What Are the Steps to Design an Accessible Website for UK Government Compliance?

In the digital age that we live in, it has become increasingly important for websites, particularly those of the public sector, to be accessible to all users. This includes individuals with disabilities who may rely on assistive technology to consume digital content. Accessibility should not be an afterthought, but an integral part of website design. If you’re in the public sector or a digital team working on a government project, one of your priorities is probably ensuring that your service complies with the UK government’s accessibility requirements. In this article, we’ll explore the steps to design an accessible website for UK government compliance.

Understanding the Importance of Web Accessibility

Before we delve into the steps to create an accessible website, let’s first understand why accessibility matters. With an estimated one billion people worldwide experiencing some form of disability, making your website accessible means it can be used by a wider range of people, increasing the potential audience and usefulness of your site.

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Web accessibility also aligns with good design principles, improves SEO, and helps you to meet legal and ethical responsibilities. The UK government is committed to making its digital services accessible to all users, in compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are a set of recommendations for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities.

Familiarize Yourself with WCAG Standards

The first step towards designing an accessible website is to familiarize yourself with the WCAG standards. The WCAG provides extensive guidelines for making web content accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. The guidelines are divided into three levels: A, AA, and AAA. The UK government requires that all public sector websites meet at least level AA of the WCAG.

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The WCAG addresses various aspects of web content, including text, images, audio and video, and how they should be presented to make them accessible to users with different types of disabilities. This might mean providing text alternatives for images, making sure website functionality is available from a keyboard, or providing captions and other alternatives for multimedia.

Include Accessibility in Your Website Design

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the WCAG standards, the next step is to incorporate those principles into your website design. This includes considerations for colour contrast, font size, and navigation.

The use of colour on your website should be considered carefully. Not all users will perceive colours in the same way, and some may rely on screen readers to access content. Therefore, colour should not be the only means of conveying important information.

Fonts should be easily readable and scalable, allowing users to adjust the size if necessary. Navigation should be logical and predictable, with options to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple pages.

Ensure Content is Accessible

The content of your website also needs to be accessible. This means that the text is easy to read and understand, and non-text content has text alternatives.

Simple language should be used wherever possible, and jargon or technical language should be avoided or explained. All non-text content, such as images or videos, should have text alternatives that convey the same information. For instance, images should have alt text describing what the image shows.

If your website includes multimedia content, such as audio or video, captions should be provided. Transcripts should also be made available for audio content. This ensures that users who are deaf or hard of hearing can access the content.

Regularly Test Your Website for Accessibility

The last step in designing an accessible website is to regularly test it for accessibility. This should be done throughout the website’s development and after any significant changes.

Testing can be done in a number of ways, including automated tools, manual checks, and user testing with people who have disabilities. It’s important to remember that while automated testing can catch many accessibility issues, it can’t catch them all. Manual checks and user testing are also necessary to ensure that your website is truly accessible.

In conclusion, designing an accessible website for UK government compliance involves understanding the importance of accessibility, familiarising yourself with the WCAG, incorporating accessibility into your website design and content, and regularly testing for accessibility. By following these steps, you can ensure that your website will be accessible to all users, fulfilling both your legal obligations and your commitment to providing an inclusive digital service.

Publishing an Accessibility Statement

In line with accessibility laws in the UK, public sector bodies must publish a detailed accessibility statement on their websites or mobile apps. This statement should provide information about the accessibility compliance of the website or app, and any areas where it might not meet accessibility requirements.

The accessibility statement serves two main functions. First, it informs users about the level of accessibility they can expect when using the service. This includes what parts of the service are accessible, any parts that are not, and why this is the case. Second, it provides a point of contact for users to report accessibility issues or request information or services in a different format.

When drafting your accessibility statement, it’s important to be clear, concise, and honest. Avoid using technical jargon that your audience may not understand. Instead, use plain, everyday English to explain how you’ve made your website or app accessible, and where there may be issues. If there are parts of your service that aren’t accessible, explain why this is the case and what you’re doing to fix it.

Don’t forget to include contact information for users to report accessibility concerns or request information in a different format. You also need to provide information about how users can escalate a complaint if they’re not happy with your response.

Handling Disproportionate Burden and Exceptions

While the goal should always be full accessibility, the law recognizes that in some cases, making a website or mobile app fully accessible may impose a disproportionate burden on the public sector body. In these cases, the body may be exempt from some accessibility regulations.

A disproportionate burden can be financial or organizational. For example, it might be a significant cost that would strain the organization’s budget, or a major reorganization of the way the service is delivered.

If you’re considering claiming a disproportionate burden, you need to conduct a thorough assessment and be able to prove that complying with the accessibility requirements would be too difficult or expensive. This assessment must consider both the estimated costs of compliance and the benefits that making the service accessible would bring.

It’s important to note that the disproportionate burden exemption only applies to certain parts of the accessibility regulations. You’re still required to meet as many of the requirements as possible, and to provide an accessible alternative where you can’t meet a requirement.

In Conclusion

Creating an accessible website for UK government compliance is a multi-step process that involves understanding and implementing the WCAG standards, designing and testing an accessible website, publishing an accessibility statement, and understanding the concept of disproportionate burden.

Following these steps, public sector bodies can ensure that their digital accessibility is up to scratch. By doing so, they are not just meeting their legal obligations but also ensuring that their services are open and accessible to all, thus reinforcing their commitment to equality and inclusivity.

Remember, accessibility is not just about ticking boxes and meeting legal requirements. It’s about making sure that everybody, including people with disabilities, can access and benefit from digital services. This commitment to accessibility should be at the heart of the UK public sector‘s approach to the digital world.