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.

 

Guide to writing documents that are accessible

Write using simple language

Use simple language as often as is possible. This makes your document accessible to people with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities.

Most people would prefer to read documents that use simple language as it means they can quickly understand the information.

If you need to use technical terms or acronyms, explain what the mean the first time you use them.

Keep your documents simple

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs
  • Use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica. Make the minimum size 12pt.
  • Avoid using ‘all capitals’ text or italics
  • Left align your text, don’t justify text
  • Use centred text sparingly and only where you want it to stand out such as the main heading
  • Avoid underlining unless for links
  • Use single columns if possible, rather than a more complicated layout
  • Use tables sparingly – only for data and avoid splitting or merging cells
  • Don’t use colour alone to get across the meaning
  • If you use images, think about how a user with visual impairment will be able to access the information
    • by stating the same information in the text
    • by giving the image an ‘alt text’ (alternative text) tag
  • Avoid footnotes if possible

Structure the document

Use bullet points, numbered lists and subheads to break up the document.

Always mark up subheadings with styles – you can create a heirarchy of headings to structure your document, using heading 1, heading 2, heading 3 etc.


Ideally publish web pages rather than PDF files

The Government guidelines state that wherever possible, information should be published as an HTML web page, rather than as a PDF file.

The reason is that information is harder to find, use and maintain in a PDF file and is more difficult to make PDF files accessible. You can read here about why content should be published in HTML and not PDF



More complex documents

There’s lots of information about how to make more complex Microsoft Office documents accessible on the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project website.

How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format

Save your document using Save or Save AS
  1. Under ‘Save as type’ select PDF (*.pdf)
  2. Select the checkbox for Minimum size (publishing online)
  3. Click on the Options button for more options. This will launch the Options window (shown below)
  1. Check the box ‘Document structure tags for accessibility.
  2. Check the box PDF/A compliant
When you have done this, click OK and Save your document.

Making PDF files accessible

How to make your minutes and agendas PDF files accessible

You must save any documents you want to publish to the web in PDF format as a PDF/A format.

You can check if you PDF files are accessible by using the PDF validator online tool at pdf-online.com.

How to create accessible PDFs from a scanned document

In order to make scanned documents such as annual returns or Councillors’ register of interest forms machine readable you need to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Perhaps, going forwards, these forms could be made available as Word documents for you or your Councillors to fill in. You would then be able to save them in PDF/A format.

How to check if your PDF file is accessible

You can check if your PDF file is accessible by using Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Open your document in Adobe reader then go to ‘Edit’ > ‘Accessibility’ and select ‘Quick check’. If you find any problems you’ll either need to change your original Word document, and re-save as PDF or use Acrobat Pro. Depending on the version of Acrobat you are using you may find ‘Accessibility’ under the ‘Tools’ or ‘Advanced’ menu.

If you want to check if your original Word document is accessible before converting it to PDF, use the Office Accessibility checker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are using Microsoft Office 2010 and above you can do this by checking the PDF/A box when saving.

How to save as a PDF/A

  1. Under ‘Save as type’ select PDF (*.pdf)
  2. Select the checkbox for Minimum size (publishing online)
  3. Click on the Options button for more options. This will launch the Options window (shown below)

  1. Check the box ‘Document structure tags for accessibility.
  2. Check the box PDF/A compliant

When you have done this, click OK and Save your document.

 

 

GDPR compliant websites

GDPR for Town & Parish Council Websites

Frequently Asked Questions

We’re still getting lots of question from our town and parish council customers about how to make their websites GDPR compliant, so we’ve answered some of the most common questions below:

How does your website use and process personal information?

GDPR compliant privacy policy

GDPR and website security

GDPR and website cookies

GDPR and personal email accounts – Is it okay to use personal email for parish council business under GDPR?

Making your contact form GDPR compliant

How we can help

 

How does your website use and process personal information?

Your website collects personal data in a number of ways:

  • When you request information from users, such as if they fill in any form on your site to contact you or to subscribe to your newsletter
  • When users visit or log into your site cookies can be set on their computer
  • If you have any members areas/bulletin boards or the option for users to add comments

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GDPR compliant privacy policy

Your website should include the privacy policy for your town or parish council website, covering how you process information both on the website and in your general dealings. Your privacy policy should cover:

  • Do you collect data?
  • If so, why?
  • How do you use it?
  • Is it secure?
  • Do you share it with anyone?

All our websites include a built-in privacy policy page ready for you to add your policy to. This links into your site footer, so is visible from ever page on your website.

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GDPR and website security

You are responsible for the security of your user’s data if they fill out a form on your website, for example. Your website should have a SSL certificate installed so that the connection between the server and the user is encrypted, and information cannot be intercepted.

In addition all sites that do not have an SSL certificate installed are now being marked as ‘insecure’ by the major web browsers, so having an SSL certificate is now becoming essential for all websites.

All our websites include an SSL certificate set up and configured, as standard. You can read about the features we offer on our websites.

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GDPR and website cookies

If your website sets cookies (as nearly all websites do), you must inform the user that cookies are set and allow them to opt out. This is done using a cookie consent bar.

How can you tell if your website sets cookies?

Virtually all modern websites set cookies. If you log into your website to make updates, then a cookie is set to ‘remember’ that you have logged in. The exception is older style websites built using html, although some of these sites set cookies too.

All our websites come with a cookie consent bar as standard.

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GDPR and personal email accounts

If your parish clerk or your Councillors use personal email accounts you should consider setting up dedicated town or parish council ones. This means that if someone were to leave the council, that account could be deleted so that any personal information about individual parishioners it contains would be erased.

