Learn how to check if your website or mobile app is accessible.
Regulations came into force on 23 September 2018 which say that all public sector websites and mobile apps must:
- meet accessibility standards
- publish an accessibility statement
The best way to do this is:
- Check your website or mobile app for accessibility problems.
- Make a plan to fix any accessibility problems you find, within reason.
- Publish your accessibility statement.
- Make sure new features are accessible.
There’s guidance on who the regulations apply to if you’re not sure.
The full name of the regulations is the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
You must meet accessibility standards and publish an accessibility statement. You need to review and update your statement regularly.
Mobile apps need to comply by 23 June 2021.
1. Decide how to check the accessibility problems on your website or mobile app
The first thing to do is to check your website or mobile app for accessibility problems.
This does not mean checking every page. Instead you need to check a sample that shows the variation in content and functionality of your website or mobile app. By finding problems in a sample, you should be able to fix any issues across the whole website or mobile app.
There are a few different ways of checking your sample. Decide which method is appropriate for your organisation. In some situations you might use more than one method.
All methods involve checking your sample against the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard - in a different way depending on the resources that your organisation has.
Some types of content are exempt from meeting accessibility standards - you will not need to include those in your sample.
Method 1. Do a detailed audit yourself
If somebody within your team or organisation has the technical skills to do it, they should do a detailed audit to see if your sample content and functionality is WCAG 2.1 AA compliant.
Method 2. Pay a third party to do a detailed audit for you
If there’s nobody in your organisation with the skills to audit your content and functionality is WCAG 2.1 AA compliant, you can pay a third party to do a detailed audit instead.
They’ll tell you what needs fixing and - once you’ve made the fixes - can audit your website again to check it’s accessible. You can also ask them to prioritise and fix some or all of the issues.
The cost of an accessibility audit can vary widely. The details we give are examples based on previous costs.
You could expect to pay a third party up to £1,300 a day. You should get quotes from companies that provide accessibility audits.
It’s more difficult to estimate how long an audit of a large website with complex code and functionality would take. You should get a quote from a company doing the accessibility audit.
You’ll also need to budget for the cost of fixing problems and then retesting things. The time it takes to fix things can vary.
After you have fixed the accessibility problems you should get your site or app re-audited which normally takes about half the time of the original audit.
There’s guidance on choosing a supplier and writing an audit brief in the UK government Service Manual.
Method 3. Do a basic check if a detailed WCAG 2.1 check is a disproportionate burden
If you cannot reasonably afford to pay an external supplier to do a detailed WCAG 2.1 audit, you can judge that it would be a ‘disproportionate burden’. This means a cost that is too much for your organisation to reasonably spend.
For example, if an external supplier would charge £10,000 for an audit but your yearly budget after essential running costs is £2,000, you could argue it would be a disproportionate burden to pay for the audit.
In this case, you can do a basic check for accessibility without any technical knowledge.
If your organisation is very small, you might want to find a volunteer with a basic knowledge of websites to help you.
Using a combination of methods
If you’ve got a complex collection of websites but limited resources, you might use more than one method to check for accessibility problems. Allocate your resources so you’re making the biggest difference to your users.
For example, you might not have the budget to pay for an audit of your entire collection of websites or apps. But you could reasonably afford to pay a third party to audit your most important, most used content. In this case you could:
- use method 2 (pay a third party) to audit the most important content
- assess that it’s a disproportionate burden to pay for an audit on the rest of your websites or apps
- use method 3 (do a basic check) for the rest of your content
Assessing if a detailed check is a disproportionate burden
If you want to establish whether an audit is a disproportionate burden, you’re legally required to carry out an assessment.
You need to weigh up:
- the cost that paying for an audit would put on your organisation
- the benefits of making your website or mobile app accessible
You should not take things like lack of time or knowledge into account in your assessment - or argue that an audit is a disproportionate burden because you’ve not given it priority.
2. Make a plan to fix any accessibility problems
Once you’ve identified any problems in your sample, you need to make a plan to fix these across the whole website or mobile app.
This involves talking to people who know how long things will take to fix and how difficult each fix might be.
