The deadline for certain businesses to bring their digital platforms up to date with new accessibility regulations is fast approaching. From websites to apps and even documents that are hosted on the web, there are new standards that must be met to ensure that they are accessible to anyone who may have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive impairments.
For new platforms, you will have to meet these standards by the 23rd of September 2019. But, for existing platforms, the deadline extends to September 2020.
The UK is one of many countries that are making changes to their legislation regarding accessible websites. For example, the US has made it mandatory for their federal agency sites to be accessible, whilst in the EU countries brought in these rules back in 2016.
This new legislation is set to affect a whole multitude of online services, from GP surgeries, schools and universities to government-run websites. The best approach you can have is to understand why accessibility is important and how beneficial it will inevitably be, not just for those with impairments, but also for you.
Accessibility needs to be included in any planning right from the start, not as an afterthought that’s just in place to ensure you meet the basic requirements. A lot of the adaptations you will have to make will be to accommodate those using screen readers and keyboard-only navigations. Other features include more well-known ones such as adding alternative text for images and resizable fonts.
Say goodbye to auto-playing video and audio, not only does this confuse screen readers, but it can interfere with the navigation on the page. When 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability, it’s easy to understand why this is so important. Also, as a designer, why would you want to alienate anyone from your platform? You want that experience to be as user-friendly as possible. So, if anything, this nudge in the right direction is helpful.
So, what are these regulations?
It’s easier to break down these regulations into three parts. Part one is websites, apps, and documents hosted online. Part two is public sector organisations having to publish an ‘accessibility statement’ online and in-app to inform visitors of their accessibility and finally; part three sees that the Government are required to monitor said public sector sites to ensure that they’re meeting requirements.
What are the accessibility standards?
For the UK, the regulations require platforms to meet the European standard; EN 301 549, which is aligned to WCAG 2.1 Level AA. You can view the full checklist here, but they follow four design principles (perceivable, operable, understandable and robust), that are supported by 12 guidelines.
This means how well your users can recognise and use your service with the senses that are available to them. Do your videos have subtitles? Do your images have alternate text? That kinda thing.
Can your users locate your content, whether they’re using a mouse, keyboard or voice commands? If the answer is no to any of those then this will need to be addressed.
This one covers how clear your platform is to the user. Is it 100% clear how the service you offer works? Is any of the content unclear?
How robust your platform is will cover how reliably your content can be interpreted by various user agents. Not just current ones either, this will include reasonably outdated and anticipated browsers and assistive technologies.
The important thing here is that the focus isn’t just on technology, but how people interact with content, for example, keyboard-only users.
How much time do you have?
For some organisations, this will be quite a big job. But, don’t panic! This has been taken into consideration and there are a few dates to keep in mind.
The 23rd September 2019 will see any websites that were published or ‘substantially revised’ after 23rd September 2018 meet their accessibility deadline.
The 2019 date will also mark the start of all new content that’s published online having to meet the standards.
Following that, the 23rd September 2020 is the deadline for all existing websites, whilst the 22nd June 2021 is the final deadline, this time for mobile applications.
Are there any exceptions?
The regulations are being implemented reasonably. There are a couple of content types that will be exempt from the regulations. These are: Live audio and video and pre-recorded audio and video published before September 23rd 2020, maps, non-essential documents published before 23 September 2018 and third party content that isn’t under the organisation’s control/hasn’t been purchased.
Where to start?
Ultimately, the best thing that you can do to make your website or app as accessible as possible would be to talk to users. You need to understand their behaviour and their pain points, else you won’t be able to create that best system possible.
There are many tools out there that you should utilise, both automated and manual, and it’s advisable to get an accessibility audit before your beta assessment so you can provide evidence that you meet the correct standards.
It’s a lot to get your head around at first, but it’s not that scary. If you need a hand, give us a shout and we can get your sorted.