Web accessibility


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (known as WCAG 2.1) are an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility. They are based on four design principles and require that a website or service is:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

WCAG itself provides detailed information about each of the elements within its guidelines, including what the criteria for pass and fail are, and Government Digital Services has an excellent introduction to understanding WCAG 2.1.

Accessibility regulations

While digital accessibility is simply best practice and should be a part of creating an inclusive experience for our community, the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 covers the legal requirement for us to comply with most WCAG 2.1 AA requirements. All sites published after September 2018 should now be totally compliant, and older sites must have published accessibility statements with plans by September 2020. Government Digital Services provides detailed information on how these regulations affect organisations and what must be done to meet them.

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There are a number of ways you can check your website or service, and which one or combination you choose will depend on a number of factors, including time, budget and knowledge. Government Digital Services provides some helpful guidance on deciding how to audit. You’ll need to be prepared to spend some time with your website, running automated checks on the whole site and/or selecting a representative set of pages for manual checks. Criteria against which to check may include:

There are lots of helpful resources available to help you check and audit your site, including paid, automated tools (eg Silktide, which has a framework agreement with the University) as well as free tools that can check a page at a time (eg WAVE). You may also wish to use assistive technology to see how well your site or app works when using these tools.

Please note that online tools may not be able to identify or correctly identify all accessibility issues.

You should record what you check, when and how, and which criteria are met or not met. 

Once you’ve identified any issues with your website, service or app, you’ll need to make and document a plan for fixing these. How you fix issues will depend on your platform.

Some issues may be fairly straightforward to fix on your own or with the help of other website editors, eg missing alt text on images or link text. For other elements, you may need to talk to your developers or suppliers in order to understand what might be addressed and how. It may be helpful to divide issues into those you or editors can manage and those that will need a webmaster or developer to look at. You may also be able to prioritise some 'quick wins', eg issues that can be fixed easily but will have a larger impact or affect a large number of pages.

There are certain elements that are exempt from the new Public Sector Accessibility Regulations:

  • pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020
  • live audio and video
  • heritage collections like scanned manuscripts
  • PDFs or other documents published before 23 September 2018 - unless users need them to use a service
  • maps - but you’ll need to provide essential information in an accessible format like an address
  • third party content that’s under someone else’s control if you did not pay for it or develop it yourself - for example, social media ‘like’ buttons
  • content on intranets or extranets published before 23 September 2019 (unless you make a major revision after that date)
  • archived websites if they’re not needed for services your organisation provides and they are not updated

However, it’s better for all users if you can fix these elements or provide information in alternative formats to help more people use your website.

Disproportionate burden

The regulations provide an exception for disproportionate burden in the case that the impact of meeting the regulations is more than an organisation can cope with. 

Please note that lack of time or knowledge cannot be used as a reason to claim disproportionate burden, and you cannot argue that making things accessible is a disproportionate burden because you’ve not given the work priority. 

If you do think there’s a case for disproportionate burden around your website or service (or part of it), you’ll first need to carry out an assessment so that you can understand what changes would need to be made in order to meet the regulations and what the impact would be. 

For more information, please see the GDS guidance on disproportionate burden and Jisc’s further explanation of disproportionate burden.

All University websites should publish an accessibility statement, which should reflect your audit of the site and where it does or doesn’t meet requirements. GDS has provided a sample accessibility statement template for use which meets the new requirements and also aims to provide helpful information to users of a website, service or app. The statement should:

  • be written clearly so that non-technical users can understand
  • be explicit what site(s) the statement covers
  • clearly state whether your website or mobile app is ‘fully’, ‘partially’ or ‘not’ compliant with accessibility standards
  • if it’s not fully compliant, identify which parts of your website or mobile app do not currently meet accessibility standards and why (for example, because they are exempt or it would be a disproportionate burden to fix things)
  • tell users how they can get alternatives to content that’s not accessible to them
  • tell users how to contact you to report accessibility problems - and a link to the website that they can use if they’re not happy with your response.

For any issues you identify, you should list:

  • What the accessibility problems are
  • which of the WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria the problem fails on
  • when you plan to fix the problem

For example: 

There is inconsistency on our sites around the use of ARIA tags and HTML5 labels to help accessibility tools navigate our pages (WCAG 2.1 1.3.1). We are working with our developers to ensure that these are implemented correctly on our site. We plan to fix this by September 2020.

Three standard Accessibility Statement templates (small, medium and large) tailored to the University of Oxford have been produced to assist you in writing your statement.

Other websites are also welcome to adapt the OxWeb website statement for their own use.


You should plan to review your website or service’s accessibility on a regular basis, and update your statement regularly (when there are major changes and at least once a year). You should keep a record of your audits and progress made against them.

It's important to note that not all accessibility requirements or good practice can be met by managing the back end of the website or using automated checks. All website editors play a role in ensuring that we continue to create content that is suitable for all our users, whatever their needs. Continued attention is required to small but important elements like good alt text, clear link text and succinct and simple language. If you are responsible for training for your website or service, you should consider how to ensure editors/users are kept up to date on best practice.

Additional resources

The University has a wide range of resources available to those working in on websites or other platforms where digital accessibility is important. Please see our accessibility training and resources page for more info.


This page contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Many thanks to the Med Sci Haiku user community for their assistance in providing templates and draft guidance

Contact us

For questions about accessibility and digital communications, please contact the Digital Communications team in PAD: