Socitm’s advanced accessibility test passed by 134 councils

Written by PublicTechnology on 16 May 2017 in News

IT association says results of second stage of website accessibility test indicate ‘ongoing challenge’ for councils

Just 134 councils passed the second stage of Socitm's accessibility test - Photo credit: Flickr, Till Westermayer , CC BY-SA 2.0

The association of IT professionals in local government, Socitm, has said that councils are facing an “ongoing challenge” to ensure that websites are consistently accessible for people with disabilities.

As part of its Better Connected survey, which tests councils on a range of tasks across different devices, Socitm has assessed how accessible council websites are for people with disabilities.

This year, it has carried out the work in two stages, using the first to whittle down the total 416 councils.

The initial stage - the results for which were published in January - tested the councils’ homepages against 14 criteria, and was passed by just 275 websites.

Of these, the 195 councils that are Socitm Insight members went into the second stage, which assessed all the councils’ webpages against the same criteria.

The results, released today (16 May), show that just 134 - or 69% - of them passed the assessment.

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In comparison, 77% of this cohort passed the test last year - although Socitm said that this year’s test used a “different, and arguably more difficult, set of tasks”.

This included the requirement that mobile sites had to offer an online order form, not a PDF, for the collection of bulky waste.

Only 25% of all council sites tested in a separate Better Connected survey looking solely at bulk waste collection passed this test, so Socitm said “it is not surprising to see that only 26% of the cohort of sites tested at stage two [of the accessibility survey] passed this task”.

Socitm added that a more direct comparison with last year’s results - for pages that cover ‘home’, ‘contact us’ and council services - show a slight increase in accessibility, with 88% passing this year and 82% in 2016.

However, the association noted that accessibility “is hard to maintain as it cannot be guaranteed by use of a particular content management system or software”.

It said: “Sites that are accessible at set up can quickly become inaccessible unless editors and developers understand how things like moving content, keyboard traps, illogical heading structures and websites that do not ‘respond’ when viewed on mobile devices can make it difficult and sometimes impossible for people with disabilities to use them.”

In addition, one-off tests cannot guarantee their accessibility over time because new content and software could be added that doesn’t comply with accessibility standards.

Common reasons for failing the test include unclear labels for form fields, illogical heading structure and having no online form available.

Among the councils that passed this year’s second stage, there are 60 that have also passed the test in the past two years - “these councils should be congratulated”, Socitm said.

“Not only do they understand the issues around accessibility, they have clearly invested in the awareness and expertise required to maintain it. This includes requiring accessibility standards to be met and maintained by any third party software used to deliver the website and its services.”

“It is very easy” to introduce accessibility problems even with what appear to be simple updates, the body said, adding that accessibility “cannot be guaranteed” by coders or third-party site designers.

Socitm said previously said that content editors need to be aware of things they do that could introduce accessibility barriers, like adding images with no ‘alternative text’ or links like ‘click here’ that may not be meaningful when read out by a screen reader.

The body said that it wanted to raise awareness of the issue, as well as guiding councils on how to manage them properly.

“The accessibility of websites to people with disabilities, who account for around 15% of the UK population, is extremely important,” Socitm said. “It should be built-in to the design of websites and the third party systems they use.”

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