Testing for Better Connected shows that maintaining website accessibility for people with disabilities an ongoing challenge
134 of 195 council websites (69%) have passed the Socitm Better Connected stage two accessibility test, indicating that their website content can be readily consumed by people with disabilities, including those using the keyboard only or assistive technologies like screen readers.
A limited stage one test designed to identify sites that would fail the full test was carried out on all 416 UK council websites in December 2016. 275 sites (two thirds of the total) passed this test.
Socitm Insight member councils successful at stage one were tested at stage two, 195 councils in all. This group is a higher performing group than all councils, and this year's 69% pass rate at stage two compares with a 77% pass rate by the same cohort of councils in last year’s test, which used the same testing criteria.
These results should not be read as deterioration because a different, and arguably more difficult, set of tasks were tested this year. In particular, to pass ‘order a bulky waste collection’ - a test conducted on a mobile device - sites had to offer an online order form (not a pdf) and further, that order form and its associated payment module (as well as the site overall) had to be responsive when accessed from a mobile device.
Results of the more directly year-on-year comparable top pages task (covering home, contact us, and one top page covering council services; business services; and resident services) shows that 88% of our stage two cohort passed this task, compared with 82% in 2016.
Better Connected testing is carried out by the Digital Accessibility Centre. Each member of the DAC testing team has a disability, among them visual impairment, dyslexia, mobility impairment and learning disabilities. Most testers use one or more assistive technologies to access sites from their computer or mobile device including screen reader software, voice activation software, screen magnification software, and keyboard only reliance. Deaf users and those with dyslexia or low vision do manual checks.
The Better Connected process tests sites against 14 criteria that are in line with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. These criteria are free to view on the Better Connected website. Each council tested gets access to a detailed report of accessibility issues identified in the testing, whether or not they passed the test.
Accessibility is hard to maintain as it cannot be guaranteed by use of a particular content management system or software. Sites that are accessible at set up can quickly become inaccessible unless editors and developers understand how things like moving content, keyboard traps, illogical heading structures and websites that do not ‘respond’ when viewed on mobile devices can make it difficult and sometimes impossible for people with disabilities to use them.
One off testing of accessibility does not guarantee access over time, as addition of new content and software that does not comply with accessibility standards will change things. For example, people attempting to complete our ‘order bulky waste’ task needed to be able to do this using an online form – phone and email options only, render the task inaccessible. Third party software, including facilities like payment modules, need also to be fully accessible if certain groups of disabled people are to be enabled to complete tasks unaided.
Ongoing, automated monitoring of sites for accessibility – which is helpful - does not guarantee access, which is why Better Connected testing is done by real people accounting for a range of conditions using different assistive technologies. Consequently results are both more forgiving than automated tests and more testing, since many accessibility barriers cannot be identified by automated testing.
Better Connected has identified 60 councils from the cohort of 195 tested this year that have passed the accessibility test for each of the last three years. These councils should be congratulated. Not only do they understand the issues around accessibility, they have clearly invested in the awareness and expertise required to maintain it. This includes requiring accessibility standards to be met and maintained by any third party software used to deliver the website and its services.
Individual councils can access detailed feedback on accessibility issues identified in their test from their results pages, accessed via the council index at https://betterconnected.socitm.net/councils. A free to view ‘all council’ report containing details of the testing process and the criteria used for evaluation can be accessed from https://betterconnected.socitm.net/usability/accessibility_stage_two/2016-17
The Digital Accessibility Centre will be speaking about the results and answering questions on accessibility issues at Connected Local Government Live, 28/29 June in Birmingham.
Director, Better Connected Programme