The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations allow for staged phases of when organisations must ensure their websites, online documents and apps meet the accessibility requirement.
This prioritises new and recently published websites over existing content which may take time to re-mediate. Under the regulations, public sector organisations must meet the accessibility requirement and publish an accessibility statement by:
- 23rd September 2019 for websites published or updated on or after 23rd September 2018
- 23rd September 2020 for all other websites
- 23rd June 2021 for mobile applications
Websites, online documents and apps meet the accessibility requirements when they are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for all users . This can be demonstrated through compliance with the European standard ETSI EN 301 549 which is aligned to WCAG 2.1 Level AA.
The regulations apply to websites whether they are open to the public (external sites) or for internal use with security controlled access (intranets and extranets). It also applies to third party content that in the control of the public sector body including systems and content that have been purchased by the organisation.
New and substantially revised websites
One of the complexities of the regulations is that they have been written as if a website is published on a specific date and it is not updated after that time. In practice most organisations have had websites for many years which are continually updated. While “new” websites must meet the accessibility requirement later this year, existing websites get a further 12 months. However, the government guidance recognises this and states that:
“if you have made substantial changes to the code, for example to create new features, or if you create a subdomain with its own distinct codebase, it’s likely that these will need to be fully accessible from 23 September 2019.”
Understanding new accessibility requirements for public sector bodies, GOVERNMENT Digital services, May 2019
Therefore, if you have been continually updating your websites since 23rd September 2018, it would be advisable to publish an accessibility statement by 23rd September 2019. This can state that some or all of the content on the website is exempt from the accessibility requirement but should still include the other statutory information.
What is a website?
This may sound like a simple question, but it is important as the regulations require each website to have an accessibility statement and, due to the age of the website, sites owned by the same organisation may have a different timeline for complying with the regulations. We discuss more about how this affects web accessibility in our post on “What is a website“.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM) defines a website as:
A coherent collection of one or more related web pages that together provide common use or functionality. It includes static web pages, dynamically generated web pages, and mobile websites and applicationsWebsite Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM) 1.0 (2014)
Some types of websites and content have time-limited or permanent exemptions from meeting the accessibility requirement. Therefore it is important to consider what is a website from a usability perspective – that is if a collection of web pages provide a common use, such as a VLE module or course section, this could be considered a separate website. Websites consist of site-wide elements, such as design aspects and interactive controls, as well as informative content on each page. The regulations provide exemptions from Part 2 for specific types of content and collection of content but this does not necessarily preclude the site-wide elements of a website.
Part 1 3. (2) of the Regulations state that they do not apply to the following collections of content of a website and mobile application of a public sector body:
The regulations do not apply to reproductions of items in heritage collections that cannot be made fully accessible. There is no time limit on this exemption.
Content of extranets and intranets:
The content of extranets and intranets published before 23rd September 2019 is exempt until the intranet is substantially revised. An extranet or intranet is defined as a website that is available for a closed group of people.
Content qualifying as archives
If content is not updated or edited after 23rd September 2019 and it is no longer needed for active administrative processes then it would be considered archived content and it exempt from the regulations. Therefore if you update content on a website or intranet after 23rd September 2019, it is unlikely to be exempt as an archive or as part of content of a closed website.
Specific content exemptions
Part 1 3. (2) also states that the Regulations do not apply to the following types of content of a website and mobile application of a public sector body:
Document and Office file formats published before 23rd September 2018 are exempt from the regulations unless the files are in active administrative use. If the file is held on an intranet or closed website then it would also be exempt until and unless it is updated after 23rd September 2019.
Time-based media includes videos, animation and audio recordings. Pre-recorded time-based media is exempt from the regulations if it is published before 23rd September 2020.
Live time-based media will remain exempt from the regulations. However, if live recordings are kept on a website then they should be considered pre-recorded after 14 days (based on the definition of live time-based media set out in Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites).
Online maps and mapping services
Online maps and mapping services are exempt from the regulations. However, an accessible alternative must be provided for essential information provided for navigational use.
Content that is not funded or developed by, nor under the control of, the public sector body is exempt from the regulations. However, if you procure a website or online service that is embedded in your website or intranet then it could be considered under your control.
We are attempting to set-out the timeframe for meeting the accessibility requirement for different types of content, on different types of websites. A summary of this is available as a slideshow by Alistair McNaught (download PowerPoint file).
About this post
This post was written by Abi James and members of The Further Higher Education Digital Accessibility Working Group to help explain the requirements of the regulations. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this blog post at the time of publication, this blog post is for general information only and is not legal advice. If you require clarification or legal advice of how this impacts your organisation, please consult with your organisations legal adviser.