What is WCAG 2.1 AA website accessibility?
WCAG 2.1 AA is the minimum standard of website accessibility that public sector websites must meet.
Making a website accessible means ensuring that it can be used by as many people as possible. At least 1 in 5 people have an impairment or a disability including those with:
- Impaired vision – for example, blind or partially blind
- Motor difficulties – for example, users who may have problems using a mouse
- Cognitive impairments – for example, users with autism or learning disabilities
- Impaired hearing – for example, deaf or hard of hearing
As website editors for local councils, the two main groups you need to consider are those with impaired vision who may be reading your site using a screen reader or magnification and users with cognitive impairments. Your website designer should make sure that your site works for users with motor difficulties. Users with impaired hearing will not have problems using your site, unless your town, parish or community council website uses sound or video.
We go into more detail here: Website accessibility – what is it and why does it matter?
We have also published some handy pictorial guides here: Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide
Who needs to comply?
All local authorities need to meet the regulations unless they are exempt. That includes all town, parish and community councils.
If you feel that full compliance would be a disproportionate burden on the council, you need to explain why in an accessibility statement and state how users can obtain the information in an accessible format.
So, for example, a local council that has already published a lot of historical minutes in PDF format might find that converting them all to accessible PDF/A format presents a disproportionate burden. However, going forward, you need to make sure that all information is published in an accessible format as soon as you are able.
You can read more about applying for exemption here: Website accessibility regulations – applying for exemption
When must you comply by?
For new websites that were created on or after 23 September 2018, you need to meet accessibility standards by 23 September 2019.
For websites that were created before 23 September 2018 you need to ensure that your website meets accessibility standards by 23 September 2020.
What do you need to do?
Ensure your web pages are accessible
Make sure you writing is easy to understand, that your information is well structured and that your pages don’t use complicated layouts. That includes writing in short sentences and structuring your pages using headings or bullet points, for example. You can read more here: How to write accessible web pages
Accessible formatting for web pages
You should make sure that the way you style your pages does not make them less accessible. Common issues that make pages harder to read and therefore less accessible include writing in uppercase, using underlining (other than for text links) and centered text (unless used sparingly – as an example, for headings.)
Other parts of your web pages
If you publish images on your site or have links to other pages in your site or other websites, you also need to make sure they are accessible. We’ll be writing more about that later.
Ensure your file attachments are accessible
Most councils publish a lot of documents in PDF or Word format. These might include minutes, agendas, financial information and other documents. Making these files accessible is twofold – you must write and structure the document in an accessible way and you must then save it in an accessible format. You can read more here:
Guide to writing documents that are accessible
Making PDF files accessible
How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format
You need to have an accessibility statement that details how your website complies with accessibility regulations. You can read more about it here: Developing an Accessibility Statement/
Accessibility of your website framework
As well as what you need to do to make sure your website content is accessible, there are also lots of things your web designer needs to do to ensure the framework and design of your site is accessible. This includes making changes to the coding of the pages to enable them to be read more easily by screen readers, making sure the design works for users with impaired vision and that it is flexible enough to be viewed with the text enlarged and ensuring the coding of the contact form is accessible.