The UK Government has recently published its response to a consultation process on its plans to implement European accessibility legislation for public sector websites. In it, the Government clearly states who will be monitoring and reporting on websites and apps and who will be enforcing the law – but will proactive enforcement finally become a reality?
Which websites and apps are affected?
An EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications will be implemented in the UK on 23 September and concerns all public sector bodies. There are, however, several notable exemptions including schools and nurseries, public sector broadcasters such as the BBC, some NGOs and some third-party content that appears on public sector websites.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the consultation were critical of these proposed exemptions – organisations including AbilityNet, the British Computer Society, Scope and the RNIB. However, the Government has chosen to stand by their original proposal; “Government policy is not to go beyond the minimum requirements of European Directives unless there are exceptional circumstances. In accordance with this policy, we will make use of all exemptions available in the Directive.”
This is, of course, disappointing and not a little concerning. It is also seemingly in contradiction with existing legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 which most definitely requires organisations across all sectors not to discriminate against people who need website and app accessibility to participate in today’s digital world.
The Government response does state that a review of the regulations will take place two years after they come into force, which will include examining how exemptions are working and “if these need to be changed.” Let’s hope this includes asking those affected about how the inaccessible websites are impacting their lives.
Moreover, deadlines for public sector organisations to comply with the regulations do not come into effect until 2019-2021 (depending on when content was created). This proposed delay also drew criticism in the consultation process and yet has remained unchanged. It has been a legal requirement for websites to be accessible since 2003 so this further ‘grace’ period seems a little unnecessary…