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Big improvement in accessibility of council websites to people with disabilities revealed in survey for Better Connected

Council websites have shown a big improvement in their accessibility to people with disabilities, including those using assistive technologies like text-to-speech screenreaders or keyboard-only controls.

Nearly two thirds of sites, 64 percent, pass the Socitm Better Connected accessibility test, carried out by the Digital Accessibility Centre, whose reviewers include people with visual impairment, dyslexia, mobility impairment and learning disabilities.

This result compares with a 43 percent pass rate in 2015 and 26 percent in 2014 – the latter result being linked to many sites not being purposed for mobile users when Better Connected first introduced testing from mobiles, and as a consequence being hard to use from mobiles for people with disabilities.

The results of this year’s Better Connected mobile survey show that 80% of council websites are now purposed for mobile (ie responsive or in a few cases, with a separate mobile site) demonstrating that this particular obstacle to accessibility is being overcome. However, pass rates in the accessibility test conducted on a mobile device were still significantly poorer at 46 percent, than those conducted on the desktop (65-71 percen).

There are some marked differences in the performance on accessibility of different council types. Scottish councils do particularly well, with an 81 percen pass rate, with London boroughs at 70 percen and Welsh unitaries at 68 percen.

The accessibility of websites to people with disabilities, who account for around 15 percen of the UK population, is extremely important. It should be built-in to the design of websites and the third party systems they use (ie software that manage services people access via council websites, like library or planning or council tax management systems). All forms and documents presented via websites should be accessible too, and videos, imagery and elements of the website that move, should be presented in ways that accommodate disabled people.

Accessibility cannot be guaranteed by coders or third party site designers (although specifications for items they provide should require these to be accessible). Content editors need also to be aware of things they do that may introduce accessibility barriers, like adding images with no ‘alternative text’ or links like ‘click here’ that may not be meaningful when read out by a screen readers.

Accessible sites tend to perform better for all users too, and there is evidence to support this from other Better Connected survey data. Sites that pass the accessibility test average a three star ranking in Better Connected ‘task’ surveys (eg report missed bin), while sites that fail on accessibility average only a two star ranking. In the test covering site navigation, search and A-Z, accessible sites score an average of just over three stars, while inaccessible sites score an average of 2.7 stars. In the mobile test, not surprisingly, accessible sites score better too – an average of 2.8 stars against the 2.2 scored by less accessible sites.

The accessibility assessment involves DAC testers attempting to complete three specified tasks from the main Better Connected 2015-16 survey set, one of them from a mobile device. Testers simply try to complete the task (eg ‘report missed bin’). A site’s top pages (home, contact us, and one covering council services; business services; and resident services) are also tested. Each test covers 14 aspects of accessibility, with scores aggregated to give each task a rating on a scale of 0-3 and further aggregated to give an overall site score. Those achieving 2 or 3 overall are deemed to have passed the accessibility test.

‘It is really encouraging to see these improved results on accessibility’ says Vicky Sargent of Boilerhouse, Socitm’s partner in the Better Connected. ‘The accessibility issues associated with mobile access are now being overcome, and the trend towards simpler, stripped down websites stimulated by the approach of GOV.UK is also a factor.  However, information about how to achieve an accessible website needs to be de-mystified so that non-experts involved in commissioning or signing off websites understand the issues and implications. We are proud to have taken steps this year towards this in in our efforts to present results and explain issues in a more simple and straightforward way, and look forward to feedback from councils on what we have done.’

The ‘all council’ report on the Better Connected Accessibility assessment is now available, free to view, on https://betterconnected.socitm.net/. Individual council headline results are also free to view. Councils that subscribe to Socitm can access detailed results by logging in to their results page on the Better Connected website.

Further information

Vicky Sargent

Better Connected

07726 601139