- suppliers, about the technology behind your website
- developers who know about the code for your website
- content editors, publishers or people who edit the text and documents on your website
Think about the impact of each thing you’re fixing to help you prioritise. For example, it’s probably better for your users that essential services meet accessibility standards than out-of-date campaigns.
If you’ve used a third party to audit your website or mobile app, they can help you to prioritise how to fix the problems. You should be able to fix some of the problems yourself, like making sure there is a transcript for audio content.
Build accessibility improvements into your processes, budgeting and long term planning.
You might not need to fix things if you have made a disproportionate burden assessment which we explain in the main guidance page. There may be exemptions to what you need to fix.
Create a roadmap
When you’ve worked out your priorities, it helps to make a high level plan or roadmap to show how you’ll meet accessibility standards.
Plan for opportunities to improve the accessibility of your website or mobile app. For example, if you’re appointing a new supplier or making changes to a section of your website.
Things you might not need to fix
You do not need to fix the following types of content because they’re exempt from the accessibility regulations:
- pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020
- live audio and video
- heritage collections like scanned manuscripts
- PDFs or other documents published before 23 September 2018 - unless users need them to use a service, for example a form that lets you request school meal preferences
- maps - but you’ll need to provide essential information in an accessible format like an address
- third party content that’s under someone else’s control if you did not pay for it or develop it yourself - for example, social media ‘like’ buttons
- content on intranets or extranets published before 23 September 2019 (unless you make a major revision after that date)
- archived websites if they’re not needed for services your organisation provides and they are not updated
Even though you might not need to fix these things, it’s better for all users if you can fix any of them to help more disabled people use your website or mobile app.
If you do not fix things in the list, you’ll need to explain in your accessibility statement that you’ve not made things like this accessible because they are exempt.
3. Publish your accessibility statement
You need to publish an accessibility statement to explain how accessible your website or mobile app is.
Most people looking at your statement will not be accessibility experts, so make sure it’s written in plain English that everyone can understand. This will also make it easier for users with a disability (who might have a cognitive impairment or learning disability) to understand how they can best use your website or mobile app.
Your statement needs to cover:
- whether your website or mobile app is ‘fully’, ‘partially’ or ‘not’ compliant with accessibility standards
- if it’s not fully compliant, which parts of your website or mobile app do not currently meet accessibility standards and why (for example, because they are exempt or it would be a disproportionate burden to fix things)
- how people can get alternatives to content that’s not accessible to them
- how to contact you to report accessibility problems - and a link to the website that they can use if they’re not happy with your response.
You should describe your website or mobile app as fully compliant if it meets accessibility standards in full, partially compliant if it meets most requirements, and not compliant if it does not meet most of the requirements.
You could also include information like how you evaluated your website or mobile app’s accessibility and your plan to fix any accessibility problems.
For websites, publish the statement as an HTML page. It’s good practice to link to it from every page on the website, in a prominent place like the website footer.
For mobile apps, make the statement available in the app store, on your website or both. Make sure it’s in an accessible format that everyone can use.
We’ve produced a sample accessibility statement to help you write yours. Some of the wording is legally required, so include that in your statement. You should adapt the rest of the wording for your organisation.
The sample statement is based on the model statement published by the EU, which details what information you must put in an accessibility statement.
You need to review and update your statement regularly (when there are major changes and at least once a year).
4. Make sure new features are accessible
Make sure any new content and features that you publish meet accessibility standards (unless it’s exempt).
The people who edit your website or mobile app have a responsibility to make content and features accessible. This means:
- making any new PDFs or other documents they create accessible
- writing good link text
- structuring content well
- publishing accessible images and videos
- checking new features work on assistive technologies
Make sure you have the processes and software to allow people to do these things easily. It’s better to make things accessible from the start than it is to go back and fix them.
Get support or advice
Depending on where you work, you may be able to get support from:
- the local government digital network - you can ask questions on their accessibility Slack channel
- the government accessibility community
Help improve accessibility guidance for the public sector
GDS is doing research with public sector organisations to help improve accessibility guidance. We’re inviting people who work in the public sector to join our user research panel. If you would like to help, answer two questions about the accessibility regulations.