Purpose ' To highlight and offer guidance on good practice in web accessibility within the context of the United Kingdom government's agendas of social inclusion, widening access to education and the modernisation of public services. Design/methodology/approach ' The paper draws on the most current data available from the Department for Education and Skills, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, and performance reports from the Cabinet Office. Conclusions on the current and future directions of government strategy are drawn from analysis of policy documents and statements, as well as from the data sets themselves. The paper makes reference to international web content standards and relevant legislation. Findings ' Argues that the accessibility of the online environment is essential in relation to the government's attempts to shape the UK into a socially inclusive knowledge economy. Research limitations/implications ' Focuses on the United Kingdom and draws conclusions from data sets from the Department for Education and Skills and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Comparative studies could establish the relationship between web accessibility and government social and economic development policies in other countries. Practical implications ' Highlights the importance of accessibility on three levels (ethical, legal and commercial) and offers guidance on inclusive approaches to the design of online resources and services offered by the public, educational and commercial sectors. Originality/value ' Good practice in accessible web design is contextualised within social trends and specific government strategies.