Only a quarter of UK local authority websites are accessible to people with disabilities, significantly fewer than last year, according to this year’s ‘Better Connected’ council website review by the public sector Society of IT Management (Socitm).
Overall, 105 councils (26%) were rated by the Socitm report as at least ‘satisfactory’, defined as having few serious and practical accessibility problems, with just one– Preston City – rated ‘very good’. Last year, 194 councils (44%) were rated at this level.
Some 311 sites (76%) this year were rated as ‘poor’, and 12 (3%) as entirely ‘inaccessible’, according to tests checks carried out for Socitm by non-profit accessibility testing firm Digital Accessibility Centre, based on the WCAG 2.0 global web access standard. The tests checked website ‘top level’ pages – the main index pages for each council service – as well as the accessibility of carrying out sample tasks such as reporting flytipping to a council using a mobile phone; or finding out about a care home for an elderly relative.
The drop in standards this year is attributed by the report to the introduction of accessibility tests on the site carried out using mobile devices, which resulted in scores on average only half as good as those recorded in tests using desktop computers.
The most common accessibility problems for council websites accessed by desktop computer were lack of clear labels for form fields and associated controls; downloadable ‘non-html’ documents such as pdf files being inaccessible; poor heading structure; and insufficient colour contrast. For access by mobile devices, common problems also included a lack of mobile alternative option for the desktop site.
The report recommends all councils should build accessibility into their criteria for web site procurement; build accessibility checks into their web publishing process; and carry out user testing with disabled people.
The figures emerged just a few days after the European Parliament voted to strengthen a proposed European Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies’ Websites, which would require EU member states to ensure all public websites are fully accessible.
The new law could come into force as early as next year, suggesting UK councils would struggle to comply, although member states would be likely to be allowed a further year to comply for new public sector web content, and three years for existing content.