The equality act makes it illegal to discriminate against various groups, including people living with disabilities. The Equality Act also states that websites must be accessible to all users. But what does that mean for businesses and organisations in the UK and what legislation should you be adhering to?
What is the legal requirement for website accessibility in the UK?
In our increasingly digital world, ensuring that websites are accessible to everyone is paramount. The US is far ahead of the UK in this regard, requiring that all websites must be accessible and comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility standards. Furthermore, companies that don’t have an ADA-compliant website risk facing a lawsuit.
In this blog, we delve into the website accessibility regulations in the UK, review the legal framework, the responsibilities of website owners, and the benefits of compliance.
There are two significant laws regarding web accessibility to be aware of in the UK, the Equality Act (2010) and the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations (2018).
Website accessibility regulations in the UK revolve primarily around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). While the Equality Act does not specifically reference WCAG, it is generally accepted that adhering to these guidelines will ensure reasonable adjustments have been made.
Although the UK is no longer part of the European Union, it’s important to highlight the European Accessibility Act (EAA) legislation, passed in April 2019 which highlights those digital products and services which must adhere before the deadline in 2025. EN 301549 defines official standards for web accessibility.
Currently, the WCAG 2.2 is the latest version being used as a reference in the UK. These guidelines outline how web content should be designed to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR) for all users, including those with disabilities.
- Public Sector Organisations: Public sector bodies, including government departments, local authorities, the NHS, and charities, are all required to comply with the Web Accessibility Regulations. These regulations ensure that public websites and mobile apps meet the WCAG 2.2 standard (updated 5 October 2023). Additionally, unlike the US, the regulation requires covered entities (ie those which handle public health information data regularly) to incorporate an accessibility statement.
- Private Sector: While private companies and organisations are not subject to the same legal obligations as the public sector and charities above, it is highly recommended that they also strive for website accessibility. Ensuring accessibility benefits not only individuals with disabilities but also enhances the overall user experience and can potentially expand the audience and customer base.
- Third-party Suppliers: It is important to note that third-party suppliers who provide digital services to public sector organisations should also ensure that the products and services they offer are compliant with accessibility regulations.
Benefits of Compliance
- Inclusivity: Ensuring web accessibility makes your website inclusive, allowing everyone to access and use your services. It reflects a commitment to equality and non-discrimination.
- Improved User Experience: Accessible websites tend to be more user-friendly for all visitors. This leads to a better overall user experience, potentially increasing the time spent on your site and reducing bounce rates.
- Legal Compliance: For public sector organisations, compliance is a legal requirement. Failing to meet accessibility standards can result in legal consequences, including fines.
- Enhanced Reputation: Demonstrating a commitment to web accessibility can enhance your organisation’s reputation and increase trust amongst customers and users.
- Improved SEO: Accessibility and SEO go hand in hand. Making your website accessible can improve your SEO and increase your potential audience, including those with disabilities. This can lead to expanded reach and a larger customer base.
In time, we expect Google to penalise those websites which are not accessible, in the same way they did for non-responsive websites, by reducing their ranking and potentially not featuring them in searches.
Steps to Ensure Compliance
- Conduct Accessibility Audits: Regularly review your website to identify accessibility issues. There are various tools and services available that can help identify and rectify these issues. Additionally, APM uses accessiBe. AccessiBe considers colour and content enhancements, those with ADHD and blind users. Learn more about accessiBe.
- Train Your Team: Ensure that your web development and content management teams are aware of and trained in accessibility best practices. This is crucial for ongoing compliance.
- Implement WCAG Guidelines: Make necessary changes to your website to ensure it complies with the WCAG 2.2 guidelines.
- Document Accessibility Efforts: Keep records of your accessibility initiatives and efforts to demonstrate your commitment to compliance.
Ensuring that websites are accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, not only benefits individuals with disabilities but also contributes to improved user experiences and compliance with recommended best practice and, no doubt in future, the law. By making website accessibility a priority, organisations in the UK can extend their reach, enhance their reputation, and make a positive impact on the lives of their users. It’s a win-win for both inclusivity and the bottom line.