The BetterConnected programme is putting website accessibility under new levels of scrutiny.
People with disabilities account for around 15 per cent of the UK population, and for many of them, access to websites is vital. Accessibility should therefore be built into the design of websites as well as all third party software used to manage services, forms, and documents presented via websites. Website text, videos, and imagery must also be made accessible to all, including those using assistive technologies like text-to-speech screen readers or magnification software.
Simple good practice should encourage the commissioning and supply of accessible websites, since there is plenty of research that shows these to be easier for everyone to use. However, under the Disability Discrimination Act, the law also requires websites to be accessible.
Unfortunately, accessibility cannot be guaranteed by software or other technical means, and can easily be compromised by simple updates by coders or web editors. Where content management systems are used, accessibility problems can be introduced, for example, where links with no meaning when read out are added (e.g. ‘click here’) or images are uploaded without the ‘alternative text’ that enables users of screen readers to have image content described to them.
Although council website accessibility has been improving – the BetterConnected pass rate in 2015-16 was 64 per cent compared with just 26 per cent in 2014 – there is still much to do.
This year we introduced a new, two stage accessibility test into Better Connected. This was explained in our blog [this link no longer exists] but essentially, in stage one we were looking to highlight sites that fail testing on a single page – in this case, the home page.
141 sites, a third of all UK council websites, failed this test. Most failed because they lacked visible focus indicators that help keyboard only users find their way around. Others failed because the home page had keyboard traps meaning keyboard only users would get to a certain point and not be able to backwards or forwards.
Socitm Insight users and corporate members have been given information about why their sites failed and have had the opportunity to fix the issues and re-apply for a stage one test.
If successful they can proceed to stage two, our full test, and if successful in that can become eligible for the full four stars in Better Connected (dependent also on their success with the rest of the Better Connected testing).
By introducing this two stage testing we have given ourselves a much great opportunity to highlight the issue of non-accessible websites and in particular to raise awareness among resource managers about the importance of accessibility and how it can be managed.