Accessibility deadlines loom for public sector and higher education

Following on the heels of GDPR legislation which came into effect in early 2018, new regulations have come into force governing the accessibility of web and mobile applications for public sector bodies (including most higher education institutions).

Passed on the 23rd of September, 2018, a new law, called The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, brings the UK into alignment with the EU directive on web accessibility and requires organisations covered under the law to achieve specific accessibility standards.

The law will come into effect in stages. Any website published later than 23 September, 2018 must be compliant by 23 September, 2019. Sites published before that date have an extra year to become compliant. All native apps need to become compliant by 23 June, 2019.

What the new law requires

Specifically, organisations covered under the law are mandated to meet the ‘accessibility requirement’ of the law by making their web and mobile applications ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’ (known as the WCAG “POUR” principles).

Another key requirement of the law is that all websites must display an ‘accessibility statement’ alongside privacy and cookie notices. The accessibility statement must detail how WCAG compliance has or has not been met as well as provide any available alternatives for people with disabilities. The statement must also provide a clear and transparent explanation for how the organisation reviews, monitors and enforces actions for resolving accessibility issues.

The new law will have tangible impact

Many organisations have good intentions and take a good-faith approach to building accessible web and mobile applications. But far too often, accessibility is viewed as a value-add ‘nice-to-have’ at the end of the project. And far too often, for cost or time pressures, accessibility is short-changed or left out altogether to meet budgets or project deadlines. This is both unfair and dismissive to members of the disabled community.

The new law turns this dynamic on its head. Accessibility planning and execution must now be integrated into the entire product lifecycle and subject to the same quality assurance as code and content. Rather than being viewed as a burden, however, the new law offers organisations an opportunity to use accessibility planning to improve the overall, holistic experience of their digital applications.

Accessibility is good for business

The UK government states that ‘There are over 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability’. That’s 17% of the total population as of 2014. Any organisation that isn’t taking the basic steps to making their applications accessible for the disabled is missing out on a huge slice of potential audience for their service.

Accessible design thinking offers creative benefits when designing user interfaces. Designers are encouraged to think freely about how to create websites and applications that are useful for people with and without disabilities. Designing interactions to serve user needs when the experience needs to extend beyond the screen can result in more human centered, natural experiences. This type of design thinking will grow in importance as digital experiences extend beyond the screen to platforms like voice and AR/VR.

How we can help

Building websites that meet accessibility standards from Day 1 requires planning and proper implementation. That’s something Squiz delivers to our clients on a regular basis. However, the ongoing challenge lies in maintaining accessibility as the site evolves and the content is produced at scale.

Squiz takes web accessibility very seriously. So much so that we’ve built and open-sourced our own free accessibility checker called HTML CodeSniffer. You can quickly test your sites accessibility today using our CodeSniffer tool.

We’ve also integrated accessibility tools into our DXP platform including Funnelback’s Accessibility Auditor and integrating the code sniffer directly into our Matrix CMS content editing tools. These tools are very effective at delivering detailed accessibility reporting  and monitoring your compliance over time.

At Squiz, our consultants and technologists are experts in delivering accessible web experiences both for new builds and with refitting existing sites to meet accessibility standards.

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