In September 2018 a new set of regulations came into force to improve accessibility of UK public sector websites and mobile apps. These required us to comply with WCAG 2.1 standards (A and AA), an internationally recognised set of recommendations.
The regulations aim to ensure that digital services we provide are inclusive and can be used by as many people as possible, including those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities and deafness or impaired hearing.
Last year PDS launched a project to:
- ensure our public-facing websites and apps comply with WCAG 2.1
- establish shared and agreed standards for accessibility in Parliament and make sure our websites are regularly reviewed and improved
- agree a new accessibility statement for Parliament and make sure that it’s available on all parliamentary websites.
Building a picture
The project began by compiling a list of all Parliament’s public facing websites. The team involved was surprised to discover how many we had and the range of things they covered.
As well as the main parliament.uk site, over 120 other websites were discovered, set up over the years and built in house or by third-party suppliers.
Some are well known and used regularly by millions of people, such as the petitions site and Parliament TV. Others are more niche and focus on specific interests such as blogs and Statutory Instruments.
Some sites were identified which had not been updated for years, were no longer relevant, and which had extensive accessibility issues. These were archived where possible.
For the rest, only a very small number met the new accessibility standards. This had to change.
Working out each site’s accessibility
To work out each site’s accessibility, we procured a third-party tool that did the testing automatically. This, alongside various other testing tools owned by the PDS Software Engineering team, helped us to build a good understanding of what to do next.
Every week a report was generated that scored each site for accessibility and identified areas for improvement, such as:
- pictures that lacked alternative text (text that describes the image for people with vision impairments)
- colours used on the pages that are not suitable for people with colour vision deficiency, or,
- something more technical and related to the way the site had been coded.
In this way our sites gradually improved. Some have been rebuilt and relaunched such as the House of Commons Library and House of Lords Library. A new Content Management System (CMS), which helps editors manage our digital content, went live on parliament.uk. This greatly enhanced its accessibility.
Challenges and priorities
One of the biggest challenges has been finding out who some of our website owners were, especially for older sites. Some people had moved roles or left Parliament. This led to delays in delivery.
To mitigate this and offer an improved online experience as quickly as possible, we prioritised the implementation of accessibility compliance across our most visited websites first. This helped to make sure that a high volume of visitors to UK Parliament's sites would benefit early on.
We made sure that our newly created accessibility statement is available to users on all our sites. This explains how the websites are accessible and in what way. If they are not, we provide a clear plan for compliance.
A key part of the legislation is to make sure people have alternative ways to access our digital information, not just what we have on the website, so we inform them how to request content in an accessible format, if required, such as large print.
Working closely with digital project teams, procurement, and data architecture, we have raised awareness of accessibility standards and made clear what the requirements are for future websites, systems, and digital tools.
New ways of working have been established so that once the project has closed, responsibility for maintaining accessibility is owned by identified teams. Accessibility compliance will continue to be monitored and improvements will continue.
The legislation has come into effect, but our work has not finished. Over time, our aim is for accessibility compliance and considerations to become business as usual for everyone across Parliament.