There are a number of exemptions, both in terms of organisations affected and content, when it comes to the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. These should be very carefully reviewed as many exceptions only partially reduce an obligation. Where there are comprehensive exemptions to the regulations content may still greatly benefit from being made accessible and could still be required to be accessible under other legislation such as the Equality Act.
The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 do not apply to the following content of a website or mobile application of a public sector body:
- office file formats published before 23rd September 2018, unless such content is needed for active administrative processes relating to the tasks performed by the public sector body;
This means that old documents such as board minutes, previous quarterly statements or other “reference” material do not need to be compliant. Things such as forms that users have to print and fill out to complete a task are part of an active administrative process and so do need to be compliant.
- pre-recorded time-based media published before 23rd September 2020; This means videos or audio recordings you made public. After the date any new content must be compliant and it is advisable that any video tutorials etc. that help with active administrative processes (even if published before the date) are made accessible.
- live time-based media; This means streamed council sessions etc. The limit on live is 14 days, so after two weeks a piece of media still up is counted as pre recorded and should be accessible.
- online maps and mapping services, as long as essential information is provided in an accessible digital manner for maps intended for navigational use; Maps are one of the most commonly asked about exemptions, particularly in regard to planning service. Please read a more comprehensive answer in the maps exemption section below.
- third-party content that is neither funded nor developed by, nor under the control of, the public sector body; This is a complex exemption and is discussed in more detail on the 3rd party content page.
- reproductions of items in heritage collections that cannot be made fully accessible because of either—
- the incompatibility of the accessibility requirement with either the preservation of the item concerned or the authenticity of the reproduction; or
- the unavailability of automated and cost-efficient solutions that would easily extract the text of manuscripts or other items in heritage collections and transform it into content compatible with the accessibility requirement;
- content of extranets and intranets published before 23rd September 2019, until such websites undergo a substantial revision; and
- content of websites and mobile applications qualifying as archives.
There are also exemptions listed for organisations.
These Regulations do not apply to a website or mobile application of:
- public service broadcasters and their subsidiaries, and of other bodies or their subsidiaries fulfilling a public service broadcasting remit;
- non-governmental organisations, unless they provide services that—
- are essential to the public; or
- specifically address the needs of, or are meant for, persons with disabilities; and
- schools or nurseries, except for the content of their websites or mobile applications relating to essential online administrative functions. (NOTE: this exemption is contested regularly, be aware that to deliver an accessible administrative process, not only your process content on the web page needs to be accessible, but to navigate to and through the content your platform as a whole, should be accessible. Therefore, the exemption of schools in our opinion only actually exempts non administrative user generated content but does not exempt administrative process content or the platform. Therefore, all schools still have a requirement to complete accessibility compliance work within the timelines of the regulations.)
I believe there are the definition questions of “what is a map?” and “what constitutes an online map?” which may help explain the scope of the exemption.
Addressing the first question; what is a map?
The definition of a map is “a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, etc.” This definition also encompasses a building plan which is a diagrammatic representation of floorplan or building ie. an area of land.
By this understanding I believe that any maps or plans included in planning application documents would come under the regulation definition of maps or mapping services not used for navigation purposes (Regulation 4, Clause 2d).
Addressing the second question; what constitutes an online map?
Specifically this question relates to what format the map is delivered in and if this affects whether a map is in scope. ie. Is there a regulation difference in the definition of online map or mapping service if the map is published within a PDF document available to download from the website, or to the website direct as part of a HTML webpage?
I believe that what format the final production takes does not change the purpose of the map. Either way that map is being delivered to provide information on a planning application for example, and regardless of the format that contains it, the map will still be an image that will never have alt text that can accurately represent the context the map provides to a sighted user.
Alongside this, I would expect that exemption clauses within the regulations override definitions of format when discussing scope. For example; other areas where this order of operations applies is content of intranets and extranets (Reg 4, Clause 2g) which affects all content regardless of format, and archived content (Reg 4, Clause 2h) which overrides any format debate in favour of a time based definition.
Because of this thinking regarding maps I believe there is also a case to be made that any map used for planning services is exempt from the regulations under (Regulation 4, Clause 2d) regardless of whether it is provided on a web page or as part of a PDF.