Adapted keyboard at Shaw Trust
Accessibility is an essential part of our web project.
An accessible website is both a legal and moral obligation. Equally, it makes business sense to ensure that services and information are accessible to all.
We’re working closely with Zengenti to ensure that our new site meets or exceeds the standard set by our current site.
The legal basis for providing an accessible website is the Equalities Act 2010.
Section 29 covers the requirement upon an “information service provider”:
“A person … concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) must not discriminate against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service.”
On the face of it, there’s no of mention accessibility, websites or technology, for that matter. It’s the “provision of a service” and “discriminate against” that are the key phrases.
Section 20 introduces the concept of accessibility. :
“[In relation to]…the provision of information, the steps which it is reasonable for [an information service provider] to have to take include steps for ensuring that in the circumstances concerned the information is provided in an accessible format.”
What level of accessibility is required is a bit vague and can probably only be determined by case law, of which there is very little.
There is, however, a range of standards available. Complying with standards can demonstrate understanding of needs and application of techniques.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which “runs” the web, has dealt with web accessibility in great depth. The standards are set out in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The latest standard, WCAG 2.0, was published in 2008 and it is the standard to which we aspire.
WCAG has three “conformance levels” which correlate to the difficulty levels for users: A, AA and AAA. In common with most public sector websites, we aim for level AA. It’s rare to see a website that is AAA – the highest level.
You can read more about WCAG at Out-Law or check the standards and checkpoints used in assessments at W3C web accessibility initiative (WAI).
You will often here web people talk about making best efforts to meet standards or legal requirements.
“The best way to satisfy the legal requirement is to have your website tested by disabled users. This should ideally be done through allowing your website to be tested by a group of users with different disabilities, such as motor and cognitive disabilities, blindness and other forms of visual impairment.”
That’s what we do.
We’ve used external testers on several occasions to ensure that our site meets WCAG standards. We last tested back in mid-2014, so we’re due another round of testing.
Over the end of year period, the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) team will test the new website templates against WCAG 2.0 AA conformity. DAC is one of several consultancies currently offering live user testing.
But, accessibility can only properly be tested by real people using a wide range of assistive technologies. For us, it is an essential investment not only for legal reasons.
The common perception is that accessibility is about designing the website so that blind people can “see it”. However, over 10 million people in the UK are thought to have some range of disability.
There is a wide range of impairments that need to be catered for: visual (8% of men have some form of colour blindness), aural, motor and cognitive.
User testing can cover all of these.
[Illustration of the distribution of cone cells in the fovea of an individual with normal color vision (left), and a color blind (protanopic) retina. The center of the fovea holds very few blue-sensitive cones.]
Accessibility and usability
Accessibility is not just about code. Usability is as much, if not more, an issue for disabled users. A website designed around the needs of the disabled is of benefit to the needs of everyone.
As part of our web author training, we cover content accessibility and usability. We might cover this in a later post, but our focus is on:
- correctly outlined markup using headings, bulleted lists and so on
- plain English using concise, everyday language
- descriptive link text
- short, descriptive “alternate” tags for non-decorative images
- text description of both the audio and visual content within videos
- avoiding tables except for data
- avoid using pdfs and other non-web documents or provide an HTML equivalent
We’ll be re-emphasizing good practice as part of our governance work and future web training.
Accessibility for all
Legal requirements aside, an accessible website meets our moral obligation to promote social inclusion. Also, you may have noticed that we mentioned a “business reason” to have an accessible website. Having an accessible website, makes it easier for all to be able to access self-service.
We’re working for a website accessible for all.