Public sector web accessibility regulations were introduced in 2018 and have been implemented in a series of deadlines. Jisc provides guidance in our dedicated accessibility regulations information page on what each deadline involves, along with additional legal information.
Meeting the expectations of the regulations does not stop on a deadline. It is an on-going process that needs to be monitored and revisited.
Accessibility of your digital estate is not only a legal requirement. Content that meets high standards of accessibility is more user-friendly, understandable and robust in that it will display well across different browsers and devices.
While many colleges and universities have made great progress, others will find they still have some work to do to meet the expectations of the regulations. This guide contains practical advice and links to useful resources to help you, whatever stage you are at on your accessibility journey.
Accessibility is a cross-organisational issue, so a strategic approach is best. Find out more about what this looks like in our blog post on organisational vision and buy-in. If you would like support with developing an accessibility strategy, please contact your Jisc account manager.
An important part of meeting the regulations is publishing an accessibility statement and you may need more than one. Most organisations start with a statement that covers their public facing website. Some organisations publish a series of separate statements, while others will nest them within an overarching statement. Make sure that it is easy for site visitors to find.
It is important to get your statement right. It shows that you understand your responsibilities. It also evidences the work you have done and what you plan to do next. If the Government Digital Service selects your website for monitoring, auditors will look at your statement first. Your accessibility statement(s) should cover your:
- Virtual learning environment (VLE)
- Third party systems and content you have paid for
Mobile apps will come into scope of the regulations in June 2021.
The Government Digital Service provides a template for your statement and a sample statement. There are legally compliant ways of describing how accessible your website is, so use the wording provided.
The sample statement was updated on 2 April 2020 to include a greater level of detail than before (eg listing specific accessibility problems; which of the WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria each problem fails on; when you plan to fix these problems). We have outlined the changes in our blog post which asks: is your accessibility statement up to date?
Your statement needs to be regularly updated and will change over time. It’s a fluid document where you can let people know about your plans. Use it to identify resources you’ll need in the coming year. It’s good practice to publish a roadmap showing your plans to fix issues. Here’s an example from the University of Swansea.
Before you can write your statement, you need to find out whether there any problems with your digital estate. You need to decide whether you will do it yourself, get someone in, or do a bit of both. The approach you choose will depend on:
- Resources - getting a professional audit carries a financial cost, do you have the funds to do it?
- Skills - do staff have the skills, or the opportunity to learn, how to audit their own content?
- Time - are staff given time to prioritise auditing and professional development in this area?
Jisc members tell us they use a mix of external auditing, going it alone, and a combined approach. If staff know how to test for accessibility themselves, this builds a sustainable approach that will see you into the future as your content inevitably changes.
Whichever route you choose, it’s a good idea to have a clear out of old content that is rarely used. The less you need to work with, the easier your job will be.
If you decide to use an external auditor
GDS has produced a guide to getting an accessibility audit. This contains tips for writing a brief and what to expect.
Do you want to audit for accessibility generally, or for compliance with the regulations (ie, as set out in WCAG 2.1 AA) specifically?
Identify the representative sample of content you want to be checked. Include frequent user journeys through your sites and a range of pages that include different features.
Is the consultant or company able to direct you to solutions in their report, or will you need to contract them further to assist with this?
A blended approach where the consultant or company works with your staff to build skills and help them to fix problems independently will embed sustainability.
Who else have they completed reports for and do they come recommended? Some organisations post their full accessibility reports on their websites, which means you can see what to expect.
Will the consultant write your accessibility statement as part of the job?
Doing it yourself
You don’t need to check every page. Select a representative sample that shows the variation in content and functionality of your website. By finding problems in a sample, you should be able to fix issues across the whole website.
Check the content against WCAG 2.1 AA standards. You can use a few automated tests to identify some initial things to look at, but these alone will not uncover all the issues.
WAVE (web accessibility evaluation tool from WebAim) is a suite of evaluation tools that can identify many accessibility errors, but also facilitates human evaluation of web content.
Axe is another popular accessibility checker for developers. It’s a good idea to use more than one automated test as different tools will pick up different things.
Web2Access uses free tools to check your site and can export results into a draft accessibility statement. It cannot access all types of web content, but is a helpful free resource.
