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Published: April 8, 2022

British Standard 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice: a short summary

Published: August 19, 2014

Web Accessibility Code of PracticeNote: ISO 30071-1:2019 is the standard that replaced BS 8878. This article was correct at the time of publication but is now out of date.

British Standard 8878 (BS 8878) is the Web Accessibility Code of Practice developed by the British Standards Institution, launched on December 2010.

Unlike much of the guidance previously published, the standard aims to introduce website accessibility to non-technical professionals, including:

  • Policy makers (e.g. Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors, Headteachers, IT Managers);
  • Those responsible for promoting equality initiatives (e.g. Human Resource Managers);
  • Those responsible for procurement of services.
  • The producers of website/online products and services (e.g. website and online services owners, project managers, web developers, designers);
  • Content creators (e.g. website editors, marketing managers, content authors);
  • Those involved in testing and validation.
  • Those who create and deliver related training courses.

It’s about processes not just techniques

The document outlines procedures you can put in place to help ensure that web based services are accessible to disabled and older people. It provides guidance on good practice; on how to develop your strategy and practical steps to implement that strategy.

Importantly, it contains examples that can help in relation to your own in-house policies, procedures and practices. For example, a suggested policy document, content for your website accessibility statement, procedures for your accessibility test plans and help with selecting accessible software.

What make it different from WCAG 1 and WCAG 2?

BS 8878 takes a more ‘holistic’ approach than other guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which focus much more on technical issues.

It covers:

  • The law and accessibility.
  • Inclusive design.
  • Accessibility on devices that are not computers.
  • Accessibility for older people.
  • Developing accessibility policy.
  • Accessibility and the tendering process.

Do you need to adhere to this standard?

I can think of a few reasons why you should:

  • The fair treatment of disabled people is a legal requirement. If you don’t make your website accessible you risk falling foul of the law.
  • The Human Rights Commission specifically states that the Equalities Act 2010 applies to websites.
  • The government’s e-Accessibility Action Plan mentions BS 8878 as the basis for developing accessible online services.
  • Research suggests that you will increase your audience by up to 17% if you make your site accessible. Nomensa humanising technology report, January 2011.

The BS 8878 approach to website accessibility

The BS 8878 is an important as it recognises that website accessibility is a more complex subject than just applying the right techniques to a web page (i.e. adding text labels).

In the past It has been easy to ignore website accessibility on the basis that it’s too hard to understand and/or that it’s a responsibility that can be off-loaded to the web developer (‘that’s what we are paying them for..’).

This new British Standard invalidates that argument and firmly roots the responsibility within the organisation. And that includes Third Sector Organisations, notwithstanding their size or budget.

A web developer might also carry responsibility, though again it is a less likely target than its client…. There is also a duty on the client not to instruct anyone to do anything which contravenes the Equality Act. BS 8878 C.6.1

BS 887 Compliance

Compliance with BS 8878 is not a simple check box exercise; to fully comply requires considerable resources, time, commitment and expertise. If the document has a weakness it is that the amount of work and expense required could frighten people off. Not every organisation can afford a comprehensive website testing programme, nor the resources to involve disabled people throughout the web development process.

However as was the case with the Disability Discrimination Act organisations are required to make, ‘reasonable adjustments’ , i.e. do what is considered reasonable given the constraints of resources and time.

The duty in the Equality Act and the DDA to make reasonable adjustments does not require steps that would fundamentally alter the nature of the service or that would cause the operator to incur excessive expenditure.

Third Sector Organisations large or small are not exempt from ensuring their online content is accessible to disabled and older people. And whilst BS 8878 may appear somewhat daunting, it is real step forward from the exclusively technical approach that seemed to be the default in the past.

This article as written by accessible website design specialist Jim Byrne. Contact us today if you are interested in a workshop, seminar or training related to the British Standard 8878 (BS 8878) the Web Accessibility Code of Practice

Contact us today. We are hugely experienced award winning web designers and developers. Please read what our clients are saying about how we helped them meet their aims.

Or phone to talk over your ideas: 07810 098 119.

Why do non-profits need to care about web standards and web accessibility?


Accessible websites attract more people

Apart from the 10 million Disabled people in the UK and 50 million in America, accessible websites will be easier to use by older people, people with slow connections or older technologies and people with low literacy. Older people are the fastest growing group of new users in many countries. As many older people have multiple impairments, accessible sites are likely to be more attractive to this group.

Lower costs and more traffic

Pages built using web standards tend to be smaller and they tend to load quicker. This leads to the first and most obvious saving – lower bandwidth costs.

What is not so obvious, however, is that faster loading pages can also generate additional traffic and revenue. For example, when redesigned their site using web standards they estimated they saved 40,000 Gb of bandwidth per year – but they also found that their advertising revenues increased. The quicker loading pages encouraged people to spend more time on the site.

Web Standards means shorter development times and re-usable content

Production and maintenance costs are lower when content is packaged in highly structured ways, for example, when standard (X)HTML is used. Separating the structure of content, i.e., headings, lists, images, paragraphs, from the way that content is presented opens up opportunities to create multiple ‘views’ of that content.

As a result, content can be optimized with less effort for delivery on hand-held devices, formatted for printing or delivered to assistive devices such as screen readers.

When the time comes around for a new design, it is easier to substitute a new style sheet than to spend hours changing hundreds of font tags and background colour attributes.

Web standards means you don’t waste time battling with Browser quirks

When using Web standards there is no need to produce multiple versions of pages to cope with the quirks of different browsers. The time and effort previously required to create and maintain ‘browser sniffing’ scripts can now be re-deployed to add value to the site for visitors.

Web standards helps you break free from proprietary technologies

Using Web standards can free organisations from being captives of browsers dependent on proprietary tags and rendering behaviour. For example, IBM’s move to Open Source desktop clients has reportedly been held back due to their web based systems being built on top of the non-standard Internet Explorer web browser.

Less errors in pages means less time dealing with complaints

Without working to standards – it is not possible to check for markup errors; there are no rules to check against. Standards base web pages can be checked against code validators such as the W3C validator – highlighting any errors – and allowing you to get those errors fixed. If you website works for more people on more browsers you won’t have to spend time replying to emails from people complaining your site doesn’t work.

Content is future-proofed and compatible with older browsers. Pages built using web standards will display more consistently across browsers and platforms, including older browsers. Your content will not necessarily look the same in old ‘non-standard compliant’ browser but the bottom line is that the content will still be available.

Greater search engine visibility

Search engines are able to index web pages more accurately if the content on those pages is well structured. For example, when keywords appear in page headings many search engines give extra weight to those words when indexing the page. A web page where headings are improperly marked up is likely to suffer in the search rankings compared with a page with the same content that is marked up correctly. An accessible website will have alternative text for images and multimedia – and this will provide more text be indexed by search engines.

Accessible websites designed using Web Standards leads to real measurable benefits: more visitors, increased income, decreased cost, greater search engine visibility, faster loading and easier to use pages. Sell the benefits to websites commissioners, not the ideology.

This article was written by Jim Byrne, a Web site accessibility specialist since 1996.

Contact us now if you are interested in having your own accessible website built using Web Standards.

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