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  1. Service manual
  2. Helping people to use your service
  3. Making your service accessible: an introduction

Services on GOV.UK are for the benefit of all UK citizens. This means you must build a service that’s as inclusive as possible.

If you exclude anyone from using your service based on disability, you may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

You must also operate your service in line with your department’s Welsh Language Scheme if there is one.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

You must build an accessible service as part of meeting these points:

You’ll have to explain how you did this in your service assessments.

Meeting the accessibility standard

As a minimum, your service must meet Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Testing your service yourself

You can find some accessibility issues by running an automated tool against your site and by doing regular manual checks.

You can use an automated tool to regularly test your service’s accessibility while you build it and after you launch, for example:

You must not solely rely on using automated tools to check accessibility - they can only find 20% to 30% of issues.

To find out about other automated tools, or manual tools, check W3C’s list of tools.

Get your service tested by a specialist

You must get your service tested for technical accessibility by an accessibility specialist.

If there isn’t an accessibility specialist in your team or department, you can find an accessibility agency on the Digital Marketplace.

Get an accessibility review early

You should get a specialist to review your service as early as possible. They can advise you on content, designs, prototypes and code and identify barriers that could affect people with disabilities, including visual, hearing, cognitive and motor impairments.

The later you find problems, the more likely it’ll be that they’re expensive or difficult to fix.

Get a full audit done

You must get a full audit done by a specialist before your service goes in front of the public to confirm it meets WCAG 2.0 to level AA.

Allow enough time between the full audit and your service launching to the public to fix any problems the specialist finds.

Your service shouldn’t go public if there are known issues that exclude some users.

Test with users

You must test your service with disabled people, older people and people who use assistive technologies. Try to pick people that are likely to use your service, rather than people who do accessibility testing as their job.

Do this as part of your user research - try to include at least one person with accessibility needs in each session.

If you can’t do this testing yourself you should get an external company to do it for you. Have them test at least twice while you’re building your service.

Making your service work with assistive technology

Screen readers

Your service must work for people who use recent versions of these screen readers:

Operating system screen magnifiers

Your service must also work for people using screen magnifiers like:

Speech recognition software

You must make your service work with speech recognition software including Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Make your content accessible

Accessibility is more than checking the boxes of standards compliance. When writing content, consider what information would be useful to people with accessibility needs.

For example, in a ‘find my nearest’ service, consider user needs like:

  • whether there’s disabled parking
  • how far disabled parking is from the entrance
  • what the terrain is like and whether it’s uphill or downhill
  • whether users will have to cross any roads

You must make sure all content is written in plain English and that you follow the GOV.UK style guide.

Use accessible formats

HTML is quicker, easier and more widely usable and accessible than PDF, but if you have no other option than PDF, use this PDF guidance.

Find out more about choosing appropriate formats.

Make non-digital parts of your service accessible

You should also make sure the non-digital parts of your service are accessible.

Some people may still need to use the phone to complete your service, for example:

If this is the case, you must make sure people who are deaf or have speech impairments can still contact you, either by SMS, email or face to face (for example with a British Sign Language translator or a lip-reader).

If you must send out letters as part of your service, eg for legal reasons, make sure you’re prepared to create alternative formats that are accessible for those that need them, for example large print, braille or audio CD.

Examples and case studies

Read about how the Government Digital Service (GDS) did accessibility testing on GOV.UK in this blog post.

Published by:
Accessibility community
Last update:

Guidance first published