A partnership approach to public sector web accessibility

In September 2018 new web accessibility regulations were introduced by the UK government. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Regulations 2018 make it illegal for public sector websites and apps to be inaccessible to people with disabilities. 

AbilityNet's experts are liaising with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to support customers and clients with implementing changes under this new law. In our latest webinar on the new accessibility regulations (watch or listen to the webinar below), we discuss the government guidelines in more detail. You can find out more about the regulations in our expert article here "Is your public sector website prepared for new regulations?"

As part of the new regulations, public sector bodies need to publish an accessibility statement on their website which explains how accessible their website(s) or app(s) are. The statement needs to be very easy to find. 

A partnership approach to public sector web accessibility

Kent County Council and the University of Kent:

George Rhodes from Kent County Council, and Ben Watson from the University of Kent, worked together to make their public sector websites more accessible and collaborated on their web accessibility statements. Both organisations had already done significant work on accessibility before the new regulations came in. 

In AbilityNet’s Accessibility Regulations update webinar, the two share more information on their approach to accessibility and accessibility statements.

Watson, who is accessible information officer advisor at the University of Kent, explains the joint approach: “As two public sector organisations that had exactly the same commitment and requirements under these regulations, it became very clear to us that there was a great opportunity to share resources, expertise and learning.”

The benefits of partnership working

The two recommend finding a great local partner to work with: “Sharing resources means we can do more with what we have. I think it also gives others, and us, a greater level of reassurance that we have an ability to check our thinking with another organisation,” explains Watson.

GDS has a sample statement available online, which can be used for guidance, but Rhodes and Watson have adapted it for their respective organisations’ needs.

Both bodies have created a user-friendly Plain English version of their statement, which is the one they are primarily promoting to a wide range of users across the university and the local council. They also have a technical version, which is where they fully outline how they meet the regulations.

Rhodes explains: “In the statement we have a lot of content on navigation, productivity tools, using the sites on different devices, alternate formats and Web Standards. We also have a ‘known issues’ section where we discuss these issues in more detail. We also talk about third party content. This is quite a hefty section of the accessibility statement because the more we thought about it, the more different situations we thought would come up."

Uni of Kent accessibility statement: information on navigation, listening to content and accessible formats

Watson adds: “We’ve also used the statement as a really good chance to talk about the broader opportunities available to visitors to get more from the websites. We point people at tools that will improve their digital experience, whether they have a disability or not.”

They’ve also created a list of ‘productivity tools’. These are things that are now being used in Kent public libraries to support people who are trying to develop IT confidence and digital literacy. The list includes a lot of recommendations seen in disabled students allowance reports.

Website accessibility audits

Rhodes explains: “The statement is only part of the journey. We’ve both had active auditing processes behind the scenes. Wherever possible we are sharing the same methodologies of auditing our site. The auditing process very much indirectly informs the ongoing evolution of the statement, particularly the known issues section.”

Watson adds: “We are training students to understand how to do the auditing too, with support from the council. The ultimate goal is that this is a graduate attribution.”

Ensuring your accessibility and stays up-to-date

Audits can get out of date quite quickly, often within a month because of changes to a site. This is something you need to think about when planning a new site. Think about the content and the background coding behind the content and how this can be improved so that it is less likely to become inaccessible over time. Have people in-house who know what they’re doing.

You can use some of the freely available tools to do simple testing or invest in something paid for that means your team has the right tools at their disposal. AbilityNet can offer these skills and support, but equally you could be doing the same thing in-house. 

Training: Web accessibility testing 

We’re running training courses in September to help with this. These are paid for online courses for a small number of people which last an hour and a half. They are £90 each.

Find out more about our courses which help you test your digital resources for accessibility

With these trainings, we are trying to provide insights that will be valuable across your digital teams. They are not necessarily about these regulations - though they are clearly informed by them. But we are also conscious that we want to help people raise their skills generally with these sessions.

View the webinar slide deck from our free webinar on the new Public Sector Accessibility Regulations

Speak to our experts about the accessibility requirements for your projects