The Public Sector Web Accessibility Deadline – September 2020

The final deadline for all public sector bodies to meet the new accessibility regulations for public sector websites and applications is set for 23 September 2020, which is fast approaching. With this in mind, we thought it was time to revisit the key details, emphasise the importance of accessibility to public sector information, and outline steps your public sector organisation can take to ensure you comply.

Access to public sector information is especially important in light of recent world events. The Covid-19 pandemic has confined a significant percentage of UK citizens to their homes, making access to information particularly difficult for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable, further highlighting the need for equality when it comes to the accessibility of information online. We have touched on this previously with reference to how utility companies can help customers in vulnerable circumstances during lockdown, and many of the same principles apply when discussing public sector information.

The Story So Far

In September 2018 the new accessibility regulations for public sector websites and applications came into force, making it essential that providers of public services and facilities make their online information accessible to all. Public sector services are many and varied and include local authorities, law enforcement, healthcare providers, emergency services, education institutions, infrastructure suppliers, and transport providers.

The new regulations came with two deadlines for compliance:

● New public sector websites published on or after the regulations came into force in September 2018 needed to follow the principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 accessibility Level AA by 23 September 2019.

● Existing websites published before the regulations came into force in September 2018 must meet the new accessibility standards by 23 September 2020.

What do the New Regulations Entail?

The web content accessibility guidelines are based on four cornerstone principles that allow anyone to access and use web content. You can download a full guide to the regulations here, but some of the key points include:

● Using alt text tags for all images and videos.

● Using high contrast between text and background.

● Adding web accessibility software.

● Making documents such as PDFs, Microsoft Word docs, and any other online forms accessible.

● Ensuring page headings are displayed correctly.

● Allowing people using screen readers to easily navigate around the website.

Why is it Important to Comply?

To answer a question with a question, who wouldn’t want as many people as possible to be able to access and use their website? But of course, there is more to it than that…

As the new rules are now official government legislation, public sector bodies must act to ensure their websites and apps comply with the requirements, otherwise they may face enforcement action and will also run the risk of significant damage to their reputations. So it is important to run a basic accessibility test before publishing any new public sector website or app.

Aside from the potential for financial and reputational repercussions, there are several other motivating factors for public sector bodies to observe the new requirements:

● Nearly one in five people in the UK have some form of disability that could affect their capacity to access information.

● The UK has an ageing population, and the aged are some of the heaviest users of many public sector services such as transport provision, healthcare services, and local authority schemes.

● The older we get the more likely we are to develop a disability, and a 2019 study revealed that only 60% of local authority websites’ home pages were accessible to people with disabilities.

● With Covid-19 restrictions still in place and many citizens still in lockdown, accessibility to public sector information online is more important than ever.

How can Recite Me Help?

Hundreds of companies already use Recite Me software to make their websites more accessible to readers, including many healthcare providers, education institutions, and other organisations within the public sector. The Recite Me assistive toolbar makes it possible for websites to easily comply with the four cornerstone principles of the new guidelines by ensuring that online content is:

Perceivable – our toolbar allows content to be perceived either via sound or enhanced visual means.

Understandable – our styling features allow people to change the way that content is displayed for personal ease of use.

Operable – our technology allows users to track their location on a page via the screen reader navigation feature.

Robust – Once Recite Me is installed onto your website you will receive regular updates and will always have the latest version.

More specifically, users of the Recite Me toolbar can:

• Personalise font size, type, and colour options to make each web page easier to read.

• Download content as an audio file so they can listen on the move.

• Convert page content into over 100 different on-screen languages.

• Have the page read aloud in a choice of 35 different languages.

• Customise PDF documents and have them read aloud or translated.

• Utilise the mask screen tool, which isolates parts of the page to help with focus.

• Use the ruler tool to make reading easier.

The Benefits: A Case Study of London University

The University of London was one of the first educational institutions to embed the Recite Me toolbar onto their website, and the results were quite staggering. In just six months there was significant engagement and interaction, and the university was delighted with the outcome:

• Over 16,400 unique users

• 43,000 toolbar launches

• 131,500 features used

• 31,000 pieces of content translated

• 97,000 pieces of content read aloud

• 11,000 styling customisations

These statistics show just how important inclusion and diversity considerations are on the web, and why ultimately, all public sector bodies should be doing as much as they can to ensure online accessibility for all.

Want to Know More?

Are you are concerned that your public sector organisation will not be ready for the deadline? To get more information about what you need to do to comply with the new regulations and how Recite Me can help you, please feel free to contact our team or book a demo.

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