September saw the introduction of UK laws on making public sector websites and mobile apps accessible, in line with a recent EU Directive.
Campaigners hope that the changes will increase the number of accessible websites in the UK but are also concerned about the number of exemptions that have been allowed.
From next month public sector bodies will be required “to take the necessary measures to make their websites and mobile applications more accessible by making them perceivable, operable, understandable and robust”.
In practice this will involve keeping to a European standard called EN 301 549, which incorporates the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.
In order to comply with the legislation, public sector organisations will need to monitor the accessibility of their websites and mobile apps, make information from the monitoring available in an accessibility statement, and provide reports to the Digital Government Service.
The accessibility legislation will take time to have an impact, however. Public sector websites created after September 23 will not need to comply with the requirements until 23 September 2019.
Sites developed before then will have two years to make changes while mobile apps will not have to be revamped until 23 June 2021.
Controversial exemptions include schools, nurseries, the BBC, non-governmental organisations and third-party content that appears on public sector websites.
Long-time accessibility campaigner AbilityNet points out that two thirds of respondents to a Government consultation objected to the exemptions.
“It is disappointing and not a little concerning,” said Robin Christopherson, the charity’s Head of Digital Inclusion.
“It is also seemingly in contradiction with existing legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 which most definitely requires organisations across all sectors not to discriminate against people who need website and app accessibility to participate in today’s digital world.”