Test your site with assistive technology. The GDS blog provides tips on how to get hold of free AT for testing and includes links to cheat sheets for using common assistive technologies like screenreaders.
Be aware that some types of content are exempt from the regulations.
Testing and making plans to fix problems or build accessibility into new project might lead you to identify a need to develop staff skills. Contact your Jisc account manager to talk about your training needs and sources of advanced role-based training and accreditation. You will also find news about training and events in Jisc's accessibility community group.
Here are some free courses and resources to investigate. More advanced technical training is also available from a range of suppliers.
- Adobe has released free inclusive design workshop content
- FutureLearn hosts a free course by University of the Arts London on accessible interface design
- IAAP is the international accreditation body for accessibility professionals
- Microsoft provides lots of tutorials
- W3C has created a suite of free self-study resources and a MOOC for EdX
Start with things that will have the greatest impact. Look for the most serious accessibility errors that are easiest to fix. Prioritise your most frequent user journeys and essential systems. It’s generally more sustainable to focus your efforts on new content. Note that some content is exempt from the regulations.
Getting management buy-in and ensuring staff take ownership of areas to be tested and fixed is key. This Jisc blog post, accessibility: the secret to success is organisational vision and buy-in, explains the process.
It’s useful to identify a quick win – something you can achieve in a short timeframe that will build momentum and motivation. It could be something like ensuring any Wordpress blogs staff use are in accessibility-ready themes1, or create accessible, branded Word and PowerPoint templates2 for staff to use.
If you suspect that some remediation may be cost-prohibitive, you could have a case to make a claim of disproportionate burden. If you decide not to fix something due to disproportionate burden, you will need to be able to evidence how and why you came to that decision and it needs to be done on the basis of cost.
You will need to link to the accessibility statements of all the third party content and systems you have paid for, and that staff and students access through a browser. To help you, the Jisc accessibility community created a crowd-sourcing approach to collating third party accessibility statements, resulting in a free to access third party accessibility database hosted by textBOX.
If suppliers do not provide a statement, you may need to write one for the product you paid for. Request that your procurement team embeds a need for accessibility statements and accessible content in procurement guidance. Sometimes suppliers will provide you with a voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT)3. This is worded differently to UK accessibility statements, but should provide the detail required.
For libraries, Jisc Collections asks suppliers for links to their accessibility statements which are included in catalogues. ASPIRE encourages publishers to provide good quality accessibility statements and meet high standards of accessibility.
Image description depends on context. What is an image conveying? If it is purely decorative, label it as such. If it contains useful information, you need to provide a text description. If the image is complex, consult the lecturer to ensure you have got the meaning correctly. Helpful resources include:
- Accessibility community group - hosted on Microsoft Teams and includes channels for diagrams/images and STEM contain examples
- Highcharts blog on how to write accessible descriptions for interactive charts
- Moz.com advice with examples
- Poet image description tool
Dealing with video
Pre-recorded video published online on or after 23 September 2020 comes within scope of the accessibility regulations. Accessibility guidelines define accessible video4 as having:
- A transcript
- Audio description
- A media player that enables users to control using keyboard commands
- No flashing images or background distractions
The impact of the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 means many colleges and universities in Scotland will also provide video content of important information in British Sign Language.
There are a few ways to create subtitles and the right one for you will depend on your learning platform. One of the easiest is YouTube which automates subtitle content that you can edit for accuracy. You can also use Stream to subtitle content and produce an automated transcript. Otter.ai is an easy to use app that creates editable transcripts with punctuation, and it detects new speakers.
Given the range of approaches and complexity often involved in quality assuring captions and transcriptions in education, we are researching content for a dedicated captioning guide.
Live content isn’t covered by the accessibility regulations, but if there is a deaf student on an online course, it would be a reasonable adjustment in line with the Equality Act 2010 to provide live remote captioning/notetaking or a BSL/English interpreter during classes. For some students the cost of this could be covered by Disabled Students Allowance.
There are two aspects to virtual learning environment (VLE) accessibility: the platform itself and the content uploaded to it. The first is similar to guidelines for web accessibility and you can use the GDS sample accessibility statement as a template for your VLE accessibility statement.
