Accessibility legislation: what you need to know

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:29 October 2020
Owner:Analysis Function Central Team
Who this is for:Anyone publishing government statistics or analysis on public sector websites

Accessibility: what is it and why should we address it?

“Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can: perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web.”

                                                                                            World Wide Web Consortium

As government analysts, we need to make our work accessible because:

If you want to find out more, Understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies published by the Government Digital Service (GDS) is a good place to start.

This article on WCAG 2.2 rewrites the success criteria in plain English is also useful.

How the UK accessibility legislation and WCAG 2.2 fit together

The UK accessibility legislation states “public sector bodies must comply with the accessibility requirement”, where ‘accessibility requirement’ means the requirement to make a website or mobile application accessible by making it perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

The regulations do not specifically mention the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2. However, if your online content meets WCAG 2.2 at the A and AA standard you will be aligned to what the accessibility legislation states you need to do.

The WCAG 2.2 are provided by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

W3C is an international community where member organisations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop web standards.

Consequences for inaccessible content

Content on public sector websites that does not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2 can get complaints related to the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 and/or the Equality Act 2010.

Make sure whoever is responsible for the content you publish is aware of this and the possible risks involved.

Inaccessible content can result in legal action

Examples of legal action

In March 2023 BBC News reported on the £3,000 settlement awarded to a blind man over inaccessible content. Stephen Campbell was unable to access the Health and Social Care Northern Ireland (HSCNI) website to apply for promotion. As a screen reader user, he was unable to activate the online process using his screen reader software. He was also unable to find any information for reasonable adjustments to be made for him to apply. The Western Trust has since agreed to work with the Equality Commission on policies around the recruitment process for blind people.

In 2021 The York Press reported on a blind student from York who won £5,000 in a settlement against the Student Loans Company (SLC). Holly Scott-Gardner launched legal action after not being able to fill in a Disabled Students’ Allowance form. The form was inaccessible to visually impaired people. SLC have since said the form is now fully compliant with accessibility regulations. They have also delivered a significant programme of work to ensure their online content is compliant.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) reported on a case against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for sending letters, during the COVID pandemic, which were inaccessible to blind people. The case was settled out of court and the DHSC agreed to address the issues.

Lawsuits over inaccessible content are not only happening in the UK. In the United States, Beyoncé’s website faced a lawsuit in 2019 as did Domino’s. Analysis performed by Seyfarth Shaw LLP in America suggest Plaintiffs for Website Accessibility Lawsuits in United States Federal Courts are increasing.

Accessibility statement/accessible documents policy

The accessibility legislation requires your department to publish an accessibility statement if it publishes content on its own website.

The legislation sets out what should be included in the accessibility statement and GDS have published guidance on what an accessibility statement should look like.

If you publish on GOV.UK, your department must have an accessible documents policy that covers all the content published by the department on GOV.UK.

GDS have provided guidance on what to include in this policy.

As statistical and analytical releases may be quite different to other publications your department puts online, someone in your department should talk to whoever manages your online content about including specific accessibility information relating to content in statistical releases. For example, you may want to state something specific about the accessibility of spreadsheet documents or charts.

What to do about inaccessible content

The legislation states that the accessibility statement must include:

  • an explanation of those parts of the content that are not accessible and the reasons why
  • where appropriate, a description of any accessible alternatives provided

It is best practice to also state what you intend to do about any content that is not accessible and when you intend to do this by.

Content that is exempt

Content published in a document format (for example, PDF, Excel or Word documents) before 23 September 2018 is exempt from the accessibility regulations – unless users need them to use a service, for example a form that lets you request school meal preferences.

We can make content published in document format accessible by:

Generally, we would advise to make the document into an accessible HTML format. But there may be times when this is not possible.

Disproportionate burden

Some government departments have stated they will not be editing some of the inaccessible content they have published since 23 September 2018 because to do so would put a disproportionate burden on their resources.

If you want to make use of the disproportionate burden clause in the accessibility regulations you must:

  • state this clearly in your accessibility statement or accessible documents policy
  • perform a thorough monetary assessment that proves the costs associated with converting inaccessible content into accessible versions is disproportionate to the benefit for disabled people and the relevant budget for the organisation – if you want more guidance on this, please contact
  • ask the legal team in your department to assess your accessibility statement or accessible documents policy against the UK accessibility legislation
  • ensure whoever is ultimately responsible for the content you publish is aware of the issues that may arise if someone makes a complaint about inaccessible content published by your department since 23 September 2018

Accessibility audits

Section 9 of the accessibility regulations states: “The Minister for the Cabinet Office must monitor the compliance by public sector bodies of their websites and mobile applications with the accessibility requirement, on the basis of the monitoring methodology.”

This work is being carried out by The Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), who are based in the Cabinet Office.

CDDO are tasked with monitoring the extent to which public sector bodies are complying with the accessibility regulations. They are doing this by carrying out accessibility audits and providing feedback. By 23 December 2021 they will have to submit a report detailing the level of compliance by public sector bodies, based on this research.

Related links

Guidance from the Analysis Function Central Team:

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