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Disproportionate burden for accessibility

All public sector bodies must ensure their sites meet the 'AA' standard of accessibility. This obligation can only be waived when complying would place a 'disproportionate burden' on the organisation. This page helps service owners decide if this will be the case, and how to document their findings.

Accessibility compliance

It's a legal obligation on public sector bodies, including the NHS, to make websites, digital tools, and apps accessible to as many people as possible.

You must do this, even if it is more difficult, or more expensive.

Find out more about compliance on our standards for web products or accessibility audit pages.

Disproportionate burden

If you have a specific accessibility issue that is particularly difficult or expensive to fix, and you believe that the benefit is not high enough to commit the resources to, then this is a disproportionate burden. 

This should always be an exception, and the majority of your digital content should be fully accessible.

It will be easier to prove a disproportionate burden if it's only a small part of your digital content 

If you wish to claim a disproportionate burden then you must, by law, conduct an assessment.

This assessment must be:

  • conducted objectively
  • written down
  • published on the corporate website of your organisation (see NHS Digital reports here)
  • linked to from your accessibility statement

Even if you judge that meeting the accessibility requirements would be a disproportionate burden, you are still legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when they are needed. For example, providing the information they want in another, more accessible format.

What your assessment should include

There is no required format for a disproportionate burden assessment, but it must include:

  • the benefits of making your content or service accessible
  • the burden that making it accessible will have on the organisation, in terms of resources, time, or money

You need to consider this in the context of:

  • the resources available to your organisation (not just your team)
  • the nature of your organisation - as an NHS organisation there is a particularly strong interest in ensuring accessibility
  • the cost of making something accessible, including how that relates to the total organisational budget
  • the number of users who may potentially benefit
  • the amount of difference the change would make

You must also document the steps that you will take to meet your duty to still provide accessible information as required. This could include steps such as how users can make a request for a different format, and how this will be fulfilled.

How to document your findings

You should write up your findings in an accessible format, ideally as a web page, and this should be published to the corporate website of your organisation.

This should then be linked from your accessibility statement on the relevant service.

An accessibility statement is a legal requirement for all public sector sites, even if you are fully non-compliant.

For NHS Digital services, if you need to publish a disproportionate burden statement on the corporate site ( then you should contact the web team on [email protected] with details of what you need published.

These are published on our disproportionate burden assessments page.

This is deliberately required to be public information, and you may receive follow up questions from groups with interests in accessibility, and you may be asked to justify your decisions.

Common mistakes
  • claiming disproportionate burden without conducting an assessment
  • mistakenly claiming disproportionate burden for things that could be easily fixed
  • only conducting a disproportionate burden assessment in response to a freedom of information request
  • claiming that it was decided in a discussion, rather than through documented assessment
  • blaming a third-party supplier for any problems

Factors to consider

There is no single answer to what might be a disproportionate burden for any particular organisation.

Factors which might suggest that a burden would be disproportionate could include:

  • a service which is on a managed decommission, replacement, or withdrawal plan
  • services which are technically difficult or impossible to make accessible - but you must consider alternatives
  • information which has almost no users

In most cases, accessibility fixes are easily achieved with the appropriate technical resource.

You cannot take things like lack of time or knowledge into account in your assessment - or argue that making things accessible is a disproportionate burden because you’ve not given it priority.

Last edited: 29 September 2022 4:33 pm