On 23rd September 2020 all public sector websites should be accessible to users with disabilities. But why is this important and how can you achieve accessibility?
What are the accessibility standards?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) set out guidelines for accessibility good practice. These are detailed in their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and are regarded by the digital industry in the UK as being a good standard against which to benchmark the accessibility of websites in order to comply with the requirements of the 2010 Equality Act.
Since 28th September 2018 new regulations for the public sector say “you must make your website or mobile app more accessible by making it ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’”. This is achievable by conforming with WCAG 2.1 at AA standard and publishing an accessibility statement on your website.
Why should your website be accessible?
It is estimated 1 in 5 individuals in the UK have some form of disability. This is a huge portion of your potential customer base that you may be missing out on.
Meeting the WCAG 2.1 standard should ensure that most users with disabilities can use your site without major difficulty (although being compliant doesn’t necessarily mean your website is usable… more on this later).
However, having an accessible website you will benefit you more broadly benefit. Improving accessibility makes the site easier to use for all your users. In many cases, users with disabilities shine a spotlight on issues that all users are likely to experience; they simply magnify it.
Additionally, organisations who demonstrate a commitment to meeting the needs of users with disabilities are likely to reap the benefits of being seen to be corporately and socially responsible.
By meeting the WCAG standard has much greater benefits than just ticking a box to meet government guidelines or to avoid, the highly unlikely, possibility of action under the Equality Act.
How to meet accessibility standards
For many, the first step along the accessibility road is conducting an accessibility audit.
This is a manual review of a website against the latest WCAG 2.1 guidelines. This will identify where your website does and does not comply and give you an action plan of how to fix the issues.
Once changes have been made, your website should be re-audited to check all the issues have been rectified.
You will then be able to publish an accessibility statement on your website detailing your compliance and any exceptions. Details of how and when this can be used are available at on the W3C website.
To truly understand if your website is accessible, however, it is important to test with real life users. These users should represent a range of disabilities including blind and visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, keyboard only users and users with learning difficulties.
How to do an accessibility audit
We believe it is important to approach accessibility from a standpoint of how much it impacts the user and how easy the fixes are to implement.
To conduct an accessibility audit, you need to:
Identify page templates
To start, identify a representative selection of pages on your website. This should consider all the different templates that are in use and any unique or unusual functionality. This approach will cover most types of content on a website. The recommendations then need to be implemented for all occurrences of the issues identified including on pages not audited.
Audit page templates against the WCAG guidelines
Each page should be checked by hand, using access technologies, against each of the WCAG guidelines to identify whether it passes or fails. These checks should include (but not limited to):
- Screen reader testing using JAWS and NVDA on desktop
- Screen reader testing using VoiceOver and TalkBack on mobile
- Screen magnifier testing using SuperNova and native browser magnification
- Dragon Naturally Speaking text-to-speech testing
- Keyboard testing
- Colour contrast checks
Test on multiple browsers and devices
Your customers will not be using just one browser or device to engage with your website so it is important it works across all of them. Check the accessibility on Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Microsoft IE/ Edge; review the site on iOS and Android and any other devices you feel are important.
One important note; there are many great automated accessibility tools out there, including Mozilla’s built-in accessibility checker, but to ensure your audit is comprehensive you should never rely entirely on these 100%.
Although accessibility will shortly be the law for public sector websites it is something all business owners should be considering. Think about accessibility right from the start of any new digital service developments and it will soon become second nature!