British Web A11y Site Enforcement

September 11, 2017 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: February 23, 2021


It’s not often that people ask for stricter enforcement of laws. When it comes to web accessibility in the UK, that’s exactly what’s happening.

AbilityNet Wants Web A11y Site Enforcement

AbilityNet wants the UK government to crack down on enforcing web accessibility. The disability charity argues that web accessibility laws should be enforced just as strictly as other types of laws. Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion, ponders, “You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government’s wardens of the internet?”

Under the Equality Act 2010, companies or organizations supplying goods and services, as well as employers and schools, are required to make “reasonable adjustments” in order to ensure that what they offer is accessible to people of all abilities. However, many websites (including government websites) are inaccessible to individuals who have disabilities or need special accommodations. So while there are legal obligations to provide accessible websites, it is still a challenge to ensure the law is implemented and enforced.

Why Isn’t Web A11y Being Enforced?

One of the reasons that enforcing website accessibility is difficult is the time-consuming process of evaluating accessibility. Accessibility is not as objective as seeing if a parking meter is paid or unpaid. When it comes to web accessibility there are various types of accommodations and needs, which makes testing for accessibility somewhat subjective. In order to enforce the legal implications of the law there must be some form of testing and ranking system.

Another possible reason that web accessibility is not enforced is that many government websites are not in compliance with the laws themselves. While there have been improvements over the years, there is still quite a way to go.

Testing Accessibility

While testing web accessibility is not the most straightforward, it is possible. Better Connected has been assessing local authorities’ online performance since 1999, and continues to test and report on the accessibility of council websites. The testing is facilitated by the Digital Accessibility Centre. Each member on the testing team has a disability, including vision loss, dyslexia, mobility disabilities, and learning disabilities. Many of the testers use assistive technologies to access sites from their desktop or mobile devices and do manual accessibility checks. This year a new two-stage process was created to ensure the most thorough testing, and therefore most accessibility.

Stage One

The first stage of testing is a limited test that determines sites which would fail the more comprehensive test. This initial test is made up of 14 criteria. The site fails stage one if it fails on seven or more of the criteria, or if it fails on either keyboard traps, or for a lack of visible focus indicators.

If your site fails, you can apply for re-test. If you don’t apply for the re-test, or if the site fails the re-test, it is not tested at stage two.

Stage Two

The second stage of testing applies the 14 testing criteria to three “top tasks” per council. Each criterion is assigned points and weight based on severity and/or frequency. The final score is a combination of the results for the 14 criteria.

In cases where it is obvious from the beginning that a task is completely inaccessible, a score of 0 is given. Additionally, there are four specific issues that which if they occur the task is also scored at 0. These are based off of WCAG 2.0 guidelines, and include:

  • Keyboard traps
  • Auto-starting audio (no stop)
  • Flashing content
  • CAPTCHA without an accessible alternative

Government Websites Fail to Comply

In addition to some of the challenges with testing for web accessibility, there is another reason that web accessibility is not being enforced. Government websites are not following the legal requirements themselves. There have been many improvements made to the Gov.UK site and local government sites over the last several years, but there is still work to be done. In 2014 a mere 26% of council sites passed the accessibility test. A year later, in 2015, that number rose to 43%. The following year, number increased again to 64% in 2016, and in 2017 it rose to 69% compliance. As this number continues to increase it seems more likely that web accessibility laws will be more strictly enforced.

Graph showing coordinates at 69 in 2017, 64 in 2016, 43 in 2015, and 26 in 2014.

Benefits of Enforcement

In addition to simply complying with the law, there are several other benefits that would come from enforcing compliance with the laws. First and foremost, these laws were set into place in order to help create a more accessible and inclusive web for all individuals. Government sites are the source of crucial information, which everyone should have equal access to. Enforcing these laws would ensure that all citizens are given equal opportunity to access this information.

Another benefit of enforcing web accessibility is generating money. Providing tickets or fines to those that do not comply with the law would be a very easy way bring in a significant amount of money for the UK.


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