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Re: Interpretation of UK accessibility law?


From: James A.
Date: Feb 4, 2020 12:44PM

Hi Allan

Most universities are considered public sector bodies under the regulations due to the percentage of public funding they receive. There is information on the Public Sector Regulations for the education sector at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/online-accessibility-regulations-campaign-supporter-pack/gds-accessibility-regulations-campaign-information-for-education

The reason this information says "most universities " is that a few of the top research universities in England have been willing to argue that the income from student fees via loans and other public funds is less than 50% of their income so don't come under public procurement law but most are still complying with the regulations.

There are lots of sector groups working to support the university and wider public sector with these regulations. JISC are running regular online sessions (https://www.jisc.ac.uk/accessibility) and have published some legal advice, the HE digital slack has an Accessibility channel, there is JISCMail specific for discussing issues https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=DIGITALACCESSIBILITYREGULATIONS and AbilityNet rum regular webinars for HE and public sector https://abilitynet.org.uk/free-resources/webinars (next one on procurement on 27th Feb).

While Steve has set out the legal stance, there is also an increased repetitional risks around not publishing an accessibility statement and making plans to improve accessibility. For example, NUS are about to launch a student awareness campaign to highlight to students what digital accessibility they should be expecting to support their studies. Colleagues and I have also collated also lots of free resources and tools at https://www.lexdis.org.uk/digital-accessibility/ that can get you started.

Please get in touch either directly or through these communities as we are all keen to get the message out!

Best wishes

Abi James

Accessibility Consultant & Researchers
University of Southampton & AbilityNet

Sent from my iPhone

On 4 Feb 2020, at 18:59, Steve Green < <EMAIL REMOVED> > wrote:

Sorry this is a bit long, but it is a topic we wrestle with on a daily basis and it's not simple.

The Equality Act (and the Disability Discrimination Act before it) does not specify any technical accessibility requirements. It merely says that you must take reasonable measures to ensure that you do not discriminate against people on grounds of various "protected characteristics", one of which is disability.

Only a court of law can determine if a website is compliant, and that judgement only applies to the circumstances of that specific case. Thus a website can be compliant in respect of one person and non-compliant in respect of another. No one else (not even us!) can do any kind of testing and definitively say whether a website is compliant or not. Our view is that achieving WCAG 2.1 AA compliance and doing user testing with disabled participants should be sufficient in most cases, but it might not be.

This might seem entirely unsatisfactory, but unlike in the US, a person cannot just slap you with a law suit - they must give you the opportunity to address the accessibility barriers or provide the information or services by other means. This is why there have been very few cases in the UK to date.

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 is entirely different. This mandates WCAG 2.1 AA compliance, but there are exemptions for certain types of content such as maps, and legacy multimedia, PDFs and office documents - see https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legislation.gov.uk%2Fuksi%2F2018%2F852%2Fregulation%2F3%2Fmade&amp;data%7C01%7Ca.james%40soton.ac.uk%7Cc280cd5f202d4ec99f4608d7a9a44e68%7C4a5378f929f44d3ebe89669d03ada9d8%7C0&amp;sdata=vsorKt3wrhOVpIJemMnOe3AfiBf9UsqCCWc8U%2FWj8f0%3D&amp;reserved=0.

Furthermore, the date by which a website must be compliant varies - see https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legislation.gov.uk%2Fuksi%2F2018%2F852%2Fregulation%2F4%2Fmade&amp;data%7C01%7Ca.james%40soton.ac.uk%7Cc280cd5f202d4ec99f4608d7a9a44e68%7C4a5378f929f44d3ebe89669d03ada9d8%7C0&amp;sdata=GZncfPbso%2F1lM7NmxJxZ1zvXGTOslSYyYu0nK4%2B9UIo%3D&amp;reserved=0.

There is also a "disproportionate burden" clause that means you may never have to fix some non-compliances. See https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legislation.gov.uk%2Fuksi%2F2018%2F852%2Fregulation%2F6%2Fmade&amp;data%7C01%7Ca.james%40soton.ac.uk%7Cc280cd5f202d4ec99f4608d7a9a44e68%7C4a5378f929f44d3ebe89669d03ada9d8%7C0&amp;sdata=IcWG%2F1g2TDwISl0P2xMtYc6FHdh%2FlHMsnFKXAnAGS6w%3D&amp;reserved=0.

The Regulations only apply to public sector bodies, and they contain a definition of what this means. In my opinion, a university is not likely to come under the scope of these regulations according to those definitions - see https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legislation.gov.uk%2Fuksi%2F2018%2F852%2Fregulation%2F2%2Fmade&amp;data%7C01%7Ca.james%40soton.ac.uk%7Cc280cd5f202d4ec99f4608d7a9a44e68%7C4a5378f929f44d3ebe89669d03ada9d8%7C0&amp;sdata=t3%2BDs5LjTw%2FvCZfWAvvmygI%2B52qtIkBTGCdO5LE14OE%3D&amp;reserved=0.

The consequence of all this, is that:
1. The exemptions mean that some non-compliances never need to be fixed.
2. The "disproportionate burden" clause means that some non-compliances may never need to be fixed. However, this is not a "get out of jail free card", and you must justify your claims in the accessibility statement.
3. The time limits means that some fixes can be delayed, although some of these dates have already passed and the furthest away is 23 September 2020 for websites (2021 for mobile apps).
4. if you are not a public sector body (according to the definition) you don't need to fix anything.

If you're not totally confused, I suggest you read the Regulations. They are quite short but they are extremely badly written (as is all EU legislation), so in no time at all you will understand much less than you do now.

Steve Green
Managing Director
Test Partners Ltd

-----Original Message-----
From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Beattie, Allan
Sent: 04 February 2020 17:59
To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
Subject: [WebAIM] Interpretation of UK accessibility law?


I apologise in advance for what may end up being a somewhat ranty email.

I attended a sprint review meeting today during which a fairly senior manager asked yet again why we couldn't just make it work well for "the majority" of users, and address accessibility issues at a later date.

My understanding of the law - specifically, the Equality Act 2010 along with the recent Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 - is that a new feature, app or website needs to be accessible to all users from the start. If it's not, and we know about the accessibility issues before we implement it, then we're breaking the law. That's what I told him.

However, I believe there's an assumption that so long as we declare that we know about the issues in an Accessibility Statement, and undertake to fix them by a specified point in the future, then in the immediate term it's absolutely fine to release whatever inaccessible abomination to the world that the Product Owners or project deadlines might demand.

So, preaching to the choir here, but my question is: which interpretation of the law is more accurate?

Thanks in advance,

Allan A Beattie
Senior Web Developer

IT Services | The University of Aberdeen
t: +44 (0)1224 27 4486

The University of Aberdeen is a charity registered in Scotland, No SC013683.
Tha Oilthigh Obar Dheathain na charthannas clàraichte ann an Alba, Àir. SC013683.