Your sites may often include 3rd party content and functionality, this could take the form of embedded video players, procured forms packages or other content. Depending on your relationship with the 3rd party, you may not always be responsible for or be able to guarantee the accessibility of that content presented on your website.
As far as the regulations are concerned third-party content that is neither funded nor developed by, nor under the control of, the public sector body is exempt from the regulations.
Because of the wide variety of 3rd party content and the ways in which you might present, link to or incorporate 3rd party content into your website, it can be difficult to know exactly where your situation sits under the regulations.
Some of our most often considered examples and responses below:
Links to other websites – For the benefit of users you may link to other websites that you do not control such as; news websites, social media, official information sources etc. You are not responsible for the accessibility of these or any other websites that you do not manage, own or pay for.
3rd party functionality you have paid for and use – Where you have paid for 3rd party functionality to complete a role on your website such as forms packages that to a user appear as part of their continued journey on your site (or even if they appear visibly different but still form part of an administrative process), you are responsible for the accessibility of this content as you have procured the service and should have made sure that it would allow you to deliver services in line with your responsibilities as an organisation including compliance with accessibility regulations.
3rd party content you subscribe to and embed or link into the website – You may embed content or link to content that has not been bespoke designed for you as an organisation and would still exist without you. Examples of this might be academic online e-resource databases, or roadworks maps etc.
3rd party platform you use to host your content – Where you are using 3rd party platforms to host your content eg. youtube for your organisation’s videos, you are responsible for the content that you place there, eg. all of your videos that you publish should have closed captioning. You are not responsible for the accessibility of the platform, although you should be using accessible platforms as best-practice, although this may not always be possible and there may not be alternatives.
There are several key questions you need to ask yourself when you are looking at 3rd party content you already use or that you are thinking about procuring:
- Do you pay for it? – If you pay for it then you should be addressing accessibility as part of the procurement cycle.
- Do you have a statutory requirement or other mandatory requirement to publish or use that particular content? – If you have to use that particular content for reasons outside of your control and there are no alternatives, it may not be your responsibility to resolve, or be considered a disproportionate burden.
- Are there alternatives you could use? – If there are more accessible alternatives, can you justify your choice in using the 3rd party content?
- Are you publishing it on your website or linking to the content? – Have you decided to place the content on a platform you control, or are you directing to another platform you do not control?
- Have you asked for bespoke development of the content to meet your needs? – If you have requested bespoke development of the content did you ask for it to be made accessible as part of the requirements? NOTE: If a system offers a small amount of customisation as part of a standard offering then that isn’t bespoke development (although you should use accessibility best practice during your customisation of the product and the capabilities of this customisation should be assessed during procurement). Bespoke development is changes outside of the standard offering and customisation that you have specifically defined and therefore would have had the opportunity to request the development be built accessibly.
The regulations only very briefly address 3rd party content, however in practise we have found that the discussion can become very complicated with a vast range of scenarios that would fall under this heading. Many of these are not clear cut and can produce uncertainty.
The important thing to remember is that if you are using 3rd party content currently as part of your services to users then you will always have an obligation under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments where required so users can access your services.
Matrix for determining responsibility when choosing new 3rd party content
To try and address some issues with determining responsibility when it comes to 3rd party content we have created the New 3rd Party Content Responsibility Matrix which should help you determine your responsibility when you are looking at using new 3rd party content.
The matrix works on the assumption that you are looking at “new” 3rd party content that would be affected by the regulations, ie. no legacy content or pre-existing procurements etc. The reason for this is that this assessment of responsibility should be done before committing to a course of action, and as stated above if you are already using 3rd party content you have made that choice and have a responsibility for the way in which you present that content to users.
The questions you should ask yourself as you work through the matrix are:
- Are you going to pay for the 3rd Party content?
- Do you have to provide the service? ie. statutory requirement or other compelling mandatory reason outside of your control.
- Are there genuine alternatives that can match the delivery requirements in a more accessible way and that you would be authorised to chose instead?
- Will you hosted or embedded the content into an environment you control? Eg. embedded on web page or hosted on your domain? (the alternative answer to this would be that you are linking to 3rd party content on a platform you do not control)
- Will the 3rd party content been made bespoke for you in any way? (the alternative answer is that you are utilising standard content that is available to other customers besides you)
After asking these questions the matrix will advise you on your responsibility risk with some explanation as to why and possible examples of content that would fit the scenario.