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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/accessibility-of-public-sector-websites-and-apps-new-duties-and-regulations/consultation-information-and-questions
The EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications (known as ‘the Directive’ in this document) requires the UK to ensure that the websites and apps of UK public sector bodies are made more accessible, in accordance with common accessibility requirements, unless it would be disproportionate to do so.
The obligations in the Directive must be implemented in UK law by 23 September 2018.
In the Directive, ‘accessibility’ refers to principles and techniques to follow when you design, build, maintain and update websites and apps to make sure people can use them, especially people with disabilities.
This consultation seeks views on the government’s plan to implement the Directive in UK law - for example, what sort of guidance the government should provide to help organisations follow the rules and what training and support should be available. It also seeks views from those affected on the practical implications of complying with the requirements and the monitoring framework, and on the proposed procedure to ensure compliance with the obligations in the Directive.
The government also invites comment on the draft regulations set out in an annex to this consultation. These draft regulations set out the proposed legal framework for implementing the main obligations in the Directive into UK law. The government intends to lay these regulations in the summer, following consideration of responses that come out of this consultation.
How the new rules will fit with existing rules
The Directive is a ‘minimum harmonisation directive’. It gives Member States the ability to introduce ‘additional provisions’, and to bring additional activities into scope of regulation as appropriate in each country. The Directive builds on existing UK legislation and commitments such as the Equality Act 2010, which includes a duty on service providers to make reasonable adjustments for persons with disabilities (and other protected characteristics) when providing services and exercising public functions.
When the changes are planned to happen
The obligations in the Directive will come into force in three stages:
- public sector websites created after 23 September 2018 will need to comply with the requirements from 23 September 2019
- public sector websites created before 23 September 2018 will need to comply with the requirements from 23 September 2020
- public sector apps will need to comply with the requirements from 23 June 2021
On 23 June 2016, the EU referendum took place and the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period, the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation. The outcome of these negotiations will determine what arrangements apply in relation to EU legislation in future once the UK has left the EU.
Organisations that will be affected
The Directive applies to ‘public sector bodies’. The definition is the same used for the EU procurement regime so those bodies who are subject to the EU procurement regime will usually be subject to this Directive.
The definition of ‘public sector bodies’ in the Directive is:
- state, regional or local authorities
- bodies governed by public law
- associations formed by one or more authorities (State, regional or local)
- associations formed by one or more bodies governed by public law
1 - Do you understand the definition of ‘public sector bodies’? If not, please explain your reasoning. [Yes/No]
2 - Would you benefit from further guidance on this definition? [Yes/No/Don’t know]
Exemptions - things the Directive won’t apply to
Bodies not covered by the Directive
Some public sector bodies are exempt from the Directive, so the content of their websites and apps won’t have to follow the new rules. The exempt organisations are:
- public service broadcasters, for example the BBC and their subsidiaries
- non-governmental organisations that don’t provide services that are essential to the public, or services that specifically address the needs of, or are meant for, people with disabilities
The Directive also provides an optional exemption (also known as a ‘derogation’) for websites and apps provided by schools, nurseries and kindergartens, which means they won’t have to comply with the accessibility standards, except for content which relates to ‘essential online administrative functions’ (and only if that content isn’t provided in an accessible way on another website). The government intends to use this derogation to make schools, nurseries and kindergartens exempt, in order to minimise their regulatory burden whilst still ensuring access to essential content.
Content exempt from the Directive
Because it isn’t always possible to make some types of published content accessible, and to recognise that some content is not under the control of public sector bodies, the Directive provides for the temporary or permanent exclusion from its scope of some types of website or app content:
- documents that are not intended primarily for use on the web and that are included in web pages (such as PDFs, MS Office documents or equivalent) published before 23 September 2018
- pre-recorded media, such as videos and podcasts, published before 23 September 2020
- live video
- online maps and mapping services, as long as essential information is provided in an accessible digital manner for maps intended for navigational use
- third party content that is not under the control of the public sector body concerned
- reproductions of items in heritage collections, such as scanned manuscripts
- content of intranets and extranets published before 23 September 2019, until those websites undergo a substantial revision
- content of websites and mobile applications qualifying as archives, meaning that they only contain content that is not needed for active administrative processes or updated or edited after 23 September 2019
- content exclusively for mobile which is developed for closed groups of users or for specific use within certain environments and which is not available to and used by large parts of the public
Making alternatives to non-accessible content available
Public sector bodies can still publish non-accessible content on their websites and apps as long as they provide an accessible alternative wherever possible - for example, email or phone support.
