Improving accessibility online is essential to ensure more users can engage easily with our organisation and the services we offer. Here’s why web accessibility is an outcome we must reach as a local authority helping and supporting thousands of people.
Accessibility is important to consider in every facet of our organisation, from how people – with disabilities or not – enter a council building to how they navigate Renfrewshire.gov.uk.
Disability can affect someone’s ability to hear, to see or to move. It can also affect other aspects, for example, their ability to read, remember or pay attention. People with disabilities often use special tools to help them access web content. These are known as assistive technologies. For example, someone with a visual impairment might choose to use a screen magnifier to make text easier for them to read. Or, they may use screen reader software to read aloud the words on a page and to access menus that help them move around a website.
Disability can also be temporary. A broken arm or finger, ear infection or other condition can affect your movement, hearing or eyesight, temporarily. This can stop you accessing or using digital content as you normally would.
On top of disabilities, other factors can create challenges when visiting a website or using a mobile app. The equipment that you use to access the internet, your Wi-Fi network and even your location can make it harder to access information online.
These days more users rely on the internet and digital channels to access important information – for government services, healthcare, education, employment, banking, retail, etc.
The role of web accessibility is to help everyone find and use digital content and solutions in the easiest and quickest way possible.
A good example of a web accessibility feature benefiting all users is captions or a text transcript of a video. These functions are aimed at people who are Deaf or who have a hearing impairment. They can help other users too who, for instance, are somewhere noisy or want to watch the video quietly in a public space.
Caring about inclusion resonated strongly in this conversation and now reflects with our values for fairness and being helpful:
- we are fair, we treat each other and everyone we deal with respectfully and work hard to build trust in Renfrewshire Council
- we are helpful, we care about getting things right and are always approachable.
In practice, it means that we should be compassionate with one another and take deliberate steps towards improving the experience of those in need of our services.
In that case, accessibility on Renfrewshire.gov.uk and other online channels is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation who creates and maintains digital content and services, whether it’s multiple pages on a website, an online form, or just a single PDF document.
Accessibility regulations is not just about colour contrast or font size. It’s also under the hood and covers various digital components such as text headings, hyperlinks, keyboard interactions and even PDFs.
A public organisation in the UK, like a local authority, must meet the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
The regulations reference international standards for accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
WCAG 2.1 guidelines are reviewed regularly and are organised into three categories:
- A – basic
- AA – intermediate
- AAA – advanced
To meet UK regulations, our Council websites, intranets and digital apps must be AA compliant, which means that they meet all A and AA checkpoints.
All our published documents such as PDFs and Word docs must also be AA compliant.
There is a partial exemption for schools and nurseries. They must make sure that the content of their websites or apps relating to essential online administrative functions is made accessible. ‘Essential online content’ has not been legally defined, but could include content that pupils and parents need to use to access school/nursery services.
What we need to do to be compliant
To meet the regulations, we must adapt the way that we create content and online channels. The WCAG 2.1 guidelines can seem technical. As a result, we have put together some specific advice on publishing more accessible content on our CMS.
In future articles on The Thread, we’ll be looking at this advice in more detail and explaining why we must move away from using the PDFs on our websites.
Also, as part of the compliance process, we have carried out different accessibility audits of some of our existing sites. For Renfrewshire.gov.uk, we tested 45 pages across the website, including our home page, popular content and a cross-section of layouts and functionality.
At the end of this process, we produced an accessibility report, outlining and prioritising the issues. As a result of this work, we are in the process of fixing all the issues that we can. To meet the regulations, we also published an accessibility statement.
WCAG is a good start but we can’t only rely on it. For new developments, we need to consistently use a sustainable, responsible, and ethical process to reach accessibility.
This process is called inclusive design. It incorporates principles at every stage of the development journey to ensure our digital channels represent all our users and be accessed and used by as many individuals as possible. We will develop these principles when building the new version of Renfrewshire.gov.uk.
In the meantime, if you are considering a new digital development such as new content or a digital channel like a website or a chatbot, talk to us. We don’t want Renfrewshire Council to not meet the mandatory web accessibility requirements or even be breaking the law by implementing technology that does not meet the regulations. Also, it is much harder and more expensive to make content and systems accessible, retrospectively.
To begin the conversation, visit Requests and feedback.