Today the government deadline for public sector websites to conform with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 is upon us.
This means public sector websites and mobile apps need to:
- meet the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard
- publish an accessibility statement that explains how accessible their website or mobile app is
It sounds straightforward enough but for many it can be a daunting process. Here we break down the steps your organisation should go through to conform to the accessibility regulations.
Step 1: Conduct an accessibility audit
W3C set out guidelines for accessibility good practice. These are detailed in their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and are regarded by the digital industry as being a good standard against which to benchmark the accessibility of websites, in order to comply with the requirements of the 2010 Equality Act. Since September 2018 they have also formed the foundation for the government accessibility regulations, which require public sector websites to conform to WCAG 2.1 to Level A and AA.
To conduct an audit, you take each of the success criterion listed in the WCAG in turn and test a representative sample of website pages against them to identify whether or not the page complies. These checks should be done on different browser and device types to ensure it is a comprehensive review. It should include testing with common assistive technology, like screen readers and screen magnifiers, and inspection of the underlying website code. No automated tool is able to provide you with all the answers so any tests you do should be backed up by manual checks.
This can make an audit a time consuming process, especially if you are also acclimatising to the WCAG way of things. This is why you may want to seek third party (like us!) support in conducting the audit.
Step 2: Create a workplan
Once you have completed your audit, you then need to decide what to do with the results. There are three possible options:
- Fix the issues. Obviously the preferred solution. By fixing as many issues as possible you are going to be able to claim the highest level of compliance and produce a website that is genuinely accessible for your users.
- Claim disproportionate burden. For some issues the cost or feasibility of implementing fixes may just be unachievable. For example, many websites have embedded third party forms that often fail the WCAG 2.1. These are often simply edited to look like they belong on your website but do not give you access to the underlying code. Remember, however, what is currently considered a disproportionate burden may not always be so and, wherever possible, you should look to resolve these in the long term e.g. by swapping to a more accessible supplier.
- Confirm if any of the issues are exempt from the government accessibility regulation. There is a limited list of issues that do not currently require fixes. This includes pre-recorded video and audio published before 23rd September 2020, archived content and PDFs published before 23rd September 2018 that do not serve an essential service.
Step 3: Implement the fixes
With your accessibility action plan drawn up, it is time to begin implementing the fixes. As accessibility covers all aspects of your website, this will require support from your content team, developers and third parties, so getting them on board early is going to help move things along.
Step 4: Conduct a re-audit
Once you have implemented all the fixes, the next step is to confirm your website now complies with the guidelines. A re-audit is conducted in exactly the same way as the primary audit, reviewing the pages against WCAG 2.1 across browsers and devices. Hopefully it now passes with flying colours but, if not, a report should be produced detailing the failures and required fixes.
Step 5: Publish an accessibility statement
The final step in the process is to publicly share how accessible your website is in the form of an accessibility statement. In this statement you can claim either full or partial compliance with the WCAG 2.1 and detail any instances where the site does not comply. Be transparent about any limitations of your website and provide clear details of how your users can get in touch if they require an accessible alternative. The government accessibility statement template details everything you need to include.
Step 6: Maintain an accessible website
Although the auditing process is complete, your obligation to maintain an accessible website is not over. Ensuring your team continues to publish content and build functionality in an accessible way is essential and your accessibility statement should be reviewed on an annual basis. Consider some internal training to explain why accessibility is so important and how they can support the business in maintaining it.
While these new regulations currently only apply to public sector websites, they set a great precedent for how all websites should approach accessibility. Going forward, accessibility should be baked into website development in the same way user experience should be, no matter the industry you work in.
Meeting the WCAG 2.1 at Level AA should not only ensure most users with disabilities can use the site; it should make the site easier to use for all users. In many cases, users with disabilities shine a spotlight on issues that all users are likely to experience but might otherwise be hard to spot.
Organisations who demonstrate a commitment to meeting the needs of all users are likely to reap the benefits of increasing their market reach and being seen to be corporately and socially responsible. This means that meeting the WCAG standard has much greater benefits than just ticking a box to avoid, the highly unlikely, possibility of legal action; it demonstrates a genuine commitment to putting the experience of all your users front and centre of your organisation’s approach to business.