Project Silver - what it means for accessibility and how you can help make the web more inclusive

silve panel

It’s just a few months since the Web Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG) were publicly released by the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3). But, work has already started on the guidelines’ successor, currently known as Project Silver.

AbilityNet will be following the guidelines’ development over the coming years (the project might be in development for five years) and will be looking for ways we can contribute our wide-ranging expertise from working on web accessibility for numerous large organisations. 

Can you help with Project Silver?

Anyone can contribute to the project and, after a year of initial research, it already has some good foundational ideas about what needs development with the guidelines. The project is particularly looking for participation from experts in the accessibility community who can help with:

  • Writing plain and simple language. The current WCAG 2.1 uses some complex language and we would welcome simplification for our clients and other organisations.
  • Links and resources for supporting content, examples and tutorials. We believe this would hugely help organisations understand accessibility much more clearly and mean that more disabled people could access essential services online. 

The new update comes because a group of people within the WC3 wanted to work on the next major evolution of accessibility guidance with a User Experience model. This meant researching what users needed from accessibility guidance and potentially recommending a major restructuring of WCAG.

A Silver Design Sprint has been already completed, developing a prototype and user testing. This is due in September 2018. 

Experts and members of public needed

If you’d like to contribute to Project Silver, here are some options:

Task Force Participant: the most time-consuming level of participation. The time commitment is estimated to be 6-10 hours per week. To join the Silver Task Force, individuals must be participants of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. 

The Silver Community Group is open to the public, and only requires a (free) W3C account and agreeing to the intellectual property commitment for W3C Community Groups. Participants contribute at the amount of time that is convenient for them. 

  • Research Partner: The Silver Task Force seeks qualified researchers in accessibility fields to assist with user research and background research on Silver and WCAG 2. 
  • Silver Stakeholder: people who would provide valuable perspective on a new design of accessibility guidelines. 
  • Comments on publications: The Silver Task Force invites the public to comment on its work. Announcements on Silver Task Force work will be announced on the Silver Email list (public-silver@w3.org)].

Publications will be also be tweeted with the #a11y and #wcag hashtags. Silver publications use the #a11ySilver hashtag. All publications include instructions for comments. 

Writing in plain English

Main topics you can help with:

  • Writing Silver in plain/simple language. Great for editors.
  • Linking to more helpful information that is hard to find.
  • Creating a homepage useful for both beginners and experts.
  • Developing a method for accessibility experts to contribute new content.
  • Changing how to define conformance beyond true/false success criteria statements.
  • Improving specification development tools, i.e. a simplified interface to Github so more people with disabilities can participate.
  • Helping to organise usability testing of the different ideas.

Find out more

This blog was written by Marta Valle and Joe Chidzik from AbilityNet's accessibility team

Eye-opening blind mobility service Right-Hear is coming, er, right here (to the UK)

Based upon an award-winning blind mobility and orientation system, Right-Hear is a service that is about to boost the confidence and choices of blind people out and about – well, actually indoors - in the UK.

Being blind brings challenges when getting around

Robin Christopherson with service dog ArchieWith a trusty guide-dog or long cane, blind people can effectively navigate the cluttered streets and swarming crowds (often comprising many people distracted by smartphones) and avoid the pitfalls (quite literally) of roadworks and vehicles parked on the pavements. We can usually end up where we intended to go without incident or misadventure. 

The challenge often comes, however, when you are so close to your destination that you could probably touch it – although you don't know that you can because, well, you can't see. GPS apps on our phone are great at getting us to the approximate area of our goal (the door of a shop, say) but not accurate enough as to enable us to find it without a lot of feeling around and trial and error. 

Once in the door there are all the other challenges associated with finding our way around the aisles or corridors, locating lifts or (and this is by far the most important one) loos and sourcing a helping hand by seeking out the customer-service desk.

