
  • public sector broadcasters and their subsidiaries

The regulations are made up of 3 components:

  1. Websites, apps and documents hosted on websites must comply with accessibility standards. There is a timeline for when new and existing websites must comply as well as mobile apps.
  2. Public sector organisations must publish an accessibility statement on their websites and in apps to inform visitors about the accessibility of their websites and apps.
  3. The government is required to monitor that public sector websites are meeting these regulations through checking accessibility statements and checking the accessibility of a sample of sites.

Accessibility Standards

The regulations require that websites, apps and documents meet a European standard called EN 301 549 which is aligned to WCAG 2.1 Level AA. Developers and website managers may be familiar with WCAG 2.0 but WCAG 2.1 is the latest version published in 2018 that added 12 new guidelines at Level A and AA. This standard also covers all types of technology including documents and applications. If you have been working to the WCAG 2.0 standard, don’t worry as this is all incorporated into this new standard.

Timeline

These regulations cover public facing websites, documents that can be downloaded, mobile apps, intranets and extranets. They apply to public sector organisations and organisations that receive the majority of their funding from the public sector.

The regulations require websites, downloadable documents (such as PDFs) and mobile apps to comply with EN 301 549 / WCAG 2.1 to the following timescales:

  • By 23rd September 2019 websites published or substantially revised after 23rd September 2018.
  • New content on intranets published from 23rd September 2019
  • By 23rd September 2020 existing websites still in use for delivering services
  • By 22nd June 2021 mobile apps

Some content remains exempt including

  • Live audio and video and pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020.
  • Maps although if the map helps users find a service, you must provide directions another way.
  • Documents such as PDFs published before 23 September 2018 that are not essential for services and heritage collections.
  • Third party content that isn’t under the organisations control or hasn’t been purchased (e.g. social media ‘like’ buttons).

Further details on the timelines and exemption are providing by the Government Digital Service.

Organisations may exempt content or aspect of their websites from the regulations if they assess that otherwise this would cause a disproportion burden to address the accessibility issues. This assessment must consider the benefits to users with disabilities of meeting the standards, the cost of meeting the standards how it’s used by disabled people and your organisation’s size and resources. Details of this assessment and how to acquire accessible alternative must be published in the accessibility statement.

Accessibility Statements

Organisations are required to publish accessibility statements on their websites explaining which parts of the content of a website or mobile application are not accessible, and, where appropriate, provide links to accessible alternatives. They must also provide details of how to contact the organisation to raise any accessibility issues and the government’s process for escalating accessibility complaints to its monitoring and enforcement bodies. Our Accessibility Statements article provides more detail.

Find Out More

GDS have a campaign website that acts as an introduction to the regulations and directs to more of their guidance to help you understand what you need to do.

If you would like to find out more about the regulations then you can view a recorded webinar by AbilityNet.

Slides from a presentation by staff from JISC, AbilityNet and the Government at Digifest in March 2019 are available to download.

Sign up to the  Digital Accessibility Regulations JISCMAIL email forum to find out about the recent developments and join in the discussion with colleagues in the universities and the public sector.