Socitm survey: A third of council homepages fail accessibility tests

A third of UK council websites have not passed the first stage of Socitm’s annual test to assess their accessibility to people with disabilities.

The accessibility test assesses how easy it is for people with disabilities to use the site – Photo credit: Flickr, Till Westermayer, CC BY-SA 2.0

Socitm, which represents IT and digital professionals in the public sector, runs annual tests councils’ websites through its Better Connected assessment, which includes a set of tests on accessibility.

This year, it has chosen to run the accessibility test in two stages, with only those that pass the first stage – which amounts to two-thirds of the 416 councils tested – being eligible for the second assessment in February.

The first stage tests only the councils’ homepages against the same set of 14 criteria used in the full test – which also assesses other pages of a council’s site by asking assessors to attempt to carry out particular tasks.

The tests check for the degree of access available to people with disabilities – who make up around 15% of the UK population – including those with low-vision, colour-blindness and dyslexia and people who access sites by using just a keyboard or other assistive technologies.

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Councils automatically fail stage one if their homepage has keyboard traps – when a keyboard-only user cannot move away from an interactive element – or it lacks the visible focus indicators that help keyboard-only users find their way around. In addition, they will fail if they fail on seven or more of the 14 criteria.

Among those councils that have failed at the first stage are Aylesbury Vale District Council, Birmingham City Council and West Somerset Council.

Socitm said that sites that have failed the first stage have until 27 January to fix the issues and apply for a re-test, which would allow them to participate in the second stage.

It also noted that some of the councils that passed last year’s full test – the pass rate was 64% overall – have failed this year’s first stage. These councils include Adur and Worthing Council, Lambeth Council and Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council.

The fact some sites have failed this, more limited test, “illustrates the fact that maintaining the accessibility of a website requires knowledge and constant vigilance”, Socitm said.

“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.

“Content editors need also to be aware of things they do that may 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,” Socitm said.

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.”

It added that all forms and documents that are linked to on councils’ sites should also be accessible, as well making sure that video elements of the website should accommodate disabled people.

The Royal National Institute for Blind People also offers accreditation for organisations – they submit their apps and digital services for accessibility accreditation and if they don’t pass, the charity helps them improve so that they do. However, in an interview with PublicTechnology last year, the RNIB’s Steve Tyler said that no councils had accreditation at the moment.

About 25% of sites reviewed by the RNIB are reasonably accessible, he said, while the rest vary from “kind of okay to really difficult”, with issues including downloading PDFs, forms or tables commonplace. Tyler said that making the necessary changes would also save councils money.

“People will go onto the website, not be able to handle it and not find what they want,” he said. “You are likely to get a call with the original question or challenge, as well as ‘And by the way, I tried to get onto your website, can you help me to deal with that’. And you have just bought yourself a whole additional nightmare.”


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