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Council Web Accessibility ‘Should Be Built Into Procurement’

Website accessibility should be built into local authority software and IT systems procurement criteria, the leading annual review of all UK council websites has found.

More local authorities should also carry out user-testing on their websites using groups of people with disabilities, according to Better Connected 2011 ( http://bit.ly/hBOGUw ), conducted by the public sector Society of IT Management (Socitm).

A direct accessibility test was carried out for the survey of all 433 UK council websites, based on the World Wide Web Consortium’s international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Using these guidelines, just 30 councils (7%) achieved the basic ‘Level A’ standard, compared with a similar number – 32 – in 2010. As in previous years, no council achieved ‘Level AA’ – the standard which the previous government encouraged all councils to reach.

Although the tests continue to use version 1.0 of WCAG ( http://bit.ly/cmbc4g ), the report says it is likely to switch to use of the newer version 2.0 guidelines for next year’s survey.

As in previous years the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which advises Socitm on accessibility, carried out its own separate qualitative assessment for the survey on all sites that passed an automated test. This year, some 241 councils (56%) were rated by RNIB as satisfactory or excellent using this follow-up assessment of accessibility, compared with only 187 (43%) in 2010.

Comments

  1. Mick Phythian | March 30th, 2011 | 2:36 pm

    When I wrote the tender documents for our current site in 2005/6 I did of course specify accessibility (to ‘AA’ standard minimum) as one would expect, as as the report proposes. Without naming names, getting a CMS supplier to actually deliver that is a nightmare, since one doesn’t find out until the content is loaded and the site is up and running whether it actually is or not – and what do you do then? There is also the additional complexity of webservices, which are frequently procured and delivered from a range of suppliers, and can also impact upon a sites accessibility.

    To quote an expert on this field, “accessibility is not a binary state”, and is therefore not easy to contractually specify.

    So, yet again, from a practitioner’s view, easier said than done!

  2. David Walker | April 4th, 2011 | 4:24 pm

    I agree with Mick in that getting a CMS or a developer to program one, that is accessible across the board is easier said than done. However, the good news is that things are heading in the right direction with more council websites passing the RNIB accessibility assessment in 2011 than in 2010.

    David

  3. Martin Sloan | April 21st, 2011 | 5:32 pm

    Interesting to see that the report concludes that accessibility “should be built into procurement”.

    Councils and other public sector bodies have, since January 2006, been required by law to specify appropriate accessibility requirements, but clearly awareness of these legal requirements remains low.

    The Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (and the Scottish equivalent, the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006) require that:

    “[w]hen laying down technical specifications…a contracting authority shall, wherever possible, take into account criteria for disabled persons or the suitability of the design for all users.”

    This means that whenever a contracting authority issues an ITT for the procurement of any ICT goods and services (including software, hardware and websites), it should include appropriate requirements in relation to the accessibility of that ICT.

    The regulations go on to say that technical specifications should be defined by reference to technical specifications in the following order of preference: British standards transposing European standards; European technical approvals; common technical specifications; international standards; or other technical reference systems established by the European standardisation bodies. In their absence, the relevant British equivalent should be used.

    Clearly, this could include the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), BS8878 (which references the WCAG), and the various ICOs that deal with human computer interaction and human centred design.

    Martin

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