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Website Accessibility for Town and Parish Council Websites


What is website accessibility?

Making a website accessible means ensuring that it can be used by as many people as possible. At least 1 in 5 people have an impairment or a disability including those with:

  • Impaired vision – for example, blind or partially blind
  • Motor difficulties – for example, users who may have problems using a mouse
  • Cognitive impairments – for example, users with autism or learning disabilities
  • Impaired hearing – for example, deaf or hard of hearing

As website editors for local councils, the two main groups you need to consider are those with impaired vision who may be reading your site using a screen reader or magnification and users with cognitive impairments. Your website designer should make sure that your site works for users with motor difficulties. Users with impaired hearing will not have problems using your site, unless your town, parish or community council website uses sound or video.

We go into more detail here: Website accessibility – what is it and why does it matter?

We have also published some handy pictorial guides here: Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide

Who needs to comply?

All local authorities need to meet the regulations unless they are exempt. That includes all town, parish and community councils.

If you feel that full compliance would be a disproportionate burden on the council, you need to explain why in an accessibility statement and state how users can obtain the information in an accessible format.

So, for example, a local council that has already published a lot of historical minutes in PDF format might find that converting them all to accessible PDF/A format presents a disproportionate burden. However, going forward, you need to make sure that all information is published in an accessible format as soon as you are able.

You can read more about applying for exemption here: Website accessibility regulations – applying for exemption

When must you comply by?

For new websites that were created on or after 23 September 2018, you need to meet accessibility standards by 23 September 2019.

For websites that were created before 23 September 2018 you need to ensure that your website meets accessibility standards by 23 September 2020.

What do you need to do?

Ensure your web pages are accessible

Make sure you writing is easy to understand, that your information is well structured and that your pages don’t use complicated layouts. You can read more here:  Guide for local councils – how to write accessible web pages

Ensure your file attachments are accessible

Most councils publish a lot of documents in PDF or Word format. These might include minutes, agendas, financial information and other documents. Making these files accessible is twofold – you must write and structure the document in an accessible way and you must then save it in an accessible format. You can read more here:

Guide to writing documents that are accessible

How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format

 

 

Writing style for web pages

You need to write your web pages in an accessible style. That includes writing in short sentences and structuring your pages using headings or bullet points, for example. You can read more about accessible writing styles here: How to write accessible web pages

Documents and PDF files

Local councils publish a lot of information online as PDF documents. For example, minutes and agendas. You need to make sure that the original documents are written in an accessible way. You can read more about that here: Guide to writing documents that are accessible.

PDF files must be saved in an accessible format (PDF/A). We have published a guide here: Making PDF files accessible

Accessible formatting for web pages

You should make sure that the way you style your pages does not make them less accessible. Common issues that make pages harder to read and therefore less accessible include writing in uppercase, using underlining (other than for text links) and centered text (unless used sparingly – as an example, for headings.)

Other parts of your web pages

If you publish images on your site or have links to other pages in your site or other websites, you also need to make sure they are accessible. We’ll be writing more about that later.

Accessibility statement

You need to have an accessibility statement that details how your website complies with accessibility regulations. You can read more about it here: Developing an Accessibility Statement/

Website accessibility

As well as what you need to do to make sure your website is accessible, there are also lots of things your web designer needs to do to ensure the framework and design of your site is accessible. This includes making changes to the coding of the pages to enable them to be read more easily by screen readers, making sure the design works for users with impaired vision and that it is flexible enough to be viewed with the text enlarged and ensuring the coding of the contact form is accessible.

 

 



6 ways to make your council website more secure

We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to keep your town, parish or community council website safe and secure from hackers. According to Securityweek.com, approximately 18 million websites (that’s 1% of the nearly 2 billion websites online right now) are infected with malware and that the average website is attacked 44 times each day.

1. Use an SSL certificate for your website

An SSL certificate is used to provide a secure connection between the server and the visitor to your website. These are now pretty much mandatory, with Google marking any website that doesn’t have one as ‘unsafe’.

How can you tell if you town, parish or community council website has an SSL certificate?

When you are visiting your site, look at the address bar at the top of the browser. Does the address begin https:// and display a padlock icon just before the address? If it does then you have an SSL certificate installed and working. If your address just begins http:// (without the ‘S’) then you need to get one installed. Just contact your website provider and ask them to install one for you.

2. Use a strong password to log into your website

Make sure that the password you use contains upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. It is a good idea to use different passwords for each site you use, as if there is a data breach on one site, the hackers don’t gain access to other sites you use. This is especially important on any sites where you buy things such as Amazon or Ebay, but also for your website, because these are a target for hackers wanting to install malware.

