Almost half of councils responsible for local authority gov.uk websites are found not to be accessible to people with disabilities, according to a recent survey by Better Connected, a SOCITM-backed organisation that has been assessing local authorities’ online performance since 1999.
According to the latest annual survey of website performance, which found that only 60% of home pages were accessible to people with disabilities, some sites may already be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Furthermore, the sites will have to be fixed ahead of a new EU Directive that comes into force in 2019, which outlines new technical specifications for accessibility that public sector bodies will have adhere to.
Better Connected tested 270 UK council websites, completed in December 2017, and found that there had actually been a small deterioration on last year’s testing, where 65% of the 270 councils passed.
The testing was carried out by the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC), using automated tools and manual checking, where every member of the DAC user testing team has a disability – among them, visual impairment, dyslexia, mobility impairment and learning disabilities.
Commenting on the significance of accessibility in the digital age, Better Connected said:
The accessibility of websites to people with disabilities, who account for around 15% of the UK population, is extremely important. It should be built-in to the design of websites and the third party systems they use (i.e. 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 reader.
Maintaining the accessibility of a website requires knowledge and constant vigilance, since it is very easy to introduce accessibility problems with even simple updates.
This stage one test carried out by Better Connected examines home pages on 14 testing criteria, which must be passed before councils can be awarded the top rating for local authority websites of four stars.
Councils fell short of passing in the following areas:
- 86% of the council websites that failed the stage one accessibility test did so because their home page lacked ‘visible focus indicators’. These highlight links, tabs and other key elements. Absence of these indicators means that keyboard only users cannot navigate the website, find content, or determine where they are on a page or application.
- 71% of sites tested were marked down for absence of ‘skip links’, mainly used by screen reader users for bypassing or ‘skipping’ over repetitive web page content. While this absence would fall foul of WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 accessibility standards, and would have failed in last year’s Better Connected test, DAC regard this absence as ‘inconvenient’ rather that ‘difficult’ in terms of completing a journey. Consequently absence of skip links is not sufficient on its own to constitute a task fail.
- 64% of sites tested were marked down on for lack of ‘meaningful links in context’. This impacts blind users who use screen reading software and need links to make sense when read out of context – which links like ‘click here’ or ‘more’ do not.
- 35% of sites tested were marked down on movement. This impacts cognitive impaired, dyslexic and low vision users, as well as blind users who use screen reading software. If there is movement of any kind on the page that lasts for more than five seconds then a user, including keyboard and mouse users, should be able to pause that movement. As with skip links, while absence of such tools would fall foul of WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards, DAC regard this as inconvenient rather than ‘difficult’ in terms of completing a journey and not sufficient on its own to constitute a task fail.
- Other criteria where more than a third of sites tested were marked down (but not sufficiently to fail) included criterion 2: good heading structure (63%), criterion 8: appropriate text alternatives for images (39%), and criterion 9: sufficient colour contrast (49%). 36% of sites tested scored 7 on criterion 6, which requires clear labels and instructions for forms. This issue impacts blind users who use screen reading software.
Image credit - Surprised woman browsing internet in home office, webcam view