The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, came into force on 23 September 2018. It aims to ensure that public sector websites and mobile apps are accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities. It specifies that public sector websites will need to meet accessibility standards and publish an accessibility statement.
In November 2018 the Government Digital Service (GDS) advised that they were working on a model accessibility statement for public sector website owners. This was due in the New Year but so far has not been published. Like other local authority digital managers I have already taken some action and added an accessibility statement to our website. Aware that it wasn’t that great I thought I’d spend a little time checking other council websites for any best practice about how to write accessibility statements. As I struggled to find anything meaningful I decided to carry out some personal research out of work hours and reviewed accessibility pages and accessibility statements for all councils in the UK (over 400 websites). I have always had a keen interest in finding out what other councils are doing and how their websites are developing, so this was also a good opportunity to update my knowledge.
My findings are outlined in this blog post. What I discovered was that very few if any councils have so far produced a meaningful accessibility statement. This wasn’t a great surprise as there hasn’t so far been any great encouragement for councils to do this. What did come as a surprise was that accessibility pages on council websites generally appear to be out-of-date or inadequate. I was surprised that web accessibility isn’t given greater prominence and attention on council websites. If councils are putting effort into improving the accessibility of their websites, then they are underselling the work that they are doing by not updating their accessibility pages or making them hard to find.
I hope that this blog post will encourage local authorities to review their accessibility pages. It is in no way meant to run down the hard work that councils are doing on web accessibility, but I do think that there is work to be done across the sector with regards to the range and usefulness of information provided. I will focus on the wider picture and will promote good practice, but I have no intention of naming and shaming specific councils. I don’t see that I have any right to do this or indeed think that there is any value in doing so.
How many websites have an accessibility page?
I checked each council website to try to find an accessibility page. I started on the homepage, where I expected to find a link to an accessibility page, either in the header or the footer.
If this failed I searched for accessibility on a council’s website. From this I found that 14% of council websites don’t appear to have an accessibility page. If they do, then it is pretty hidden and it is shouldn’t be.
I expected to find a link to an accessibility page on all council websites and was surprised when I couldn’t find one. A few of those without an accessibility page did present accessibility features, such as providing the ability to change font sizes and a colour scheme.
How easy is it to find the accessibility page?
It should be easy to find the accessibility page. The prime location is the first link in the header, but anywhere in the header or footer should make it easy to find. I certainly didn’t expect to search for the accessibility page or to find it in the help section.
I found that it was easy to find on 72% of local authority sites. I had to use the search to find the accessibility page on 11% of websites.
How many websites have an Accessibility Statement?
I didn’t expect to find many Accessibility Statements as full guidance for this hasn’t been issued by central government. I was surprised to find that 14% of councils have an Accessibility Statement. However, many of these can’t really be proper statements as they just contain basic details about accessibility features. I suspect some have just renamed their accessibility page as an Accessibility Statement. Nice try but I certainly wasn’t fooled!
One site proudly announces that the website doesn’t have a separate accessibility statement because they have tried to design the website to be as accessible and usable as possible for every user. That is entirely laudable but I’m sorry you now need to provide an Accessibility Statement!
Less than a handful of council websites currently contain all the key elements of an Accessibility Statement, which should:
- list any inaccessible parts of the website or app
- show how people with access needs can get alternatives to content that’s not accessible
- provide details on who to contact to report accessibility issues
- provide information on the enforcement procedure if people are not happy with the response
- be published in a fully accessible form
- follow a consistent format
- be updated annually
Let’s have a closer look at the first three of these requirements.
How many councils list inaccessible parts of a website or app?
At present only a small number of websites specifically list inaccessible parts of a website or app. Issues raised cover accessibility issues with specific content formats such as videos, PDFs and maps. A bigger issue relates to third party applications. Some councils demonstrate that they have reviewed their wider website estate and list accessibility issues on specific third-party websites or applications. Some take ownership of accessibility issues and state that they are working with suppliers to put things right. A few councils, however, state that they aren’t responsible for the accessibility of third-party websites and applications.
How many councils provide alternatives to content that’s not accessible?
Only 5% of councils currently provide alternatives to content that is known not to be accessible. Alternatives quoted include large print, Braille, audio cassette and CD. Alternatives used to be regularly offered in the days when print rather than online was more readily available.
The demand for alternative accessible formats can be significantly, though not completely, reduced if the information provided is:
- written in plain language
- as concise as possible
- designed to be as legible as possible
How many websites provide details on who to contact to report accessibility issues?
Forty per cent of councils provide details on who to contact to report accessibility issues. The contact point tends to either be a generic customer services or web team email. There are few examples of forms set up to capture specific feedback or issues.
Websites should actively encourage feedback on accessibility and there really is no excuse for not including details of who to contact.
Good examples of council accessibility pages and statements
These are the accessibility pages and statements that for me stood out from the rest:
- Blackpool Council – https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Accessibility.aspx
- Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council – https://www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk/accessibility
There were others that impressed me in terms of approach and content, but they unfortunately hadn’t been updated for 2 or more years.
How can councils improve their web accessibility content
To conclude this blog post I’d like to share some thoughts about how councils can improve the range of information that they provide about web accessibility. I suspect that the catalyst to producing meaningful Accessibility Statements will happen when the GDS (Government Digital Service) issues a model statement.
Review your accessibility content
The best advice I can give to councils is simply to revisit their accessibility pages. Many are clearly out of date and have not been checked for years. It was quite easy to identify out of date content because of references to:
a) Out of date web browsers and operating systems
I found plenty of references to IE6, but more worryingly to IE4 (released in 1997) and Netscape Navigator (released in 1994). I also found a few references to Windows XP (support for this operating system ended in 2014). One council warns users that ‘Global internet corporations such as Google and Facebook are already taking measures to de-support Internet Explorer 6.’ 3 years ago this advice might have been useful, but not anymore.
b) Old versions of the WCAG guidelines
WCAG 2.1 should be referenced on accessibility pages as this is the current version of the guidelines. Many sites correctly mention it but I did find a significant number that quote version 2.0 (published in 2008) and even version 1.0 (published in 1999.)
c) Last published dates
The clearest indication of out of date content are last published dates. I found several dating back to 2015 and 2016.
Set a regular review date for accessibility content
Having reviewed your accessibility content make sure that you set a regular review date for it and update it annually. Include it in your website content review programme and treat it in the same way that you would any other content on your website.
Think beyond accessibility software
Many councils have invested in accessibility services such as Browsealoud and Readspeaker, or accessibility features provided by the web content management software used (Jadu is a good example here). These products help to improve the experience for users by enabling users change to change site settings (for example text size and colour contrast) enable text to speech and provide language translation.
These products are useful, though improvements to browser technology mean that many of these services can be accessed by users for every website that they visit, not just yours. People with accessibility needs can adjust their devices to access your website before they visit and so may not need to use the add on software that you provide.
Adding accessibility software doesn’t automatically make your website fully accessible. It can complement the work that you are doing to improve the accessibility of your website, but it doesn’t replace it. Many councils use their accessibility pages to promote the accessibility software that they use and offer no other useful information about how accessibility is being managed and improved on the website. My advice is to think beyond the accessibility software that you provide, detail your approach to accessibility, detail known issues and explain how users can get in contact to report issues.