Digital inclusion is vital during the COVID-19 accelerated channel shift
Accessibility requirements aren’t restrictions that need to be overcome - they’re guidelines to improve online experiences for everyone, says Jadu VP Richard Friend
Local authorities have done a good job of using digital channels to inform and serve citizens during the pandemic; delivering and iterating important content and delivering new services quickly. In some instances, online has been the only way to access services as demand increases and channels such as face to face and telephone just haven’t been possible. Channel shift has certainly been accelerated through necessity and it’s been made crystal clear just how important web accessibility and digital inclusivity really is.
September 2020 is a big month for accessibility in the public sector. As of the 23rd, all public bodies are expected to conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1).The deadline has helped focus minds and ensure that accessibility is pushed to the forefront no matter what else is happening.
The Head of Accessibility at GDS (Government Digital Service) confirmed early on that there were no plans for compliance dates to change due to the pandemic. Facing huge pressures at the best of times, this may not have been easy reading to many councils, but ultimately the right call in my view. If ever there was a time that accessibility must remain front of mind, it’s now, and there is still important work to be done.
SOCITM published a report recently highlighting the most common accessibility issues on council sites. The report showed the extent to which navigational issues in particular, continue to persist. According to the findings, 57.95% of council websites currently fail to include a ‘Skip to Content’ navigation option for example, which can force the visually imparied using screen readers to interpret text and imagery, to tab through tens or hundreds of navigational links before reaching the main content. A gov.uk survey showed that 29% of respondents use screen readers, illustrating just how many people such issues impact. Navigation accounted for three of the top five accessibility issues on local government sites.
Accessibility is something that’s taken very seriously within the Jadu community. Our platform is built to support accessible design principles and is used by organisations that rank highly in independent accessibility indexes such as the Silktide Accessibility Rankings, where Jadu sites regularly account for the majority of the ‘Top 20’ accessible sites.
Clare Cryer, web officer at Harrogate Borough Council is a particular inspiration in the community. She took the council from third from bottom in the Sitemorse Accessibility Index to the top, and Harrogate is now the only local UK authority to have 100% of its pages pass at least Double A standards. It wasn’t the drive to meet regulation that drove her effort but an experience at a Better-Connected event where a blind gentleman showed her the struggle of trying to pay his council tax. She couldn’t believe it and it became her mission to instill digital inclusivity in everything the council did from that point forward. Clare has been very active, as have others, in helping others engrain accessibility in their approach.
That’s really important as regulation can be great in keeping accessibility high on the agenda, but ultimately, digital inclusion must be a mindset. There used to be a perception that an accessible site couldn’t be beautifully designed, but thankfully that idea is fading fast and becoming a misconception of the past. Braintree District Council placed accessibility at the very core of a website redesign, which continued during the height of the pandemic in the UK. Its digital services manager Jonathan Lagden of Braintree Council made a very important point, saying “accessible pages have a higher take-up amongst everybody, even those that don’t need the accessibility elements. That’s because they’re better designed, once you understand that, why wouldn’t you engrain accessibility in everything you do?”
Accessibility requirements aren’t restrictions that need to be overcome, quite the opposite, they’re guidelines to improve online experiences for everyone. At a time when digital services are being relied upon more than ever and as regulation comes into force, this really is the time to ingrain digital inclusion in everything local authorities do.
Jadu are sponsors of the 2020 Local Government ICT Summit. Find out more and register to attend here.
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