We can set up email accounts using your domain name. We offer both POP (where messages are stored on the user’s computer) and IMAP (where messages are stored on our server) accounts.
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Making your contact form GDPR compliant

GDPR states that you must inform the user that you are collecting data about them at the point of data collection. In practice this means that you contact form and any sign-up form should have a link to your privacy policy and a checkbox that users must click to confirm they accept.

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How can we help?

At Town and Parish Council Websites we are committed to providing fully GDPR compliant websites for local councils.

Please get in touch if you would like further information or fill out our quote form for us to provide you with a free, no-obligation quote.

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Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide

Click on the images for a larger version

 

What the posters say

Designing for users on the autistic spectrum

Do

  • use simple colours
  • write in plain English
  • use simple sentences and bullets
  • make buttons descriptive – for example, Attach files
  • build simple and consistent layouts

Don’t

  • use bright contrasting colours
  • use figures of speech and idioms
  • create a wall of text
  • make buttons vague and unpredictable – for example, Click here
  • build complex and cluttered layouts

 

Designing for users of screen readers

Do

  • describe images and provide transcripts for video
  • follow a linear, logical layout
  • structure content using HTML5
  • build for keyboard use only
  • write descriptive links and heading – for example, Contact us

Don’t

  • only show information in an image or video
  • spread content all over a page
  • rely on text size and placement for structure
  • force mouse or screen use
  • write uninformative links and heading – for example, Click here

Designing for users with low vision

Do

  • use good contrasts and a readable font size
  • publish all information on web pages (HTML)
  • use a combination of colour, shapes and text
  • follow a linear, logical layout -and ensure text flows and is visible when text is magnified to 200%
  • put buttons and notifications in context

Don’t

  • use low colour contrasts and small font size
  • bury information in downloads
  • only use colour to convey meaning
  • spread content all over a page -and force user to scroll horizontally when text is magnified to 200%
  • separate actions from their context

 

Designing for users with physical or motor disabilities

Do

  • make large clickable actions
  • give form fields space
  • design for keyboard or speech only use
  • design with mobile and touch screen in mind
  • provide shortcuts

Don’t

  • demand precision
  • bunch interactions together
  • make dynamic content that requires a lot of mouse movement
  • have short time out windows
  • tire users with lots of typing and scrolling

Designing for users who are D/deaf or hard of hearing

Do

  • write in plain English
  • use subtitles or provide transcripts for video
  • use a linear, logical layout
  • break up content with sub-headings, images and videos
  • let users ask for their preferred communication support when booking appointments

Don’t

  • use complicated words or figures of speech
  • put content in audio or video only
  • make complex layouts and menus
  • make users read long blocks of content
  • don’t make telephone the only means of contact for users

Designing for users with dyslexia

Do

  • use images and diagrams to support text
  • align text to the left and keep a consistent layout
  • consider producing materials in other formats (for example, audio and video)
  • keep content short, clear and simple
  • let users change the contrast between background and text

Don’t

  • use large blocks of heavy text
  • underline words, use italics or write capitals
  • force users to remember things from previous pages – give reminders and prompts
  • rely on accurate spelling – use autocorrect or provide suggestions
  • put too much information in one place

 

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 regulations – applying for exemption

From 23 September 2020, all local council websites must be made accessible, unless the council can demonstrate that doing so would impose a disproportionate burden.

We believe that a lot of smaller parish and community councils would have grounds to apply for exemption for historical information on their websites – often local councils have minutes and agendas going back several years and it could be argued that converting all of these to accessible formats presents a disproportionate burden. However, if users need information to complete a task or access a service, even if it was published before 23 September 2018, you will need to provide it in an accessible format.

However, going forward local councils have no excuses not to present their documents and web pages in a way that is accessible to all. You can see the types of disabilities that should be considered when thinking about accessibility here Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide.

To apply for exemption, a council must perform a disproportionate burden assessment. This should include

  • The size, resources and nature of the council
  • The estimated costs and benefits for the council in relation to the estimated benefits for persons with disabilities, taking into account the frequency and duration of use of the specific website

If the council determines that compliance would impose a disproportionate burden they must publish an accessibility statement. This must be in an accessible format and published on their website.

It must include the following:

  • An explanation of the parts of the content that are not accessible and reasons why
  • Where appropriate, a description of any accessible alternatives provided
  • A link to your contact form so that the user can request details of the information excluded or notify the council of any failure to comply
  • A link to the enforcement procedure that the user can access in the event of an unsatisfactory response to the notification or the request.

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 (more on that next month)

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.

Personal email accounts and GDPR

We often get asked the question: should the clerk or Councillors be using their personal email accounts for council business?

While this wasn’t a problem in the past, the new GDPR regulations mean that it isn’t advisable. There are 2 main reasons for this – under GDPR, people have:

  • The right to access all information that you hold about them
  • The right to be forgotten (ie have all information you hold about them erased)

Fulfilling both of these obligations can be difficult when the clerk or Councillors may have information buried within their personal communications. Also, if the clerk or a Councillor has left the council it will be difficult and time-consuming to retrieve or delete all the information shared as part of council business.

There are 2 ways of solving this problem:

  • Get your Councillors to set up dedicated council email accounts using a free online email such as hotmail. When a Councillor leaves the council, they can simply delete the account and all the content.
  • Set up POP or IMAP accounts for your Councillors. Your web hosting company will be able to do this for you, but there will most likely be a charge.

We will be going into more detail about different types of email accounts later.

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