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Public Sector Website Accessibility Legislation

Councils, educational establishments, government departments, and other public organisations are funded by taxpayers’ money. Due to this, the public sector is the industry which takes digital accessibility most seriously.

Accessibility is a fundamental human right. It is crucial that public sector websites and applications are accessible, as often, there are no other means of accessing the same resources on alternative platforms. Furthermore, people who may rely on the services provided by these websites, are often the ones who find them most challenging to access.  

When platforms aren’t built to be inclusive or written in a user-friendly manner, it results in people with disabilities, who may use assistive technology, from having equal access to vital information and services, stripping them of their rights. This is why all public sector organisations in the UK, have a legal requirement to ensure that their online spaces are compliant with government legislation. 

Understanding Public Sector Legislation

Building on existing regulations, which require organisations to make reasonable adjustments by providing alternative accessible formats, the accessibility legislation came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018. A directive which was transferred into UK law, declaring that all websites, intranets, and applications are required to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. This means that all public sector organisations need to ensure that their digital services are easily accessible for everyone to navigate and interact with.

All public sector bodies have to meet the 2018 requirements, unless they are exempt.

These include:

  • Central government and local government organisations.
  • Some charities and other non-government organisations.

Even though this law came to pass, some public sector sites still aren’t meeting the correct criteria. In 2023, a study found that an average of 35.7% of government websites and 48.3% of education platforms still had accessibility errors on their homepage alone. If found to be breaching public sector legislation and the Equality Act 2010 this could result in legal action. 

What criteria do websites need to comply with to be deemed accessible in the public sector? 

Public sector website requirements are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that have been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium

These guidelines detail what is and what isn’t accessible. In WCAG, there are three-tiered conformance levels:

  • Level A: A basic standard of web accessibility has been met.
  • Level AA: An adequate standard of web accessibility has been met.
  • Level AAA: A fully accessible website.

To meet UK government web standards, websites and apps need to reach WCAG 2.2 Level AA standards.

However, there are certain content areas that may not need addressing. Areas such as:

  • Videos published before 23 September 2020.
  • PDF and other documents published before 23 September 2018.
  • Some map elements.
  • Third-party content that is not under your control. 

The need to provide an accessibility statement online

In addition to meeting WCAG standards, public sector bodies are also required to publish an accessibility statement on their platform. 

Accessibility statements are public information web pages. This area displays an organisation’s commitment to digital accessibility. More than this, it helps users with disabilities to understand what areas of a website are accessible. For example, it should state if certain site features or its documents are inaccessible with assistive technology. Therefore, it’s a website area that should be updated if and when online barriers are removed and is required to be reviewed annually. In turn, helping to assist all users to interact with your platform.

How to check if you are meeting Public Sector Legislation 

The Government Digital Service (GDS) monitors public sector bodies’ compliance on behalf of the Minister for the Cabinet Office. GDS does this by examining a sample of public sector websites and mobile apps every year. 

To ensure that you are compliant before being assessed, it is advised to perform accessibility website audit testing. Undertaking automated and manual testing can seek out accessibility barriers and provide you with a roadmap of required changes. This roadmap can then help in forming your accessibility statement and steer developers on what areas need addressing. These audits, if performed by a trusted expert like our own, can not only find errors hidden within your coding, but also assess the user experience for people who use assistive technologies on your platforms. Resulting in an enhanced user experience for all of your online audience.

Do you need support with digital accessibility?  

As leading accessibility experts in the industry, we are proud to have worked with several local authorities and pioneering institutions across the globe. Due to our commitment to supplying a quality, trusted service, HeX is named as a Crown Commercial Service supplier, being included on the Government’s G-Cloud 13. 

Every website that we create meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 Level AA as a standard. We also offer an inclusive end to end solution to all of your public sector digital accessibility needs

Our accessibility experts are here to help with any questions you may have to ensure that you become and remain compliant with web standards: 

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