The Directive, whilst encouraging public sector bodies to make all content accessible, is not intended to limit the content which these bodies place on their websites or apps to accessible content alone.
3 - Do you understand the types of bodies that will be exempt? [Yes/No/Don’t know/Any comment]
4 - Would your organisation’s website or apps fall under this exemption? [Yes/No/Don’t know/Not applicable]
To help us understand better, please tell us why your organisation’s website or mobile applications would be exempt, or explain why you are not able to determine this (if applicable).
5 - Do you agree with the exemption for schools, nurseries and kindergartens? Please explain your answer. [Yes/No/Don’t know/Any comment]
6 - Do you understand the content exemptions and whether they apply to content held by your organisation? [Yes/No]
7 - If you don’t understand, please explain what further information or guidance might assist you to determine whether content is exempt from the Directive. [Free text answer]
‘Disproportionate burden’ assessment
Public sector bodies must take necessary measures to ensure their websites and apps meet the accessibility requirements, except when to do so would place a disproportionate burden on the body (see Article 5 of the Directive).
This acknowledges that, in certain circumstances, meeting the accessibility requirements will place a large burden on a public sector body that is not proportionate to, for example, the size of the organisation, the number of users it has, or the cost of compliance.
Each public sector body must carry out the initial assessment of the extent to which the accessibility requirements cannot be met, taking into account relevant circumstances such as size, resources and nature of the body concerned; and the estimated costs and benefits for the public sector body in relation to the estimated benefits for people with disabilities.
Lack of priority, time or knowledge are not relevant considerations for the purposes of this assessment. If, on the basis of its assessment, a public body decides it would impose a disproportionate burden to meet the accessibility requirements, it must explain this in its web accessibility statement - including an explanation of what parts of the accessibility requirements could not be complied with, and any accessible alternatives provided for.
8 - Do you understand the concept of a ‘disproportionate burden assessment’? If not, please explain any concerns or difficulties you have with this definition. [Yes/No/Any comment]
What organisations will have to do to comply with the Directive
Make websites and apps accessible
To meet the requirements of the directive (Article 4) public sector bodies must take the necessary measures to make their websites and apps more accessible by making them:
‘Perceivable’ means that information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive in some way - it can’t be invisible to all of their senses.
‘Operable’ means that any person must be able to use interface components (such as buttons and forms) and navigation. These can’t require interaction that a user can’t perform.
‘Understandable’ means users must be able to understand any information presented, as well being able to operate the interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding).
‘Robust’ means that the content must be capable of being interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies such as screen readers. It also means users must be able to access the content as technology changes over time.
Where public sector bodies’ websites or apps meet the European accessibility standard EN 301 549 (which is being updated to map to the latest version of the international web accessibility standard, WCAG 2.1 to level AA) it will be presumed to meet these requirements. WCAG 2.0 is a well-established standard and it is an existing requirement of the government’s Digital Service Standard.
Publish an accessibility statement
To comply with the requirements of the Directive public sector bodies must publish an accessibility statement. The statement must:
- be in an accessible format
- be updated frequently
- use the model accessibility statement adopted by the European Commission (this will be provided by December 2018)
The accessibility statement must include the following:
- a list of any parts of the website or app that aren’t accessible, an explanation of why, and links to accessible alternatives
- a feedback mechanism that can be used by any person to tell the public body about content in the website or app that doesn’t meet the accessibility requirements
- a link to the enforcement procedure to which recourse may be had in the event of an unsatisfactory response to the notification or the request
Publishing accessibility information on app stores
Public sector bodies must include information about how accessible their apps are whenever the apps are available for download from a third-party website, for example the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. The information should be alongside the description of the app presented to users before they download it from any third-party website.
