Our digital services need to work for everyone.
Front-end Architect, Rory Wilson, explains our approach.
Making a website accessible means that it can be used by as many people as possible. This includes people with:
- impaired vision
- motor difficulties
- deafness or hearing difficulties
- cognitive or learning impairments
It’s estimated that at least one in five people have a long-term illness, impairment or difficulty and many more have temporary disabilities.
This means that we must build our websites in such a way that people who need assistive technologies – like screen reading software or a braille reader – can use them as well as people who don’t.
Also, because we’re a government website, people don’t have a choice about whether to use us or not, so it’s important that our website works for everyone.
The accessibility regulations came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018. They say we must make our website or mobile app more accessible by making it “perceivable, operable, understandable and robust”.
We also need to include and update an accessibility statement on our website to inform people what steps we’ve made to make our website accessible, and what steps we’re going to take to address any areas where it isn’t as accessible as it can be.
The full name of the accessibility regulations is the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
Our website will meet the newer legal requirements if we:
- meet the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard
- publish an accessibility statement that explains how accessible our website is
Our web applications
In order to make our website more accessible we had to perform a full accessibility audit of all our web pages in order to understand which pages met the regulations and which did not. That way we could publish our accessibility statements and fix some of the accessibility problems that we found.
We also had to make sure that all our future work is built with this approach in mind so that we’re always working to make things better.
The Registers of Scotland website is in fact made up of lots of smaller web applications which link to and relate to each other. Some of those web applications are also more modern than others. It was important that we audited all our pages in a consistent way that was also repeatable for not just the period of the audit but also for the future.
The WCAG accessibility standard is complicated, and so the first thing we did was distill it down to a simple checklist of things to look for. This way we could guarantee that we were consistently covering all the important points in the standard.
We then used this checklist to talk to our developers and testers and train them in how to review our web applications.
In addition to the checklist we ran sessions using assistive technology, gov.uk resources and workshops to train all our testers to include accessibility testing as part of their processes. The idea behind this is that we want to keep testing and improving our commitment to accessibility past the audit project.
We developed tools to help our testers, including a reporting tool build on the back of the checklist that can create standardized accessibility compliance reports. This tool was also improved to output the results of the testing in the format of the accessibility statements.
Once the audit of over 25 web applications was completed, we also thought about how we can effectively communicate the results of this audit to you. We workshopped the language we wanted to use to explain the technical issues involved in testing for accessibility compliance. We wanted to avoid jargon and try to explain the issues in simple terms.
Results and the future
We’ve successfully published the results of the audit in the form of accessibility statements, links to which are in the footer of our website on every page. If you want to find out how accessible our website is, click on the link in the footer to see the relevant statement for the part of the website you’re in.
Because we use the Government Digital Service design system for our more modern web applications, a lot of those parts of our website are either fully compliant or partially compliant. Sadly, some of the older parts of our website are not, and we’ll be looking at what we can do to fix that in the future.
There are some things that are very difficult to make fully accessible. For example, we use maps in some parts of our website which rely on the use of the mouse and present wholly visual information. Where possible we provide alternative ways to search or understand the information presented in those maps.
We also have many PDF documents that are not fully accessible. Any new PDFs, Excel or Word documents we publish will meet accessibility standards.
Our commitment is that we will keep testing everything we change or add to our website in the future, and we will also re-audit all our website every year to make sure that we’re getting better.
If you want to tell us about something you think we’ve missed, or something you’d like improved then get in touch and let us know.