Tech to the rescue

Bluetooth beacons, combined with cleverly coded software on our smartphones, can help blind people not only precisely find the door of the building but also every other desired destination within it. Using an open standard that has been developed specifically to help the visually impaired and those with other orientation impairments called Wayfindr (winner of the 2016 Tech4Good Accessibility Award), the Right-Hear solution is about to hit the streets (or at least the buildings and unmapped open spaces) of the UK and it's worth a look. Let's see it in action in this short video:

Mobilising mobility solutions - made easy

Wayfindr has prepared the ground for services such as Right-Hear to be more readily realised. The challenge of how and when to present just the right amount of spoken information to help someone orientate and navigate around in an open space has been clearly laid-out in the Wayfindr open standard

Right-Hear has used that foundation and built both an app for blind end-users and an easy-to-use dashboard for venue owners to configure the experience for their customers. 

Let's take a look in this video at how a venue can be set up to use the service:

Showing the way forward

Easy and effective, let's hope that Right-Hear and other such services represent significant steps to enhanced mobility for everyone who faces challenges finding their way around. Wayfindr has paved the way for many such services to be developed and deployed in the UK and across the world. 

Just as there is a plethora of GPS apps to choose from, so should there soon be choice and a competitive landscape in which everyone can easily find their way around both indoors and out. 

Bravo to Right-Hear. We encourage everyone responsible for a building or unmapped open space to use such solutions to make them truly accessible.

Related articles

Three cool smart glasses to help people who are blind or have sight loss

Microsoft Seeing AI - the best ever app for blind people just got even better

How Accessible Smart Cities Will Help Disabled People

GOV.UK and Alexa: Government keen to hear the voice of the people

The GOV.UK team have been working hard at bringing their information available online to a smartspeaker near you - another solid step towards bringing public services into the age of ambient computing.

The steady surge of smartspeakers

The Amazon Echo Dot Smartspeaker ownership is growing rapidly. Already up 3% in 2018 to date, ownership of voice-activated speakers now stands at 8% of the adult UK population - with voice searches more generally also rising rapidly. In 2016, 1 in every 5 Google searches on Android were voice searches, with market analyst ComScore predicting that half of all search queries will be spoken by 2020. Voice as an interface to the internet is clearly here to stay.

Not just a pretty voice

As many of you may already know, there is a lot more that you can do with a smartspeaker than just listen to music, radio, the news and the weather. If you don't, then my daily podcast on all things Alexa is an excellent place to start. Click that link to subscribe in iTunes, search for 'Dot to Dot' in your podcatching app of choice, or simply ask your favourite smartspeaker to play that podcast and it'll start with the latest episode.

Google Home deviceNow wouldn't it be great if Alexa or your Google Home knew as much about government services as it did about celebrities or stock prices? Wouldn't it be great if you could ask your smartspeaker how long it takes to get a new passport, how much it would cost to take your driving test or when your child benefit would be paid?

Well, thanks to the GOV.UK team, you can ask Google Assistant those very questions as well as others along similar public-service lines - on your Google Home smartspeaker, on your Android phone or on an iPhone using the Google Search app. This is as a result of their implementing new 'search schemas'; a method recommended by Google to surface succinct responses from a website in a form ideal for being quickly read on-screen or spoken by a smartspeaker. Similar approaches exist for Siri, Alexa and Cortana (Microsoft's virtual assistant) and the team hope to add such capabilities to these platforms shortly.

Read all about it

You can read all about their advances, along with their future ambitions for ambient computing in the delivery of public sector services, in a recent post published on their website; 'Hey GOV.UK, what are you doing about voice?'. I was fortunate enough to contribute to their on-going research in this area, and they were kind enough to include a link in this post to my article all about how smartspeakers are perfect for people with disabilities; 'Alexa vs Google Home vs Cortana: The battle to reach every user intensifies'.

Related articles

How do Alexa and Amazon Echo help disabled people?

Can Alexa improve your health?

Alexa vs Google Home vs Cortana: The battle to reach every user intensifies

Teen who tackles isolation amongst children with disabilities and life limiting conditions receives T4G Special Award

Every year AbilityNet gives a Tech4Good Special Award to someone truly inspirational who captures the spirit of Tech4Good. This year, the award has been given to 17-year-old Lewis Hine from Portsmouth.

