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About the Rules
Accessibility is not just a 'nice to have'. It is a requirement of UK law.
- The Accessibility Standard approved by GPC of Council, October 2004
- Rules for Oxford University Websites - a bullet point list of what really must be observed for all of Oxford University's formal purpose Web publishing
- Hardcopy of the Rules for Oxford University Websites (282 kb)
Background - why do we need Rules?
Accessibility is not just a 'nice to have'. It is a requirement of UK law. The University's Web pages, as with the Websites of other public and private bodies across the UK, are subject to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and the extension to education in September 2002 by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA). The University has an Accessibility Standard comprised of the baseline requirements to comply with this legislation, and local-level standards reaching over and above this legislation towards best practice. The University's Accessibility Standard must be upheld (along with the other Rules) in all of its official use Web publishing.
The SENDA law refers to some Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) published by an independent international group called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as part of their overall Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). So it is this guidelines document to which all Web publishers now refer, and to which the University's own Accessibility Standard refers.
Information published electronically is subject to the same laws as hard copy publication. Since 2001, the Web has come under more specific regulation due to the Freedom of Information Act, the Data Protection Act, and the extension of the Disabilities Discrimination Act, as detailed in the quote above. A code that draws this to the attention of staff, members and students of the University is important to ensure both that unintentional contraventions are avoided and that the University is in a position to act should a contravention nonetheless occur.
Anyone mounting information on the Web should be aware that it will be visible to a very wide audience, including all members of the University, people in other universities in the UK, and people around the world. These may be potential staff and students of this university, potential donors and others with commercial interests in the University, the government (including our paymasters), the press, the public at large, and so on. It is important that the image presented of the University is consistent with its standing in the academic world, and does not harm its reputation in any way.
Remit of the Rules
These Rules apply to any information provided on Web servers running on systems provided by Oxford University Computing Services, or any systems that have formal connection to Oxford University. They cover any formal purpose Website content.
Status of the documents
Status of the Accessibility Standard
In accordance with a decision taken by the General Purposes Committee of Council on behalf of Council, it is a formal University requirement that the Accessibility Standard is followed for any formal purpose Website content. Part of the Standard refers to UK legislation, but not all of the local University requirements are UK law.
Exceptions can be made with good reason (for example, some content has to be made available urgently for a specific event and running through compliance checks would mean that there is no information at all on the Web in good time), but the University can only sanction this where the specific requirements involved are not part of UK law.
Status of the Rules
The Rules for Oxford University Websites (originally published along with some Guidelines) were first circulated by WSG to all Heads of Division, Heads of Departments and other relevant officers in October 2001. The Registrar wrote again to Heads and officers on 2 February 2004 to highlight this in the context of Freedom of Information, and ask them to identify an officer to take responsibility for ensuring that the [WSG advice is] reviewed against the websites for which the Division/department/sub-unit has responsibility....
Notification of changes
Since circulation of the Registrar's letter, there is a formal email list of all individuals who are the named contact for web publishing in their unit. Membership is not optional, and enquiries about joining can be sent to email@example.com. The email list is used to circulate any changes to the Rules for Oxford University Websites.
There will be changes. Standards for the Web and related legal requirements do change. This set of instructive and guidance information will be regularly reviewed, and any suggestions for additions are welcomed.
Third-party Web Projects
You should specify adherence to the Rules for Oxford University Websites as a requirement in your project brief. [Read more about Third-party Web Projects.]
What's the Bottom Line?
- For all Oxford University formal purpose Web publishing:
- Adhere to the Accessibility Standard
- Observe the Rules for Oxford University Websites
- Nominate one individual per unit who is responsible for Web publishing under the Freedom of Information Act. That individual should join the Web Managers EZMLM Mailing List which is used to circulate any updates to the Rules, and for contacting units
How do I achieve the Bottom Line?
If you only have a few pages to put on the Web, and you are not responsible for Web publishing in your unit, try to find out who is responsible and see if there are any templates you should be using. It's quite possible that there will be procedures to follow at a local level, and templates to use so that your pages are in line with other pages on the same website.
If your pages are a unique stand-alone resource you are effectively publishing a discrete Website; especially if you are having/ have got a unique URL (www.???.ox.ac.uk). Even if you don't have a unique URL, your pages are a unique Website if the look and feel (design, navigation) bears little or no resemblance to any other content on the parent URL. In which case the responsibility for adhering to the Accessibility Standard and observing the Rules rests with you. You should still find out who is ultimately responsible for Web publishing in your unit to see if there are any procedures to follow or templates to use. Divisional Web Managers may be able to help if you can't reach anyone at a Departmental or sub-department level.
What's Best Practice?
Observe the Rules and adhere to the Accessibility Standard. Beyond this, the Web Strategy Group is aiming to ensure that Oxford University presents a cohesive Web presence to the wider world.