Welcome back everyone to day 18 of our advent post series! Yesterday, we looked at accessibility issues on public sector websites. Today, we’re diving deeper to understand why these regulations aren’t enforced effectively in the UK, especially when compared to the approach in the United States.
In the UK, the Public Sector Bodies Act was established to ensure digital inclusivity. The big challenge seems to be a lack of tangible consequences for non-compliance. In the US, they have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which empowers individuals to initiate private lawsuits against organisations that create inaccessible technology. The threat of legal action and potential monetary compensation creates a strong incentive for businesses to be accessible.
In the UK, the approach is more about ‘naming and shaming’ non-compliant organisations. Theoretically, this should encourage compliance, but in reality, it's been ineffective, to say the least. We haven’t been able to find evidence of the list of non-compliant public sector bodies ever being published. And even if it was, who is reading it?
In contrast, the ICO has the authority to impose significant financial penalties (up to £17.5m or 4% of your annual worldwide turnover, whichever is higher) on organisations that fail to protect personal data. This enforcement mechanism has proven to have teeth, as the government seems more comfortable imposing fines on companies for data breaches: in 2022 they fined TikTok £12.7 million for failing to protect children’s privacy when using the platform.
Considering this, one wonders whether a similar approach should be adopted for public sector bodies failing to comply with digital accessibility standards. Should there be financial disincentives like those for other types of non-compliance?
The absence of a robust enforcement mechanism in the realm of digital accessibility suggests a need for change. Implementing financial penalties might incentivise public sector bodies to prioritise accessibility. And why stop there? Honestly, every website should be accessible, and it would only be fair to penalise those who don’t achieve that.
Maybe this shift could ensure that websites become truly accessible, embodying the inclusivity that the Public Sector Bodies Act regulations initially intended to promote.
One thing is for sure: we need stronger enforcement mechanisms in the realm of digital accessibility in the UK. While awareness is a great start, tangible legal incentives are necessary to drive meaningful change. Public sector, get your Act together!