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Making UK Parliament websites and apps more accessible

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Accessibility, Community, Design, Diversity and inclusion
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Image by Belinda Fewings using Creative Commons Licence 2.0

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 Parliaments 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 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 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.

One of the good things to come out of this project has been making sure that PDS and Parliament have the right knowledge and skills to keep our websites accessible in future. We worked closely with an external training provider to give training to specialist roles.

What now? 

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

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  1. Comment by Matt posted on

    Automated testing is great, but it won't catch every issue. For example, an image could have alt text, so it passes the automated test, but the text doesn't accurately describe the image. Were the sites also tested by accessibility experts and disabled users?

    • Replies to Matt>

      Comment by Sophie Miller posted on

      Hi Matt, thanks for your question. We use an automated accessibility testing tool to monitor and track Accessibility compliance across 70 website products. We agree this process doesn't replace testing with real users. As part of the project, we worked with Parliament's content team, community of editors, developers, designers, testers and user researchers to build accessibility best practice into ways of working, helping to build accessibility considerations into how we design and deliver digital products and services.