I received a letter from my utility provider the other day in a really small font size, maybe 10 point. There was a message in a slightly larger size (about 14 point) advising the reader of how to get a copy of the document in a larger or accessible format. However, many of us now manage our lives via the internet, from contacting our local council about refuse collections to keeping up-to-date with current affairs. We can fill in a form online in a few mouse clicks, but how does a disabled person interact with this kind of facility? How can they ensure that the websites and apps they are using will be accessible and compatible with the assistive technologies they use? In this blog, we explore the EU Directive implemented on 23rd September 2018 which aims to ensure accessibility for all, including downloadable documents and forms published on public sector websites.
The Directive was initially adopted by the EU at the end of 2016, and is a landmark in digital accessibility legislation. It aims to make public sector digital content more accessible for the estimated 80 million Europeans, living with a disability. Documents and forms that can be downloaded from digital platforms also need to meet required standards, although there are several exemptions:
- Documents published on websites before 23rd September 2018.
- Documents that are not essential to the services provided by an organisation.
- Maps, although directions may be needed if the end-user needs them.
- Documents from heritage collections, such as scanned manuscripts.
- Third party content funded and developed by another organisation.
It is important to remember that even with these exemptions, it is possible that some organisations may already be breaking the laws set out in the Equality Act 2010 in terms of just how accessible their websites currently are. And even with the possibility of Brexit looming in the not-too-distant future, UK public sector organisations will need to comply with the terms of the new directive, as it has been made into UK Law, not just EU Law.
The Further and Higher Education sector is not immune to the new regulations. Many institutions use a VLE or Virtual Learning Environment for file sharing, such as lecture notes, course handbooks and reference materials. As they are public sector bodies in the eyes of the law, they will need to ensure that such documents can be accessed in alternative or accessible formats so that all students can engage fully in their studies. Other public sector organisations include national/regional/local authorities such as local councils or regional assemblies, and any body established specifically to meet the needs of disabled people.
In order to meet the diverse needs of a population where one in five UK residents is living with a disability, what can organisations do to ensure that the new accessibility standards are adhered to? There are a range of options public sector bodies can utilise for producing accessible documents which can be uploaded to websites and apps, including:
- Outsourcing to a specialist transcription company, such as Connect (connecttodesign.co.uk), who will convert the existing files to accessible formats. This can include large print, braille and accessible PDFs.
- Training staff so that they are able to produce accessible documents in-house.
- A combination of the above, such as training employees to produce the documents and outsourcing for testing.
With reference to website content that is in HTML format, this may not be accessible for screen-reader users. An alternative solution is to provide a downloadable accessible PDF with alt text, enabling the end-user to use their software to ‘read’ the document. However, preparations need to be made now, as documents produced after 23rd September 2018 are subject to the requirements of the new legislation.
With over 25 years’ experience of producing documents in accessible formats, Connect is ideally placed to help companies embrace the new regulations.