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Web Accessibility Statements – The Best Of Intentions, Clearly Stated.

Just 10 per cent of accessibility statements on local government websites are ‘excellent’, with a further 37 per cent deemed ‘satisfactory’, according to new research from the Society of IT Management (Socitm
http://www.socitm.gov.uk ).

The research is published this week as a special supplement to Better Connected 2009, the society’s annual snapshot review of all UK council websites.

The accessibility statement is seen as central to having a website that is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities, the report says. However, despite the low level of excellent practice found, local authority sites fare well when compared with the private sector, it says. No private sector statements were found to be excellent, and just 16 per cent were satisfactory.

A much higher percentage of local authority websites (79 per cent) have a link on their home page to an accessibility statement than private sector websites (44 per cent). On a number of other points about facilities on the home page (such as changing text size), local authorities are significantly better than the private sector, Socitm says.

Taken together, the results of the survey show that local government has a much stronger awareness of accessibility policy and implementation than the private sector, it says.

Central Office of Information guidance states that website accessibility statements should contain four features, the report says.

The first feature is a clear statement that demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to web accessibility. The percentage of sites that show this commitment from those that have accessibility statements is very high, the new report finds, and more or less the same across the two sectors.

The second feature is information about any areas of the website that do not yet conform with the overall accessibility targets of the website. Here, the percentage is low in both cases, at no more than 10 per cent.

The third feature concerns contact details for people wishing to report problems with the website. On this feature there is some differentiation between the two sectors with local government (60%) much more likely than the private sector (43%) to provide contact information.

Finally, Socitm tested for a link to an accessibility policy. Just four councils and no private sector website tested featured such a link.

The researchers then looked at other types of accessibility practice, starting with ways of making the site more flexible to use by people with disabilities.

Local authority websites are much more flexible (71 per cent) than private sector websites (25 per cent) in offering an option to change text size on web pages. Many organisations provide information for visitors on how to change text size in their browser. However, many also made it easier by offering links from the home page which increase text size. Some provided both options.

Similarly, local authority websites are more flexible (41 per cent) than private sector websites (11 per cent) in offering an option to change colour contrast, but in both cases this option is less common than changing text size. A ‘Yes’ answer counted if there was information on how to change colours, or if there was a link to an external site such as ‘MyWebMyWay’ in context.

Overall, the Socitm research recommends that an accessibility statement should be central to an organisation’s commitment to an accessible website. It is no surprise that having an accessibility statement increases the likelihood of having an accessible website (by 23 per cent according to this research), but it is no guarantee of having one, as the intention has to be matched with the practice, the report finds.

It concludes with three recommendations for website owners: to review their accessibility statements against best practice criteria; to redevelop statements according to the findings of that review; and to adopt the best practices for implementing the intentions set out in the statement.

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