Website accessibility audit for a publicly-funded body
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Website accessibility audit for a publicly-funded body

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We have been working recently with an organisation that had launched a new website last year. They had been asked by the UK Government to have their website audited and we were invited to put a proposal together. The website itself was large, over 1,000 pages in total and was in fact an amalgamation of 4 previously-existing websites. The people in the organisation were very keen to not just meet the minimum UK Government requirements but to actually make their website as accessible as possible. They felt that many of the users of the website would perhaps be of a poorer educational standard and the clients wanted to make it as easy as possible for such people to use.

The costs of auditing every page on this website were prohibitive and, instead, the clients had chosen 20 pages which they felt were representative of the website as a whole. I performed an initial audit of the home page, using a combination of automated metrics (follow this link) to find out more about automated metrics) and manual checking (follow this link) to find out more about manual checking, which I then presented to the client before moving onto the individual pages audits.

When we first reviewed the website, it appeared to pass most of the metrics with flying colours, with no more than 1 or occasionally 2 errors on each page. It appeared that the website would be able to satisfy the Government requirements reasonably easily. The website already had an Accessibility Statement that appeared to have been constructed using the UK Government guidance and again appeared to be adequate. This was until the manual checking began and then we discovered some significant issues.

The first issue was with the Cookie Banner. Cookie banners are not just unnecessary, they actually cause most websites that have them to break the Equality Act. They do this by rendering the website inaccessible to some visitors with accessibility needs. With this particular website, it was displayed across the bottom of the website and therefore would not be seen by someone using a screen magnifier. However, if you were using the keyboard for navigation, you would be made very aware of it, as this was the first item you were taken to, before anything else, such as the main navigation menu. You were faced with a choice of accepting the use of cookies or not. If you choose to do neither and tabbed past it instead, something rather curious happened.

Tabbing past it is the equivalent of a sighted person simply ignoring it, which many of us do anyway. Once you had tabbed past it, you were then taken immediately to the Cookie Policy, which was rather long. Tabbing past this, took you back to the beginning of the Cookie Policy, in effect you were now in a perpetual loop! You could not access the main menu or read the website's Accessibility Statement. This rather fundamental issue would have been solved at a stroke by removing the cookie banner altogether and instead, making sure there was a link to the cookie policy available on every page of the website.

We work with Chamandeep Singh Grover when performing our comprehensive website accessibility audits. Chamandeep is an accessibility consultant with many years of experience. He is also a screen reader user. I asked Chamandeep to assess the Home Page, to confirm whether it was as difficult, if not impossible, to use as my testing suggested. He confirmed that it was.

To give another example, there were no contact details on the website. This was not a deliberate choice by the client, it turned out to be an unfortunate oversight by everyone. One of the most important things with website accessibility is to offer alternatives as much as possible. If a visitor with an accessibility need is struggling to find out information from a website but there is a contact phone number and email address on every page, it offers them an alternative and easy way to ask for help.

There were many other accessibility issues with the website.

Their previous Accessibility Statement was one page long. The Accessibility Statement I have created for them is currently nine pages long. Making fundamental changes to the website may not be possible due to budgetary constraints but, by having a comprehensive Accessibility Statement, they are able to at least inform visitors of what to expect. This also protects them from litigation, once a visitor is able to access the statement in the first place, of course.