Lewis is a social media phenomenon and a tireless disability rights campaigner. Three years ago he set up Friend Finder Official to help reduce isolation among children with chronic and life-limiting conditions, after feeling the loneliness of a long term health condition himself. Liam and his team use social media to arrange proms, Christmas parties, discos, wheelchair basketball, gaming sessions, soft play sessions, indoor skiing and much more. They also use Near Field technology and AV1 robots to make those connections and experiences easier and more possible.  

Lewis was 17 months old when he was first diagnosed with a brain tumour and has battled with illness ever since. He’s had more than 13 brain surgeries among other operations and treatments.

Over the years he has missed quite a lot of school and the opportunity to form close friendships. In his early teens he became more aware of the friendship gap felt by other children like him. This led to him setting up Friend Finder Official.

Making friendships easier with Near Field

Explaining the tech Lewis uses, his mum Emma Hine tells AbilityNet: “Lewis uses two types of technology with Friend Finder. He uses Near Field technology connected to a USB stick in the shape of a little plastic hand -  this is from an amazing company called Poken. Lewis pre-loads the hands with the young person’s information and then at friend finder events all the young people are given a hand. When two hands are near each other or touch, they glow green and exchange information.

“This is great for disabled and sick children as many have trouble writing things down. After the event, the young person puts the hand USB stick into their computer and it takes them to the friend finder world platform where they can continue to talk to the friends that they've made at the friend finder event.

AV1 Robots

Emma continues: “The other piece of technology is an AV1 robot from the company No Isolation. The robot is a telepresence robot that works on the 4G network or wifi and enables a young person to attend friend finder events from their hospital bed or bedroom. It also enables the young person to attend school remotely so they don't miss out on education and can still be in lessons and talk through the robot from their hospital bed. Lewis actually uses one of the robots himself to attend college.”

On his website, Lewis explains more about why he set up friend finder: “Every time I started to make friends at school I would end up back in hospital. Things were tough, and I never got invited to birthday parties or to anyone’s house after school for dinner or to just hang out and socialise! I discovered that I was far from alone and that there are over one million children in the UK that miss school due to a long-term illness and that is when the idea of Friend Finder began.”

The charity has now helped more than a thousand children make friends and is inundated with requests globally from children and their parents who want to know when Friend Finder will be coming to their part of the world.

Friends are key to mental and physical wellbeing

“I truly believe that having a friend is one of the most important things in life and is key to our mental and physical wellbeing,” says Lewis. “Everyone needs someone to talk to, to smile, to laugh and sometimes cry with!”

Mark Walker, marketing manager for AbilityNet and organiser of the awards, said Lewis was a very obvious winner: “Every year we give an award to someone in the public eye, someone who we think embodies the spirit of Tech4Good and who is inspiring others.

“Lewis is a phenomenal young person. At the age of 14 decided he wanted to use technology to make the world a better, to help people truly experience what every person wants - to feel a deep connection with others and be able to share their joy and pain with people who understand. The judges all agreed that what Lewis has achieved is worthy of special recognition, so he has joined the ranks of Sir Jimmy Wales, Maggie Philbin and Professor Stephen Hawking as our 8th Tech4Good Special Award winner.”

Going global with Friend Finder

Lewis has been interviewed by the national press, appeared on national television, filmed a CBBC documentary about his life, written a book and received many prestigious awards for his work. He recently received $20,000 in the Bakken Invitation Award which he hopes to use to take Friend Finder global.

Emma adds: “I am so proud of Lewis winning the AbilityNet award. His passion and determination to improve the lives of disabled and chronically sick children is incredible, especially for a young person that is fighting his own life-limiting illness.

“Lewis’s life is not easy which is why he recognised how technology could help make things more accessible and help make his life easier. He is my inspiration and the reason I get up every morning. His vision to change the world is so inspiring and I truly believe he really is making a difference.”

We couldn’t agree more!

Relive the magic of the Tech4Good 2018 Awards ceremony. 

