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Assisting the Scottish Parliament with Digital Accessibility
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Assisting the Scottish Parliament with Digital Accessibility

The Scottish Parliament, a modern building with water features in front of it

A Rather Unique Experience

Normally, we're brought in to collaborate with an organization after they've launched their website, often a year down the line. Occasionally, we get involved earlier, like just before a website is about to be launched. In all these cases, the costs of fixing things are usually quite substantial. However, our recent engagement with the Scottish Parliament was refreshingly different.
 
The Scottish Parliament wanted to enhance its Member’s Expenses tool. Each of the UK Parliaments has its own tool, enabling the public to check how much an elected politician claims in expenses. This could cover a specific period, certain categories (like hotel accommodation, travel, and dining), and include various politicians, not just one individual.

Involved from the Start

The agency tasked with developing the new tool had a clear brief: make accessibility a core aspect. They reached out to us last year, seeking our involvement from the very beginning. This was quite satisfying and meant that the necessary remedial work should be much less than usual, given our early involvement.

Website design is quite subjective, but when it comes to digital accessibility, we make it clear that we're not here to make subjective comments on designs unless it directly impacts our accessibility testing. Our focus is always on ensuring that it functions for as many people as possible.

Reviewing Existing Tools

Our first meeting with the agency involved examining the existing members’ expense tools on all four UK parliament websites. We discussed each one, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses from an accessibility standpoint. At this point, nothing had been designed.
 
The second meeting involved going through a set of static designs they had created, pinpointing potential pitfalls once it was built.
 
During the third meeting, I had the opportunity to review a prototype they had developed – a set of simple wireframes focused on functionality and user journey, using a small set of user data from the live site.

The Basics Were Covered. What's Next?

I didn't hear from the developers for at least four months. Then, an email arrived, letting me know they were ready for an audit from me and my team of disabled testers.

I was pleased to discover that, in many ways, the accessibility standards were very high, and everything I had suggested had been implemented. After checking the website myself, I invited my fantastic team to review it.

True accessibility is only revealed through the lived experience of disabled individuals, and once again, this was evident during their testing of the tool.

A Higher Standard Achieved!

The team praised how well the tool had been constructed, but there were still some accessibility glitches, mostly related to consistency. For instance, tabbing behaviour (using the tab key to navigate) varied on different pages, and there were instances where all MSPs were selected by default with one type of search but none were selected with another. Visually, the automatic selections were clear, but for users of screen readers, there was no indication.

The developers took our feedback on board, and I'm delighted to see the expenses tool is now live. You can check it out here: https://mspallowances.parliament.scot/

Would you like to find out more?

Clive Loseby

Access by Design / Access by Audit

WCAG Compliant, Accessible Websites, Beautifully Designed
Always Delivering an Outstanding WCAG 2.2 Website Accessibility Audit