Socitm and Silktide’s recent report highlighting the most common accessibility issues on UK council websites made for interesting, albeit familiar reading.
Coming not long before WCAG 2.1 standards come into full force for all public sector sites, and at a time when channel shift has been accelerated through the necessity of the Covid-19 crisis, the findings show the important work still to be done in making digital services fully inclusive.
The report highlights the extent to which navigational issues in particular continue to persist. These issues greatly hinder the experience of those using assistive technology. According to the findings, 57.95% of council websites currently fail to include a ‘Skip to Content’ navigation option, which can make for long-winded and frustrating experiences for the visually impaired using screen readers to interpret text and imagery. Without a ‘Skip to Content’ option, users can be forced to tab through tens or hundreds of navigational links before reaching the main content.
The report also shows that close to three-quarter of council websites have at least one “failure to mark navigation elements as list items”. This means assistive technology users can be forced to go through hundreds of links at a time. When navigation is tagged correctly however, assistive technology users can skip an entire list in one step and even search inside lists, making for a much better (and quicker) experience.
Nearly all (94.87%) of the tested councils fail on at least one page to use the same link text for different locations. This means that screen readers cannot correctly contextualise text on a page. As the report explains, “if you have two links on a page navigating to different places, but they are both labelled the same, the user has a 50% chance of navigating to the wrong page.” For example, if links to ‘Product News’ and ‘Company News’ pages are both labelled ‘News’, there is no way to distinguish between them.
Use of screen readers
A recent assistive technology survey by gov.uk found that 29% of respondents use screen readers, illustrating just how many people these issues impact!
There is no better way of understanding accessibility than by putting yourself in the position of those using the site. The not-for-profit organisation NV Access offers a free screen reader. The NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) Screen Reader is free to download for Windows users, with the option of making a donation. Mac users have access to an inbuilt screen reader VoiceOver, which can be accessed using the shortcut: cmd+f5.
I also recommend these videos, which shows how people use screen readers to access the web (flash must be enabled to view): http://www.bbc.co.uk/accessibility/best_practice/case_studies/robin.shtml
Ensuring council websites are fully accessible to those using screen readers is absolutely imperative. The new accessibility regulation deadline is fast approaching (23 September) and the reasons behind the regulation becomes very clearer when you experience the frustrations first-hand.
We mustn’t forget that many councils are making great strides in accessibility; if you’re a website owner, content editor, designer or developer, hopefully the navigational issues identified in the Socitm report help keep navigation front of mind!
Shared with permission from Jadu.