Accessibility for digital services

It is not only good for our users to make all Renfrewshire Council digital services accessible – it is also a legal requirement.

What web accessibility is

Web accessibility is the practice of making sure that everyone can interact with our digital services and their content without needing to adapt them, while supporting those who do need to adapt them.

This means removing accessibility barriers so that they can be used by people with a wide range of different abilities, including those who have:

  • permanent or temporary disabilities such as visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive impairments
  • situational circumstances such as being a new parent or in a noisy environment
  • socio-economic disadvantage or restrictions such as limited digital skills, low bandwidth connections, or old technologies.

Not only is web accessibility essential to improve the usability for everyone, but not offering an accessible service on the web means we could be breaking the law.

What legislation applies to our digital services

All Renfrewshire Council digital services must meet the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

The accessibility regulations build on our existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

The regulations reference international standards for accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is pronounced WiK-aGG.

WCAG is based on principles that apply to all aspects of a digital service such as code, content, and interface interactions. There are four principles:

  • perceivable – people must be able to perceive the content on a digital service by seeing it, hearing it, or another method
  • operable – people must be able to find and use the content, regardless of how they choose to access it (for example, using a keyboard or voice commands)
  • understandable – people must be able to understand the content and how the digital service works
  • robust – the digital services and their content can be interpreted reliably by a wide range of technologies including reasonably outdated, current and anticipated browsers and assistive technologies.

The current version of WCAG is 2.1. It is reviewed regularly and organised into three levels of compliance:

  • A – basic
  • AA – intermediate
  • AAA – advanced

By law, our digital services must be AA compliant, which means that they meet all A and AA checkpoints.

What must be accessible

All digital services that are produced and maintained by us or one of our suppliers must comply and meet the ‘AA’ standard of accessibility.

Digital services include:

  • websites
  • intranets
  • extranets
  • Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)
  • mobile apps
  • any software which uses the web browser as the interface.

The content published on these digital services, including online forms, PDFs, and office documents, must comply and meet the ‘AA’ standard of accessibility too.

Although HTML emails and their content are not strictly mentioned in the regulations, it is best to make sure they comply and meet the ‘AA’ standard of accessibility.

Finally, the regulations apply equally to digital services and their content which are:

  • public
  • restricted to certain users
  • internal only.

What can be exempt

Some types of digital services and content are exempt from the regulations. But even if something is exempt, we have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

Content exempt from the accessibility regulations

Our content published our digital services will need to meet the accessibility regulations depending on:

  • its type
  • where it was published
  • when it was published
  • if it is about to receive a major revision
  • if it is used for active administrative processes.

The “active administrative process” stipulation isn’t defined or explained in the regulations, so the cautious, good practice approach is to ensure that the content people use to answer a need meet the accessibility requirements.

For example, content that people need to get informed with current information, follow a process, or complete a task such as guidance, policies, strategies, user manuals, plans, procedures, or forms do qualify as active administrative processes and must be accessible.

The content exemptions are:

  • some PDFs and office documents published on an external website, an extranet, intranet, or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – see PDFs and office documents section below
  • pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020
  • live audio and video
  • heritage collections like scanned manuscripts
  • maps that are not used for navigational purposes, like for highlighting boundaries or physical features
  • third party content that’s under someone else’s control – for example, social media ‘like’ buttons.

PDFs and office documents

Public sector bodies, including Renfrewshire Council, should not use PDFs or office documents to communicate information, except in a few very limited circumstances, as doing so is unlawful and degrades the user experience.

Find out why PDFs and office documents are not accessible and when they can be published on the web.

Schools and nurseries

Schools and nurseries are partially exempt from the regulations.

They must make sure that the content on their websites or mobile apps relating to active administrative processes is made accessible. They must also publish an accessibility statement on their website or mobile app.

Archived websites

Archived websites are exempt if they are:

  • not needed for services our organisation provides; and
  • not updated.

Disproportionate burden

Even if none of the exemptions apply, it may not be possible or appropriate to upgrade the accessibility of our digital service. In these cases, we must complete and publish a disproportionate burden assessment.

An assessment needs to be carried out to prove that something is a disproportionate burden. Only factors that are relevant can be considered.

These include:

  • the benefits to people with disabilities of meeting the standards
  • the cost of meeting the standards
  • how it’s used by disabled people – how often and for how long
  • our organisation’s size and resources.

Lack of time or knowledge, or because we haven’t given it priority cannot be taken into consideration.

Talk to the Digital Experience team for advice if you think you can claim a disproportionate burden for your digital service or content.

How to make digital services accessible

Regulations came into force on 23 September 2018 which say that all public sector digital services and their content must:

  • meet accessibility standards
  • publish an accessibility statement.

The basis of this is explained on the GOV.UK guidance for complying with accessibility requirements.

If you build a new digital service

We must consider accessibility from the start, when building new digital services.

Retrofitting accessibility into a newly built digital service is a slow process and costly.

Talk to the Digital Experience team before you start building this digital service.

If you have an existing digital service

Existing digital services must also comply, unless one of the limited exemptions applies.

Talk to the Digital Experience team for advice on how to make an existing digital service accessible.

How accessibility is monitored

Government Digital Service (GDS) monitors public sector bodies’ compliance on behalf of the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

GDS does this by examining a sample of public sector websites and mobile apps every year. GDS can ask for information and request access to intranets, extranets, apps or any public sector website.

If GDS decides that a public sector body has failed to publish an accessibility statement or that the accessibility statement is incorrect, it will publish the name of the body and a copy of the decision in a report and notify the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

How accessibility is enforced

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) enforces the requirement to make public sector websites and mobile apps accessible.

Organisations that do not meet the accessibility requirement or fail to provide a satisfactory response to a request to produce information in an accessible format, will be failing to make reasonable adjustments. This means they will be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

The EHRC can therefore use their legal powers against offending organisations, including investigations, unlawful act notices, and court actions, which may lead to financial penalties.

What advice and help you can get

It is technically challenging and time consuming to make digital services and their content accessible.

Talk to the council’s Digital Experience team before you create a new digital service or if you have an existing digital service that needs to be made accessible.

You can get in touch using our online request form.

You can also find more information about accessibility on The Thread: