Public Sector Websites Face Accessibility Statement Deadline

27 August, 2020
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Public sector websites that launched before 23rd September 2018 require an accessibility statement to be included on their websites by 23rd September 2020. Any public sector websites that launched after 23rd September 2018 should have a statement in place already. 

Public sector sites in the UK have a legal duty to make sure websites meet accessibility requirements. There are exceptions to this, so it’s important to check if you are exempt or not.

Why is it important?

From a business perspective, improving the accessibility and inclusivity of your site can lead to more customers being able to use your services or purchase from you - but equally the improved experience for ALL users can mean more conversions and better reviews.

Viewing your site from the point of view of a variety of customers is a great activity for any business owner, not just public sector organisations.

1 in 3 disabled people feel there’s a lot of disability prejudice and online experiences are an area that really need an overhaul for making disabled people feel welcome rather than frustrated, or left out. An accessible website means more people are able to use it.

20% of people in the UK are either disabled, have a long term illness or have an impairment - that’s 13.9 million people, and many more have a temporary disability (even something very temporary such as a broken wrist or needing a new set of glasses). 

Potentially, 1 in 5 of your website users may not be able to fully use your website if it doesn’t meet accessibility requirements and if that’s the case are they likely to come back? Although adding a statement is a legal requirement, just taking part in this process provides insight into how people use your website and where it could be improved, which is an opportunity to improve your own bottom line.

If you consider those with additional needs, you can create something that’s better for everyone.

What is an accessibility statement?

This is a page on your website that details:

  • The steps you have taken to make your website accessible
  • Any issues found during an audit that have not yet been fixed
  • When you plan to fix them (or why you are not going to fix them). 

This page should be easily found on your website. A link in the footer would make it available from any page of your site.

Accessibility Audit

The accessibility requirements for public sector websites are that they are: 

  • perceivable 
  • operable 
  • understandable 
  • robust

How do you find out if your site meets these requirements? The best approach is to have an audit taken on a selection of key pages. The audit will check the site against the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard and will identify any issues. 

The WCAG standard provides a number of very specific points for each of those 4 core requirements. The audit should be performed by your own web team, or by a third party. If you are unable to audit your site - and paying a third party is going to place you under a disproportionate financial burden - you can do some basic checks yourself. 

Basic Checks

You will still need to set aside some time to plan, perform and log the results of your checks. Gov.uk has a guide to performing your basic checks, and it is worth reading through before you start planning your own.

Assistive Technologies

Have you tried using just a keyboard to get around your website? Not everyone uses a mouse! In fact not everyone uses a keyboard. There are lots of assistive technologies (some built into your laptop that you may not have ever spotted) that are used by disabled people. Your site needs to work for those using assistive technologies as well as for those using a keyboard and mouse (or just a keyboard), so it’s important to try them out yourself. 

Two of the most used assistive technologies are screen magnifiers and screen readers. 

A screen magnifier acts like a magnifying glass as it’s moved around the screen and is an extremely popular tool for people with eyesight issues. If you have a Mac it comes with Zoom, Windows comes with Magnifier. 

Screen readers are tools that appear to narrate your experience using a computer or website. They don’t just rely on the text shown on the web page, but also information in the way the page is coded. Screen readers allow users to get a quick list of page headings and a list of page links as alternative ways to navigate a page, without having to listen to every paragraph being read out loud. Screen readers are often used in conjunction with the keyboard, rather than a mouse. Mac has a built-in screen reader called Voice Over and Windows has Narrator. The other market leading screen readers are NVDA and Jaws.

There are some great online tools you can use during your basic checks:

Addressing the issues

Whether from a detailed audit or your own basic checks, you’ll more than likely find issues on your website that need to be addressed. Some of them may be really simple and fixable within the content editor of your site - such as editing your link text and instructions to make sense to all users;or making sure your headings are set as headings and not just bold text. 

Another simple fix that doesn’t involve development is to add captions to your YouTube videos. Being more aware of the small steps you can take will not only fix existing issues, but will give you the confidence to make your site content more inclusive going forwards.

Not all issues will be easy or quick to resolve and that’s ok. Make a plan with your web development team for making improvements and set some timescales for the work. 

When you make your plan you will want to consider if it’s right to just fix some things, or if a more fundamental restructuring of a page section is more appropriate. Use this information to put together your accessibility statement and on there include the issues you are aware of, and when you plan to resolve them by. 

Also on your statement, you should include details of how users can obtain content in another format - such as large print, or in braille, as well as how to make a complaint. Gov.uk has a sample statement you can use as the basis for your own.

For help with any of the points raised in this article, you can get in touch with the Evoluted team here

Written by Becky

As our longest-serving Project Manager, Becky continues to put her vast experience to use for Evoluted’s clients. Having worked within the digital industry for more than 18 years, Becky’s history includes time with The University of Derby and a technical publications firm. Across the roles she’s worked, she’s developed impressive knowledge surrounding accessibility, programming and design.

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