 

 

 

Five Apps for Surviving Freshers Week

September is coming and we all know what that means – the famously frantic freshers’ weeks are upon us! It might be your first time away from home or perhaps you’re just concerned about getting organised, or how you’re going to afford the weekly food bill.

Every year, AbilityNet helps thousands of students with a range of disabilities to get the most from their time at university, and we know that preparation is key. That’s why we’ve put together a list of apps that we think might help you prepare for the start of term…

1. Organisation‘Swipes’ – this handy app is essentially a funky to do list – it allows you to ‘swipe’ tasks to the right to complete them or to the left to remind you later. It’s a nice way of prioritising the things you can do right away and things you can put off until you’re ready. Make your way through your daily tasks, and even get a nice satisfying fanfare at the end.

Swipes logo

2. Positivity‘Wysa’ – this app was designed by therapists, coaches, users, and AI specialists to create a platform where you can talk anonymously about anything that’s concerning you, from stress, anxiety, sleep loss, and a whole range of other mental health and wellness needs. You can make as much or little contact as you need, and also find additional help from qualified mental health professionals too. This is just a chatbot, so please remember it’s not a replacement for human support, and you should always speak with your Student Support Team or another professional if you have any concerns.

Wysa logo

3. Health‘Student Health App’ – staying on top of your health in the first few weeks of university can be tough, with a hectic social life and new academic demands, it’s easy to not take the best care of ourselves. The developers of this app clearly have been through this process themselves. This great app covers anything from first aid, to mental health, to safety at university. This app is free to download on Google Play and the Apple iTunes store.

Student health app logo

4. Budgeting‘Voucher codes’ – let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a bargain? It can be challenging going to university, managing tight budgets, and not wanting to miss out on that tasty takeaway. This app shows you the best deals, from restaurants to online shopping, and even hotels. 

Voucher codes logo

5. Cooking‘all recipes’ – here you can find and share everyday cooking inspiration. Discover new recipes, videos, and how-to’s. This app lets you follow friends, and makes recommendations based on the food you love. You can also see reviews from other users at the bottom of every recipe. It’s essentially a social networking site, but replace the funny cat pictures with tasty food recipes.

All Recipes Logo

AbilityNet has a free helpline for students with disabilities of all kinds, and we can advise on apps to support you while you’re at university. If you’d like to get in touch, you call us free on: 0800 269 545, email us on: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk, or visit www.abilitynet.org.uk.

Are your events accessible? Freshers’ Week prep for faculty staff

It’s that time of year when staff and students are thinking about the start of the university term and Fresher’s Week. During this exciting time, it is important to consider access needs, provide support for people with a range of abilities and also to think carefully about student and staff mental health.

Whilst a lot of new starters, returners and staff are ready for a new challenge and may enjoy all that the university experience has to offer, for some the university environment can be both challenging and overwhelming.

A stick person surrounded by icons representing barriers, such as sound and technology

AbilityNet believe the learning environment should be as accessible as possible, so we’ve pulled together a list of top tips for faculty staff during Freshers’ Week:

  1. Have a friendly ‘go-to’ person available every day throughout Fresher’s Week. Someone who is able to meet and greet people and point them in the right direction, advise, listen and help students feel at ease.
  2. Access needs; have you considered if everyone can access your Freshers’ event areas? Accessible location tips from our experts include: Find a wheelchair friendly location i.e. one with ramps, remove physical obstacles for those who may be visually impaired and avoid overbearing and loud music
  3. Share university support services information. Where can people go for additional support? Consider including advice on Disabled Students’ Allowances and information on assistive technology.
  4. Student Union information and societies can be the making of some people during their time at university. Provide easily accessed information on everything that is on offer at your institution.
  5. Suggest that students sign up to their local GP, which will help them feel more relaxed should they need an emergency appointment with any health concerns.
  6. Provide information on the NHS’s ‘5 steps to well-being’ 
  7. Provide links to useful platforms which can help students. We suggest including Student Minds, a UK student mental health charity, Campus Society, an advice platform where anyone can join the conversation and share any concerns they have and AbilityNet, a UK charity which provides advice on technology and disability. We have a large range of free resources for students including advice on apps and software, factsheets, webinars, videos and assistive technology training days
  8. Are your presentations accessible? Perhaps consider if your videos have subtitles or audio description. Include explanations of your slides as part of your presentation this will prevent excluding anyone who can’t see the screen. If you’re sharing slides afterwards consider doing an accessibility check before sharing. 
  9. The Whole University Approach is well worth a read 

