UK Accessibility Laws

One of the key pieces of web accessibility legislation in the UK is the Equality Act 2010 (EQA). The EQA replaced the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act across the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland.

The Equality Act 2010 is broad, under it UK goods and service providers (both public and private sector organisations) have a legal obligation not to discriminate against people with protected characteristics, including disability. This covers people with visual, motor, hearing, cognitive and learning disabilities.

The EQA requires more than non-discrimination, it requires website owners to actively provide an equal experience to all their users. To comply with the law, UK website owners must preemptively make reasonable adjustments so that their website is accessible to people with disabilities, not wait for the lawsuit to tell them their website is inaccessible.

The EQA itself doesn’t specify any technical standard it requires of websites so in practice we use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), published by W3C, as a measure of how accessible a website is. Automated testing is effective but isn’t a guaranteed indicator of whether or not a website is accessible, some manual assessment is required.

Knowing how WCAG works is important because it is the standard that UK accessibility laws use to determine if a website is accessible.. The two key pieces of web accessibility legislation that organisations need to be familiar with are:

Simple Guidelines for Compliance

To be as accessible as possible to all users and comply with UK web accessibility laws, websites should be built with WCAG’s accessibility principles in mind. There are 4 principles, often referred to as POUR:

  • Perceivable – Everyone should be able to accurately consume your content whether they experience hearing loss, vision loss or other impairments.
  • Operable – Website content should be navigable with a keyboard or assistive technologies. Users shouldn’t have restricted access to content because of their input device.
  • Understandable – Website interfaces and content should be simple, intuitive and predictable. Language and controls used should be understandable to all users.
  • Robust – Content should be compatible with a wide range of assistive technology tools like screen readers. It should be backed by valid code and provide names and roles for non-standard UI components.

To help website managers follow these principles, WCAG also outlines technical standards to measure a website’s level of accessibility. The standards are split into 3 levels:

  • A – Pages with level A issues are unusable for some people. These are probably issues in the code which make the content unreadable or easily misunderstood.
  • AA – Pages with level AA issues are difficult to use.
  • AAA – Pages with level AAA issues can be difficult to use.

We can run automated tests and checks for every page on your website and fix any issues which arise but sometimes manual assessment of the content flow is required to ensure that content is actually accessible to all users.

Who is required to follow the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility regulations?

Public sector bodies that must comply with the law include:

  • Central government organisations
  • Local government organisations
  • Some charities
  • Some non-government organisations

Public sector organisations that are exempt from the law include:

  • Non-government organisations. This includes organisation like charities unless they are mostly financed by public funding, provide services that are essential to the public or aimed at disabled people.
  • Public sector broadcasters and their subsidiaries.

Public sector organisations that are partially exempt from the law include:

  • Primary and secondary schools and nurseries – with the exception of web content that people need to access in order to use their services.

Partially exempt organisations still need to publish an accessibility statement on their website to communicate the intended level of accessibility.

Do private sector organisations need to comply with accessibility laws?

Yes, in the UK private sector organisations still need to comply with the implications of the Equality Act 2010 which states that there should be no discrimination against people with disabilities and that there is a duty to make adjustments.

Beyond the requirements there are convincing arguments that meeting web accessibility standards is good for business. 28% of people in Wales live with some form of impairment, you would automatically avoid making sales to a large proportion of the population if your website isn’t accessible.