Chapter four of Policy Connect's accessible VLEs report provides a strategic ‘how-to’ guide to implementation, with the objective of using the requirement for digital improvements to make education and learning better for all students.
As many members of staff and students can upload content, the quality can be hard to monitor. How will you ensure only accessible and good quality content is uploaded?
- Provide mandatory, accessibly designed templates
- Provide checklists for staff to use before uploading
- Share simple guides like SCULPT to remind lecturers of key accessibility elements
- Embed accessibility into staff and student training – it’s about good digital skills
- Encourage lecturers to design online materials that support executive function5
- Recognise good practice and offer to work collaboratively with departments
- Involve students to know what you’re doing works for them
- Provide support with specialist tasks like subtitling and image description
- You could form working groups to help shape guidance for subject specific content
Accessible documents and resources are simply correctly constructed documents. They look good, display consistently across platforms and devices, and offer students flexibility - eg, they can use assistive technology to access the content, or simply increase the font size without the formatting going all over the place.
Detailed guidance can be found on the LexDis guide to accessible documents, but here are some characteristics of accessible content. Note: Word, Excel and PowerPoint all have built-in accessibility checkers.
Use headings and styles to structure the document. Structure hierarchically: heading 1 for the title/main heading, heading 2 for subheadings and so on.
Use a sans serif font like Arial and avoid text smaller than point 12 (regulations don’t specify font size, but this is generally good practice).
Align text to left. Do not justify as this creates uneven gaps between words which as well as looking bad, become huge and disorientating when text is magnified. On the topic of spacing, you do not need a double space after a full stop, this is a hangover from manual typewriting, not an accessibility practice.
Ensure colour has good contrast eg, light on dark. Do not rely on colour to convey meaning.
Use plain English. When providing instructions, use active language, not passive, eg, “contact learning support…” rather than “students are advised to make contact with learning support…” Avoid metaphors and culturally specific references in information. Be clear, say what you mean.
Use meaningful hyperlinks so that when read by a screen reader, the link makes sense, eg, use “learn about meaningful hyperlinks” - linking the whole action being described - rather than “Click here to learn about meaningful hyperlinks”.
Provide alternative text for images (we’ll consider this specifically later in the guide).
Use the Word accessibility checker to proof your document.
As it is such a widely used format, WebAIM offers a four week course on Word accessibility.
Ensure there is good colour contrast between text and background.
Many of the features of accessible Word documents are relevant here too, eg, alignment, alt text, font style, meaningful hyperlinks.
Avoid cluttering a slide with too much text – you can use the Notes field to expand on detail.
Aim to use as large a font size as possible, ideally size 24 and avoid using all caps in text.
Use the PowerPoint Accessibility Checker to proof your slides and check the items on each slide are in the correct reading order.
If you can, it’s best to avoid using pdfs. Use html or Word instead. If you have to create a pdf, ensure it’s accessible. Adobe Acrobat has an accessibility checker and Adobe also has guidance on creating accessible pdfs.
The regulations state that pdfs published before 23 September 2018 do not have to be fixed, unless they contain essential information. Remember that you’re still legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when they’re needed though, for example by providing the information a disabled student needs in another, more accessible format.
Don’t underestimate the attention-grabbing potential of a great poster to remind staff of the needs of their end users. Here are some that you can use under a Creative Commons licence.
They all provide quick tips to creating accessible content.
- Diverse Learners project at the University of Hull
- Home Office designing accessible services posters
- SCULPT for accessibility
- Sussex University designing for diverse learners checklist
- 1 How To Choose An Accessibility Ready WordPress Theme (And Why) via A Bright Clear Web - https://www.abrightclearweb.com/choose-accessibility-ready-wordpress-theme/
- 2 Accessible Documents guidance via LexDis - https://www.lexdis.org.uk/guides/staff-guides/accessible-documents/
- 3 Information on VPATs on Section 508: GSA government-wide IT accessibility program website - https://www.section508.gov/sell/vpat
- 4 Making Audio and Video Media Accessible via W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, https://www.w3.org/WAI/media/av/
- 5 Executive functioning in online environments via Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education website - https://udloncampus.cast.org/page/teach_executive