Freshers’ Week is an exciting time for most people and making a few simple adjustments means your event will be able to provide the maximum enjoyment for everyone involved

If you’d like to contact us about how we may be able to support your needs whilst studying, you can call our free technology and disability helpline on: 0800 269 545 or email: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk

Find out more about our services at www.abilitynet.org.uk

Results Day... Are you off to university? You may be eligible for additional support

School’s out for summer, but along with lots of sunshine and fun it also means results day is looming! A- levels results day is today, Thursday 16th August and students all over the country are preparing to find out how they did in their exams. If you’re one of the lucky ones off to university it could be time to see if you’re eligible for additional support in higher education.

Use our HE support checker

Getting a degree is a huge challenge for every student but some students face additional challenges and barriers. You could be eligible for extra help from your university and the UK Government's Disabled Students' Allowances.

Use our free HE Support Checker to find out if you could be eligible for extra support at university due to a health condition or impairment. This is entirely anonymous, and you do not have to supply any personal information.

four students jumping in a park

What support could you get?

Many students face extra challenges due to medical conditions or disabilities and could be getting extra help to make sure they are able to achieve their full potential. This can include specialist hardware or software, changes to timetabling and deadlines or support from specialist staff to make their learning activities as accessible as possible.

Who could be eligible?

The Government’s Disabled Students’ Allowances offer a grant to help pay for equipment and other adaptations - this is funding which you don’t have to pay back. People who have claimed DSA include people with a wide range of conditions and impairments, including:

  • ADHD
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Bi-polar
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Crohn's disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Dyslexia
  • Eating disorder
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • IBS
  • Migraines
  • Spina Bifida
  • Specific Learning Difference
  • Tinnitus
  • Visual or Hearing Impairment
  • and many more

"As an autistic/other woman the support has been crucial to my success on the course. I got my first distinction ever last term! My learning mentor was so supportive and practical keeping me on target. The equipment provided meant I could work anywhere and recall important information. Because I didn’t know about DSA until the end of my first term I nearly left the course then. But a BCU advisor told me about it and helped me apply. It has still been challenging BUT with DSA support/equipment I am nearly there. Thank you!"

- Alison, Birmingham City University

Even if you are not eligible for DSA you can also check with your university to see what they may be able to provide for you. They will have specialist staff who will listen to your concerns and do what they can to help you address them.

Who are AbilityNet and how can we help?

AbilityNet is a UK charity that helps people of any age and ability to use tech to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education. We do this by providing specialist advice services, free information resources and by helping to build a more accessible digital world.

You can find out more online www.abilitynet.org.uk by using our freephone number: 0800 269 545 or email us: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk

Looking to secure a place at university this results day? We’re here to help

Around this time every year there are thousands of people using Clearing to secure their university place, so you are not alone. Clearing is a way for universities to fill any spaces they have left for the new academic year and gives those who do not hold an offer an opportunity to find a university place. The important thing to remember is that universities all over the country are currently focusing on one main thing: attracting new students just like you.

Do You know how in demand you could be?

UCAS stats show university application numbers have fallen again this year which means many institutions could have more spaces to fill, which is great news for students. You can take a look at your course options ahead of the rush at compare the course.

A student wearing mortar with a certificate, a phone and laptop

Didn't quite get the results you want?

If you’ve received your A-level results, didn’t do as well as you wanted, but still want to go to university -have no fear! Universities are waiting to speak to you so make sure you do your research as understanding the Clearing process can largely increase your chances of getting an offer that is perfect for you. Below we’ve listed some places for help and guidance.

Where can you go for help?