9 - Does your organisation currently publish an accessibility statement? [Yes/No/Don’t know]
10 - If yes, what does the statement include? [Free text answer]
11 - Do you think the content of the accessibility statement above will help users to better access content and services? [Yes/No/Don’t know/Any comment]
Monitoring and reporting
The Directive requires there to be a monitoring and reporting body in each country to oversee its implementation. The European Commission will establish a methodology for monitoring websites and mobile applications by 23 December 2018. The methodology will include:
- how frequently websites and apps should be monitored
- how content should be ‘sampled’ - what proportion should be monitored to give a representative picture of how accessible a website is
- what app content will be tested, including updated versions of apps and content
- a description of how compliance will be demonstrated
- how any areas of non-compliance will be identified and reported back to public sector bodies
- how automatic and manual accessibility tests should be carried out
The government proposes that the reporting body should be part of the Government Digital Service (GDS), within its existing web accessibility structure to reflect its role as the centre of expertise on web accessibility within government.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office will monitor compliance with the requirements of the Directive and report back to the European Commission on these findings. The reporting requirement will only apply whilst the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union.
Training and guidance
To meet the requirements of the Directive, the Government must promote web accessibility training for staff responsible for the accessibility of public sector websites and apps, along with any other relevant stakeholders. It also has to consult people affected about what should be included in this training. To properly implement the Directive the government will also need to consult with relevant stakeholders on a regular basis. ‘Relevant stakeholders’ include:
- organisations representing the interests of persons with disabilities and of the elderly
- industry involved in the creation of accessibility software relating to websites and apps
- civil society
The government plans to use the monitoring and reporting body (GDS) to raise awareness, produce guidance and, where appropriate, provide training. This body will also be responsible for consultation with stakeholders.
12 - Do you anticipate that you or your organisation will need guidance and/or training in order to meet this Directive? [Yes/No/Don’t know/Any comments]
13 - If yes, what guidance and/or training will you or your organisation need? [Free text answer]
The Directive also requires the government to set up a procedure to guarantee compliance in relation to the requirements set out in Articles 4, 5 and 7(1) of the Directive. This includes ensuring public sector bodies’ websites and apps meet the accessibility requirements (Article 4); reviewing disportionate burden assessments (Article 5); and reviewing accessibility statements (Article 7(1)).
As explained above, public sector bodies must publish and regularly update an accessibility statement. This statement should include a mechanism for any person to notify a public sector body about any content of their website or app that does not appear to meet accessibility standards, or to request information about any content that has not been made accessible (for example because it is exempt). A public sector body is required to respond to any legitimate and adequate notification or request for information, and must do so within a reasonable period of time. If a person is not happy with the response they receive, there must be a procedure in place for recourse.
The government is developing a procedure which will assist public sector bodies with compliance, support them to ensure their websites and apps are accessible, and which also harmonises with existing equality arrangements in the UK. As set out above, we are looking to use the expertise of GDS to monitor compliance with the accessibility requirements, and, in discussion with relevant bodies in the UK, are considering the potential to use the existing equality structures and legislation for enforcement of these obligations where possible. In respect of any proposed sanctions for failure to comply with the accessibility requirements, we do not currently intend to introduce new fines. We also do not currently intend to develop a new oversight body for enforcement, as this may potentially lead to confusion with the existing arrangements.
14 - Do you have any comments on proposed enforcement of the Directive?[Yes/No]
What are the regulations?
The draft regulations at Annex 1 are a statutory instrument which will bring into force the obligations of the Directive in the UK. These regulations use the power in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Broadly, these draft regulations set out who the obligations in the Directive will apply to, when these obligations come into force, and what the legal obligations are. For example, the requirement for public sector bodies to make their websites and apps perceivable, operable, understandable and robust is set out in Regulation 4. The requirement for public sector bodies to publish and regularly update accessibility statements is set out in Regulation 6. The draft regulations also set out the proposed monitoring and reporting requirements. The section for enforcement has been left intentionally blank as this is still being developed.
15 - Are the obligations in the regulations clear and easy to understand? If there is anything you do not understand, please advise. [Yes/No/Any comments]