Tests reveal biggest councils failing on legal web accessibility duty

Scope has warned that millions of disabled people could be being blocked from accessing vital online services. 

After carrying out accessibility tests on council websites, the charity revealed that 9 out of 10 of England's biggest councils are failing to meet website regulations.

Today (Wednesday 23 September) is the legal deadline for public sector websites to meet regulations. These set a legal duty for public sector bodies to make their websites accessible. 

Yet on the brink of the deadline, Scope tests found that out of the top 10 biggest counties by population in England, 9  of their county council websites still had accessibility errors. These 9 councils serve a combined population of more than 10 million people. 

The findings have led to fears that many public sector websites are likely to miss today’s deadline. Despite being 2 years since legislation came into force. This will make it harder for disabled people to access vital services.

The issues we found

Accessibility issues included:

  • confusing layouts
  • problems enlarging text
  • poor colour contrasts
  • difficulties with screen reader accessibility and using keyboard navigation

Scope is concerned that disabled people could find themselves unable to access vital services and digital information. Especially as:

  • more local lockdowns are coming into effect across the country
  • there are concerns the government could ask millions to shield again

Kristina Barrick, Head of Digital Influencing at Scope, said:

“Organisations have had 2 years to prepare for this deadline and make changes to their websites to benefit disabled people. Sadly many have failed.

“Public should mean available to everyone yet our findings suggest many disabled taxpayers are still being shut out of accessing digital services. 

“Public sector organisations provide crucial services which simply are not available elsewhere. It’s worrying to see disabled people being forgotten about again.

“With local lockdowns on the rise across the UK, it is unacceptable that disabled people may be unable to access information about support available in their area. 

“Public sector organisations have had plenty of time to prepare for this deadline, and there are plenty of resources available to support them to make their websites more accessible.

“We’re urging councils and all public sector organisations to fulfil their legal duty and make sure nobody is being blocked from accessing vital services and information.”

The number of accessibility errors for each council

Staffordshire - 7 accessibility errors
Norfolk - 6
Nottinghamshire - 5
Hertfordshire - 4
Hampshire - 3
Lancashire - 3
Surrey - 2
Kent -1
West Sussex - 1
Essex - 0

What resources are available?

Scope’s Big Hack website has lots of free resources available for organisations to improve their accessibility, including:

Who the laws apply to

The laws apply to public sector bodies like local authorities, central government departments, universities and NHS trusts.

Some organisations are exempt from the accessibility regulations. For example, non-government organisations like charities. Charities are exempt unless they are mostly financed by public funding, or provide services that are essential to the public or directed at disabled people.

The only exempt public sector bodies are public broadcasters (full exemption) and schools (limited exemption). If you’re not sure whether your public sector body is exempt you should talk to your legal adviser.

Why the laws matter

There are 14 million disabled people in the UK. That’s 1 in 5 of us.

These laws are important as evidence shows that even in 2020, disabled people cannot use many UK websites because they are not accessible.

For example, a study by the society for innovation, technology and modernisation in 2018 found 60 per cent of local authority websites’ home pages were accessible to disabled people.

This shows the scale of the barriers disabled people face online when they try to carry out day to day activities. The new regulations should improve disabled people's access to public sector digital services. Making websites and mobile apps accessible helps everyone. Not just disabled people who have sensory, cognitive or motor impairments. That’s because good website accessibility improves the user experience. 

About the tests

Scope’s accessibility team carried out tests between 11 September and 16 September, looking at factors such as could a blind person using a screen reader or someone with low vision needing good contrast or large text open the site and access coronavirus information.


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