UCAS have some brilliant resources and information available including how Clearing works, a search tool to see what courses are available and details of how to add a Clearing choice in Track.

The complete university guide also has some great answers to frequently asked questions including queries about deferred entry, what to do if you can’t get through to the Clearing hotline and organising your accommodation and student loans. Take a look at their FAQ section.

Looking for extra additional help?

Once a university place has been accepted through Clearing it’s important to find out if you could be eligible for extra help. AbilityNet HE support checker is a free tool which can direct you towards extra support that may be available to you during your studies.Each user is entirely anonymous, it doesn’t use any personal information and it’s free!

Who might this help?

Previous eligible students have had a wide range of conditions and impairments including ADHD, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, a hearing or sight impairment and many others.

AbilityNet is a UK charity, we help people of any ages and abilities to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education. We do this by providing specialist advice services, free information resources and by helping to build a more accessible digital world. You can find out more about our services online or contact us with your query using our freephone number: 0800 269 545 or email us: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk.

Is there an Echo in here? Six ways that Alexa can help you be organised and productive

We now have three Amazon Echos in our house and, more and more often, I find myself about to speak to the air in a room where Alexa isn't, and have to stop myself before I look foolish. Here's a round-up of recent episodes from my Dot to Dot podcast which show why smart speakers like the Amazon Echo (AKA Alexa) and Google Home are so useful - and also addictive.

Simpler than a smartphone

Smart speakers really do represent the next significant paradigm shift in computing.

The PC was powerful but also complex. Then came the smartphone which, with its smaller screen, brought simpler content with the same amount of power and much more portability. Throw away your software instructions manuals and antivirus anxieties and enjoy the all-round easier experience. One didn't replace the other, but choice is a good thing - especially when the options are getting easier and easier to use.

Then came these natural-voice focused devices and the simplicity score just shot up several more notches. Again, not intended to replace smartphones or computers, these devices offer huge amounts of useful features nonetheless.

Information, entertainment, services and so much more

Most of us use our phones for so many different things each day that it would be hard to list them all. While smart speakers can't (yet) do all of those things, due to their ease of use and overall usefulness, it's inevitable that having one or more in your house will mean that some of those daily tasks will shift from your phone to the helpful assistant who is ever-listening and ready to help.

A lot of what I cover in Dot to Dot - the daily podcast about all things Alexa - focuses on entertainment, and she is so very good at a wide variety of games. But it's not just about trivia - I recently dedicated a series of episodes to the way Alexa can help with being organised and productive.

Six ways Alexa can help in your daily life

These episodes give you a flavour of Alexa's awesome array of talents. You can click on the links to listen to each one - or you can subscribe in iTunes or by searching for 'Dot to Dot' in your favourite podcast app. 

Dot to Dot - Episode 522 on finding out general information

  • This one's all about getting general information from Alexa - from facts on every possible topic, to detailed weather info, word definitions and synonyms and language translation.

Dot to Dot Episode 523 - on health and cooking

  • From recipes and cooking tips to first aid info and stopping smoking motivation - this one’s all about health. As with all these episodes, we cover Alexa's built-in abilities as well as third-party skills. What are skills? They're basically apps for your Echo.

Dot to Dot Episode 524 - on news, timers and alarms

  • Some of the most useful things you could ever use your Echo for are setting multiple cooking timers and a variety of alarms to make sure you're up in the morning. When you're up, there are a million ways of catching up with the news.

Dot to Dot Episode 525 - on accessing media of all kinds

  • Music, radio stations and podcasts from around the world are available on your Echo and there's a huge amount of educational and informative content to be consumed. The challenge is just where to start.

Dot to Dot Episode 526 - on reminders, connected devices, voice calling and audio and Kindle books

  • This one is chock-full of tips on setting reminders, connecting to smart devices around the home, calling and messaging using your Echo and even listening to your favourite audio or Kindle books read out by Alexa. Oh and buying things by voice from Amazon - nearly forgot that one!

