How Preston City Council got to grips with web accessibility

February’s AbilityNet webinar saw us join forces with SOCITM to give a practical overview of web accessibility. Our Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson shared his expertise in the area, helping attendees with web accessibility queries.

A key element of the webinar was the contribution of Mel Moville, Web Manager for Preston City Council (PCC) who shared the story of her organisation’s journey towards a more accessible website.

Preston’s website failed the accessibility test in SOCITM’s Better Connected assessment (an annual assessment of all local authority websites). From the feedback in the report, Mel and her colleagues were surprised to find that their website was nowhere near as accessible as they had thought and particularly surprised that some of the third-party elements of the site weren’t as accessible as they had been told.

Mel and PCC wanted a clear picture of where their website was performing well in terms of accessibility and any areas for improvement, so they commissioned a Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) accessibility audit of the website in April 2013. Mel travelled to the DAC centre to watch the tests being carried out, a step that she found really helpful and one that we at AbilityNet recommend with our testing. She said, “It was good to go in and see the videos of the testing so we could understand exactly where the problems were. It was interesting to see the technologies being used.”

In total, the audit identified 24 web accessibility failures on the website and third-party add-ons. The problems took a total of eight months to resolve, with the third-party elements proving particularly problematic as Mel and the team at PCC had to work through the actions with the third-party suppliers.

Among the problems highlighted was the fact that Google Maps plugins on the site, which were used to show locations of services, were inaccessible to non-visual users. This is a common issue that is easily solved by adding a list of addresses to the maps page.

Preston City Council web accessibility issue, Google Maps

PCC received accreditation from the DAC in November 2013 but they are glad of the lessons learned during the process. According to Mel, they learnt how vital it is that accessibility be included from the start of any new web build, with the web development team conducting tests at every stage of the process. The other major area highlighted by their problems with third party suppliers was the need to have accessibility requirements built into the procurement process.

Click here to find out more about AbilityNet’s web accessibility services.

To view the full video recording of the webinar and hear Mel's story in her own words, please click here.

Webinar slideshow available on Slideshare here.