United Kingdom Digital Accessibility Laws: An Overview

February 3, 2022

If your organization operates in the United Kingdom, do you have a responsibility to maintain an accessible website? 

The easy answer is “yes" — every public- and private-sector organization has an ethical duty to accommodate people with disabilities, and most nations (including the UK) have laws establishing requirements for digital accessibility. 

Below, we’ll discuss several UK laws and standards that apply to website content. For more guidance, download the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free Definitive Website Accessibility Checklist.

Public Sector Web Accessibility Requirements in the UK

Under the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, central and local government organizations operating within the UK must maintain accessible websites and mobile content. Some publicly funded charities and non-governmental organizations must also comply. 

As of September 23, 2020, public sector organizations must meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Level AA. WCAG is widely recognized as an international digital accessibility standard, and content that meets Level AA guidelines is generally considered reasonably accessible for most people with disabilities. 

Related: 5 Critical Factors For Making Your Government Website Accessible

Private Sector Web Accessibility Requirements in the UK

Private businesses must make “reasonable adjustments" to accommodate people with disabilities under the Equality Act of 2010 or Northern Ireland’s Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. However, most private businesses do not have a legal obligation to meet a certain level of WCAG conformance.

That doesn’t mean that businesses should ignore WCAG. According to Scope, a disability advocacy organization, about 1 in 5 people in the United Kingdom have some form of long-term disability — and that doesn’t include people with temporary or situational disabilities.

Businesses that ignore accessibility may impose barriers on a large percentage of their users, and since the principles of web accessibility improve the on-page experience for everyone — not just people with disabilities — building accessible content has tremendous advantages.

Related: The Business Case for an Accessible Website

What is the BSI 8878 Web Accessibility Standard?

The UK’s anti-discrimination laws have some of the same limitations as the United States' Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both the ADA and the Equality Act require “reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities, but neither law sets specific technical standards for digital accessibility. 

With that said, the British Standards Institution (BSI) provides some guidance for business owners: Introduced in 2010, BSI 8878 (PDF) establishes a best-practices process for creating a digital accessibility strategy. BSI 8878 does not replace WCAG or include specific guidelines. Instead, it’s a non-technical guide for implementing WCAG 2.0 when designing website content.

It recommends establishing a process that includes: 

    • The appointment of a “web accessibility champion" who can develop an accessibility policy.
    • Considering accessibility at all stages of development.
    • Establishing a process for “reasonably justifying" decisions.
    • Carrying out research and testing.
    • Publishing clear information for consumers via a web accessibility statement.

These tactics can be beneficial for incorporating the best practices of digital accessibility. However, as a voluntary standard, BSI 8878 carries no penalties for non-conformance (although businesses may face penalties for false claims of compliance). BSI also notes that “in the event of a serious complaint or incident, the standard could be used in a court of law to provide a benchmark of best practice.” 

Related: Why Websites Need an Accessibility Statement

WCAG provides the best path to achieving (and maintaining) digital accessibility

Many common web accessibility issues can be fixed easily, but if developers don’t understand how their decisions affect their audience, they can’t remediate issues. 

International accessibility laws frequently reference WCAG because the guidelines provide a straightforward, understandable process for identifying common barriers. By focusing on principles — perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness — WCAG gives creators the tools they need to build better content. 

By conforming with WCAG, businesses in the United Kingdom can enjoy higher levels of user retention, better search engine positioning, and an improved customer experience. For government organizations, WCAG conformance is required — and following the guidelines ensures that citizens have access to necessary services. 

To determine whether your website follows current WCAG standards, start with a free automated compliance summary. Our A11Y® platform provides a confidential, graded report measuring your website against WCAG Level A and Level AA checkpoints. 

Receive an industry accessibility analysis of your website

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