Dot to Dot Episode 527 - on travel info and tips on finding Alexa skills

  • This final episode (and a gold star to everyone who listens to/survives them all) covers a range of travel skills to help you find the best driving route, check the traffic or get train times and the cheapest fares. We also cover how to ask Alexa to help you find out what she can do and how to remember your favourite skills.

Clever, entertaining and useful

I hope you'll agree that smart speakers like Alexa are amazingly useful and entertaining on so many levels. For people with disabilities, the ability to get news and other information by voice and to control your media and environment with a word is a game-changer.

The episodes in this article focus on her non-game skills, but to hear what Alexa can do in the game-department then simply subscribe to Dot to Dot and you'll find out a lot more on a daily basis.

Related articles

Robin Christopherson is head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet. Find more of his blogs here. 
 

Government identifies body to enforce website accessibility - now will they step up to the task?

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 illustration of web page design on desktop and mobileAn 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…

Enforcement of the law - is now finally the time?

A person with two pieces of paper, one saying 'illegal' the other saying 'legal'OK - enough of focusing on the negative aspects of the outcomes of the consultation process. One aspect that may mean future movement in the long-standing glacial progress of accessibility advancement in the UK - advancement that has seen less than 10% of websites meet the very minimum level of compliance in a decade and a half of legal requirement - is the Government's identification of a body to monitor accessibility and another to enforce it. Will this combination be akin to an accessibility dynamic-duo - fighting crimes against inaccessibility wherever it rears its ugly head - or will things remain all but unchanged in the months and years to come?

The response outlines how the Government Digital Service (GDS) will monitor and record public sector bodies’ compliance with the Directive. This is good news. Up until now I wasn't aware that any government body was actively doing this and, being a public body activity, will be subject to an FOI (freedom of information) request. This means that, even if the reporting they mention remains largely internal, an FOI request will easily enable it to get a much wider press. Oh, that they would extend this activity to report on websites and apps across all sectors - and maybe they will. Fingers crossed.

So, what about enforcement? We've been calling for enforcement of the law in this area for years and now, finally, the Government have specifically named a department who will be responsible for enforcing the EU directive; the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Additionally, the Minister for the Cabinet Office will be given some enforcement powers. The government claims that this approach “makes sure the process for resolving accessibility concerns is robust.” Let's hope it is and that, again, they take it upon themselves to broaden enforcement to all sectors and in a crime-busting, proactive manner. More fingers crossed!

It's not fine to fine, apparently - so what will the sanctions be?

Handcuffs being used to reprimand a personOne area of concern across many of the organisations that responded to the consultation was the lack of detail on a proposed enforcement mechanism. Many suggested, as above, that a published list of non-complying organisations should be used as penalties, but most were in agreement that fining non-compliant organisations is the best way to go. Money is a great motivator and yet, in the Government's final response, they state that there are no plans to introduce ‘new fines’ for organisations failing to comply with the Directive. Hmmm.

This lack of firm financial sanctions is labelled as “disappointing” in the consultation response of Policy Connect – a cross-party think-tank providing support to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT). Policy Connect correctly claims that “Sanctions are a well-established part of effective enforcement mechanisms and should be a part of enforcement of the present regulations.”

We would want to restate our concerns to those of both Policy Connect and the majority of organisations who contributed to the consultation process. What exactly do the EHRC plan to use to force organisations to make their websites and apps accessible? If it's the threat of brand-damage alone then don't forget that 90% of organisations will be along-side them in the firing line and, to that extent, the sting-factor will fade and some feeling of safety in numbers may soften the blow.

Fines for speeding, illegal parking and non-payment of taxes (to mention a very few examples) are common-place and almost inevitable - and yet crucial digital services that impact many millions of users (did you know that there are 12m people with a disability in the UK today?) aren't worth fining because… er… I can't think of a good reason. Let's hope that the EHRC can't either, collectively put on their superhero cape, and leap into action.

Find out more

Read the UK Government's response in full

Read the response from Policy Connect

Here's how Government can help disabled people in a digital world

Open letter to Government: Please ensure websites and apps comply with legal accessibility requirements