3. Make sure you backup your website

This is imperative as if your site gets hacked you will need a backup copy to restore all your files and information. We have had lots of parish councils who have requested a new website and told us that their existing site got hacked and they lost everything. Just like any computer system – make sure you have backups and that they are stored off-site.

A good hosting company will keep regular backups of your site. It’s worth checking with your provider to see if they do this.

4. Keep you software up to date

Providers of Content Management Systems (CMS) software such as WordPress or Joomla and the makers of the software that adds functionality to your town or parish council website constantly provide updated software with added security enhancements, in much the same way as your computer updates it’s operating system (usually Windows for those on a PC) from time to time.

You should always make sure your website is running the latest versions of all software that will include patches for any vulnerabilities that are discovered. You should also delete old unused software, as this can still act as a backdoor for hackers, even if it is not in use.

5. Don’t use the default usernames and log in page

When your site is first installed, the installation program usually sets up a default user to be the main site administrator. So for example WordPress uses ‘admin’ as the default name and https://[yoursite]/wp-admin or https://[yoursite]/login to get to the login page. If you use these defaults, hackers already have 2 of the 3 pieces of information needed to log in and hack your site – the third being your password.

If you change these settings from the default, hackers would need to guess 3 pieces of information to hack your site – the username, the password and the login page.

If you site is set up in this way, you can ask your website host to make it more secure.

6. Use a firewall and anti-malware software

Just like on your computer, it is vital that you have security software installed to protect your site. There are lots of security systems available depending on what platform your site is running on. You can ask your website host about the options available.

To get a quote for our hosting service – which includes all the features listed above, you can visit: Get a Quote

Guide for local councils – how to write accessible web pages

From 23 September 2020 information published on town, community and parish council websites must be accessible, so it’s worth starting to think about how to make your website accessible now. Accessiblity will cover your website content including web pages, pdf files, images and the website itself.

Making web pages accessible

We recently published an article: Guide to writing documents that are accessible. This covered how to write documents that you plan to put on your website such as minutes or agendas, but the principles we outlined there also apply to web pages:

  • Write using simple language
  • Keep pages simple
  • Structure your pages using headings and bullets for example

Making images accessible

You must ensure that any images you add to the website are accessible to visually impaired users who need to use screen readers and users with images turned off by adding an ‘alt tag’ to the image that describes what the picture shows. The alt tag will be what is shown to these visitors. How you add the alt tag will depend on what you use to make your web pages. You will be able to find instructions by Googling ‘setting image alt tag in [your web editor] – so you may substitute [your web editor] for WordPress, Joomla, HTML etc, depending on what you use.

Making website links (hyperlinks) accessible

Again, for users with impaired vision who are browsing your site using a screen reader it is important to make website hyperlinks descriptive, rather than using ‘click here’ as your text link. See the links in the following paragraph as a good way to show descriptive links.

Making PDF files accessible

Also, you must make sure that all PDFs or other documents you put on your website are accessible. See Making pdf files accessible and How to save Word documents in accessible pdf-a format.

 

How to improve your search engine ranking

Decide on what your keywords/phrases should be

Your keywords/phrases should be what you think users would search for when looking for your website online.

Key-phrases work better than single keywords such as just your town or village name as they are more specific. Most people search using a phrase rather than a single word. Using a phrase will make your site stand out against the likes of Rightmove or Trip Advisor, who will often rank more highly for your town or village name as they are large commercial sites.

A good starting point would be the name of your council followed by town council or parish council eg ‘[yourcouncil] parish council’.  If there are several town, parish or community councils with the same name, you would probably want to include the name of your county to differentiate from the other ones eg ‘[yourcouncil] town/parish/community council, Staffordshire’.

Optimise your homepage for your keywords

When you are writing the content for your homepage you should include your keywords or phrases. You should always use your key phrase at least once on your homepage.

There are certain places where your keywords are given more weight. These are:

Headings (always format your page using Heading 1, Heading 2 etc, rather than manually setting the sizes of text eg Bold, 14pt), as search engines prioritise the content of your web pages using the headings. If you are using WordPress you can find the heading settings under the Paragraph drop-down menu in the editing buttons along the top of your page.

The first words on the page – search engines such as Google give more weight to the very first words on the page, so it is a good idea to begin your homepage ‘[yourcouncil] is….’ .

