With contributions from Laura Hadley, Jane Taylor and Stephen Hodson, and a headline by Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
Our council vision is to keep the people of Stockport at the heart of what we do. By this we mean all people. Our websites, tools, content and services are important resources for our residents, providing information and guidance across all aspects of life, from bins, to schools, health and social care to recreation. Accessibility is the practice of making sure everyone has equal access to this information and our services and this is something we take very seriously.
An accessible website, tool or piece of content removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world. The people who need our help or information can often be the people who find websites the hardest to use. We need to provide equal access, and equal opportunity to as many people as possible regardless of the hardware or software they use, their language, their location, their ability or disability.
It’s also worth remembering that web accessibility is not just about helping people with disabilities; it benefits us all. For example:
- being able to increase the font size on our laptop, mobile or tablet when our eyesight worsens with age
- people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm. They may not be able to use a mouse but having an accessible website means you should be able to use another input device to navigate around
Accessible design is good design – it benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.
The legal bit!
Accessibility has been recognised since the 1990s but in October 2016, the European Parliament created an accessibility directive for public sector websites and mobile apps. This came into force in September 2018 and was followed by a 2-year period to apply the regulations.
From September 2020 all public sector organisations have a legal duty to make sure that they provide equal access to all their services for people with disabilities under the Equality Act 2010. We also have a duty to be proactive in making all our services accessible under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
To meet the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 all our websites and their content must:
- meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) to level AA and tackle the most common barriers for disabled users
- be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust
- must have an accessibility statement to make the level of accessibility clear
As you can imagine we have been busy! The new laws meant that we needed to be more formal in our approach – the deadline to be so unfortunately landed in the middle of a pandemic.
So, what have we been doing to make sure our websites comply with the regulations? Some key areas are:
Development and training of staff
Initially some key staff undertook the EdX W3C Introduction to Web Accessibility course. Along with research, the course has helped us create a general accessibility presentation to be delivered to staff. We’re also developing more specific courses:
- a new accessibility module as part of the compulsory equality and diversity course done annually by staff
- practical courses on creating accessible content
- online course about accessibility for managers
- bite-sized lunch and learns about accessibility and good content
Accessibility is not the responsibility of just one person or one team, we all have a responsibility. It’s also an on-going process and should be part of what we do every day. So, we have also created a toolkit for use by internal staff. This sets out to give staff an overview to accessibility and to point them towards some useful tools and links.
Creation of internal policies and accessibility statement
We didn’t have any… but now we do! We created a web accessibility policy and a position statement for the council. These detail our policies about the website, where we are now with it and where we are going.
We updated the accessibility statement on the council website. This tells our users about:
- how accessible the website is
- what to expect in terms of accessibility
- what users can do if they have an accessibility need
- where to go to get information in a different format if users cannot make the website work for them
- who to contact if users are not happy with the accessibility of the site
Our accessibility statement also reflects on the work that’s been done and what’s going to happen next.
Changes to the website
Our current website was created in 2016. However, it’s always evolving as things change. Some activities that have taken place as part of our accessibility journey are:
- installation of ReciteMe, an assistive toolbar on our website for the benefit of all. It allows people to have text read out to them, change things like fonts and colours to make the reading and styling experience suitable for them. It can also offer a real time translation option
- comprehensive review of PDF’s on our website: making sure that the top 100 visited PDF’s are accessible and removing any old ones that no longer add value
- making sure that Ami, our chatbot, is as accessible as possible when working with our sites
- general improvements to our webpages to increase their accessibility score. We use an accessibility assessment tool, Siteimprove, for our analytics, to check the level of accessibility across our website. This tool has recently been improved and we work with the supplier to assess how and where we need to improve our accessibility level
- development of a formbuilder product, an inhouse created development tool, which allows us to build online forms quickly and reliably. A key part of the product is that it has focus on reaching accessibility goals. Online forms on the council website that were built pre 2020 are no longer accessible and need to be rebuilt. Our new formbuilder tool has built in design standards and patterns that increase quality and consistency of designs and produce AA standard mobile first online forms
- reviewing other sites that are hosted by the council to make them as accessible as possible
- reviewing our 3rd party purchased systems and indicating in our accessibility statement what position they are in and how to help residents if they are not able to use them
A lot of work has been done to increase accessibility. Reaching our residents is at the heart of what we do, and our website will only be effective if it reaches, the right people, at the right time, with the right information in a clear and effective way.
What happens next
Like all aspects of technology accessibility changes, W3C are looking at further guidelines (WCAG 3.0) to be released, possibly in 2023. These will include the existing ones but focus more on:
- disability needs: an improved measurement and conformance structure that includes guidance for a broad range of disabilities. This includes attention to the needs of low vision and cognitive accessibility
- emerging technologies: flexibility to include emerging technologies, such as augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR/XR) and voice assistants
- support for the technologies that assist with accessibility
So, the pace of change grows ever faster in the information technology age. Our plans for accessibility in the future continue to evolve but remain relevant to our core goals. We plan to:
- review all the websites we host for our external partners
- commission an external accessibility report for our main website and publish the results, making sure that we act on its recommendations where possible
- maintain our content guidelines which explain how to create accessible content
- work with developers and content designers to continue to fix code and content accessibility issues with our website
- continue to monitor our accessibility score using our analytics tool
The world wide web is now more than 25 years old and has become integral to modern life. It’s no longer a luxury but essential to our daily life. During the pandemic this has never been more so. Legally and morally, we must make this true for all, making our accessibility journey important to our success and valuable to the council.
Image: Making design more inclusive
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