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Government asks for public input on accessibility directive, but exemptions remain

The UK Government is using a public consultation to help plan how European accessibility legislation will be implemented later this year.

The EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications is scheduled to become legally binding in the UK on September 23 of this year. It aims to make public sector digital content easier to access, particularly for people with disabilities.

At the end of April the government launched a consultation to help determine the level of understanding of the directive, and what guidance it can offer to organisations to help them comply with the new regulations. The consultation closed on May 29, and a Cabinet Office spokesperson told e-Access Bulletin that the government “will consider all of the points raised and will respond in due course.”

A Government Digital Service (GDS) blog post sets out more about how the directive will be introduced and the reasons behind the consultation. It explains that public sector bodies will need to evaluate their website and mobile app accessibility, and will then “be expected to fix any issues and provide detail of this in an accessibility statement hosted on their website.”

Although the directive is intended to broadly apply to all public sector organisations, there are exceptions, including public service broadcasters (such as the BBC) and non-governmental organisations providing “services that are not essential to the public … or services that do not specifically address the needs of persons with disabilities”.

An “optional exemption” chosen by the government means that schools, nurseries and kindergartens will be exempt from complying with the directive, except in “essential online administrative functions”.

A significant amount of content will also be exempt from the directive. This includes “documents that are not intended primarily for use on the web” (which covers PDFs and Microsoft Office documents) published before September 23, 2018, pre-recorded media (including videos and podcasts) recorded before September 23, 2020, live video, online maps and mapping services, third-party content, and content on intranets and extranets published before September 23, 2019.

Speaking to e-Access Bulletin, Carine Marzin, a member of the European Disability Forum ICT Expert Group, pointed out that the Directive sets the minimum requirements needed to comply, meaning that governments can introduce more stringent accessibility measures and do not have to follow the optional exemptions.

Marzin said: “It is unclear why the government intends to use the Directive’s optional exemption on schools, nurseries and kindergartens. This decision is likely to affect disabled children and disabled parents and, in my opinion, should be challenged. The government also proposes to exempt types of content which one would expect to be accessible. The UK Government’s apparent decision to use all possible exemptions in the Directive, where it has no obligation to do so, is very disappointing.”

She continued: “The Directive states that enforcement should be ‘adequate and effective’, yet the government’s proposals do not include details on the required enforcement mechanism. All we know is that the government does not intend to introduce fines and has not yet decided which body will be responsible for enforcement. This is wholly inadequate.”

The Directive will be implemented in stages over three years. Websites created after September 23, 2018 must comply before September 23, 2019, while websites created before September 23, 2018, have more time to adjust, and need to comply from September 23, 2020. Mobile apps need to comply with the directive from June 23, 2021.

For more information, read Carine Marzin’s e-Access Bulletin article on the EU Directive.

 

Read the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications in full.

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