Images – when you add images to your site you need to add an ‘alt tag’. This has a number of purposes, for example it will be shown to anyone who has images turned off in their browser or for visually impaired people using your site with screen readers, so it should be a description of the picture. It is also used by search engines, so it is a good idea to also include your keywords. A good alt tag description that works for accessibility and for search engines would be something like ‘[yourcouncil] parish council village fete’.

Optimise each page on your site for your keywords

You can optimise different pages on your site for different keywords – for example if you have a page about your village hall, you can optimise that page with the key phrase ‘[yourcouncil] village hall’.

Keep your content fresh with new posts

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors.” Google, 2017

It’s a good idea to add new content to your site as often as you have time. This not only helps with your search engine ranking, you will find that your visitors also like to find new information on the site and it will keep your visitors coming back.

Get incoming links to your site

Make sure your district and county council websites have a link to your site. You should also make sure that your local association for local councils adds a link to you.

If you have social media accounts you should have a link to your website as part of your profile. It’s also a good idea to link back to specific articles your publish. If you publish a post about your village fete, write something about it on your Facebook or Twitter page and include a link that goes back to your website.

If you have a page of links to other local businesses or organisations, you can get in touch with them and ask them to link back to your site.

 

Announcing our 100th Customer!

We are delighted to welcome our 100th customer – Little Gaddesden Parish Council. They are the winner of a free website. We are currently working on the site and will post a link as soon as it’s live.

The parish clerk commented: “Wow, we’ve hit the jackpot, absolutely brilliant our Councillors will be really pleased because they are constantly having to juggle expenditure and cannot always afford what they would like to do. We have an outdoor Gym equipment project that we can go ahead with now, so the good news is you are helping to keep the residents here fit and well!”

We look forward to working with them.

2019 Transparency Code deadlines

Information to be published annually

The deadline for publishing the following information is 1 July 2019 (for information relating to the tax year 2018/2019).

  1. All items of expenditure above £100
  2. End of year accounts
  3. Annual governance statement
  4. Internal audit report
  5. List of Councillor or member responsibilities
  6. The details of public land and building assets

Information to be published more frequently than annually

  1. Draft minutes from all formal meetings (i.e. full council or board, committee and sub-committee meetings) not later than one month after the meeting has taken place. These minutes should be signed either at the meeting they were taken or at the next meeting
  2. Smaller authorities should also publish meeting agendas, which are as full and informative as possible, and associated meeting papers not later than three clear days before the meeting to which they relate is taking place

The data and information must be published on a website which is publicly accessible and free of charge.

 

Website Accessibility – what is it and why does it matter?

Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can:

  • perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
  • contribute to the Web

As a local town, parish or community council, it is especially important that your website does not discriminate against users with disabilities. From 23 September 2020 (for existing websites) or 23 September 2019 (for new websites) there is a legal requirement for all public sector bodies to comply with the accessibility requirement, unless doing so would impose a disproportionate burden. You can read about applying for exemption here: Website accessibility regulations – applying for exemption

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:

  • auditory
  • cognitive
  • neurological
  • physical
  • speech
  • visual

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, for example:

  • people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • older people with changing abilities due to ageing
  • people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
  • people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
  • people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth

We’ll be publishing a series of articles about how to make your website accessible, so watch this space.

How to set up a Facebook Page

First of all you will need your own Facebook account. If you don’t already have one, you can go here and register: www.facebook.com/r.php

Once you are logged into your account, go here to create your page https://www.facebook.com/pages/creation

On the next screen you will have the option to set up your page as a ‘Business or Brand’ or as a ‘Community or Public Figure’ – the community option is best for local councils.

You will then be asked to give your page a name – (the best option here is the name of your Town, Parish or Community Council) and a category (there isn’t a category for local council, so we’d recommend choosing ‘Government Organisation’). When you have done this, click the ‘Continue’ button.

The next screen will give you the option to upload a profile picture if you have one. Don’t worry if you don’t, you can just click the ‘Skip’ button and upload one later. If you don’t have a logo, you can use a picture of something that represents your community, such as your village sign.

Following that, you will be given the option to upload a cover picture. This will show in a banner shape across the top of your page and should be at least 400 pixels wide. Don’t worry if you don’t know how big your picture is, Facebook will check for you and give you a message if it isn’t big enough. Once you’ve uploaded it, you will be able to click and drag it to position the picture in the allotted space.

So that’s it. You will then be given the option to invite your Facebook friends to like the page. Click on the ‘Invite’ button next to the ones you would like to send a message inviting them to like the page.

Next week we’ll publish a guide to optimising your Facebook page, so follow us on Facebook to see updates.