Website accessibility for local councils: 4 things to start doing now

Compliance with website accessibility regulations (WCAG 1.2 AA standard) will become mandatory for all town, parish and community councils in September 2020. This is going to mean changes in the way you publish information online, as well as in the way you write your web pages and documents such as minutes and agendas.

Here are 4 things to start doing now.

Structure your documents correctly

Make sure that you are using proper markup to style your headings. You need to do this because some users with visual impairments use ‘screen readers’ to read out the text for them. These screen readers will often jump through the list of headings so that they can quickly find the information they are looking for – in the same way non visually impaired users will quickly scan the headings on a page.

If you style your headings just using the normal font but making it larger or bold, the screen readers will not recognise them as headings.

If you are using WordPress, you can tell if the headings are styled correctly by opening up the page in the editor and clicking on the headings. The drop-down box at the top of the screen should show ‘Heading 2’ or ‘Heading 3’, rather than ‘Paragraph’ when you have a heading selected. If it doesn’t, simply select the heading that you would like to apply to the text, then click ‘Publish’ to save your changes.

Use descriptive links

Check that links clearly state what they are linking to. This is important because users viewing your site using screen readers will frequently scan through just the links on the page. This means that they don’t have the surrounding text to explain where the link is going to. So for example instead of a link saying ‘Agenda’ you should set up a link saying ‘Agenda 3 March 2019’.

How to write good link text

  • Put the most important words at the front of the link for example use ‘website accessibility – further information’ instead of ‘click here for more information about website accessibility’
  • Make sure the links make sense if viewed in isolation
  • For links that lead to information, use text about that information in the link
  • For links that take visitors to a page where they will complete a task, begin the link with a verb. For example: ‘contact us’
  • Where possible use the title of the page you are linking to as the link text
  • Don’t use the same link text to link to different places
  • Think about visitors with reduced motor skills and don’t make the link too small as it will be difficult to select. One word links aren’t ideal for these users.

Save files in accessible PDF/A format

All office files that were created after 23rd September 2018 need to be accessible. This means that if you have saved them as PDF files, they must be saved in the accessible version of PDF which is PDF/A. You can read more about how to do that here: How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format

PDF/A format is a version of PDF. In order for a document to be accessible by screen readers it needs to have ‘tags’ and ‘searchable text’.

  • Tags are elements that structure the page. For example there are tags for paragraphs, headings, lists, table and images. These tags enable users using screen readers to quickly and easily navigate the page content.
  • Searchable text means that text is embedded in the pdf, rather than the text existing as an image (for example a scanned form). If you’re not sure, open your pdf and try to drag and select the text. If you can do that it is searchable.

Older documents that were published before September 2018 do not need to be accessible unless they are essential for the council’s services. However you should state this in your accessibility statement and provide an alternative means of users being provided with that information on request.

Write in simple language

When you are writing it is important to think about making your information – whether it’s web pages or pdf minutes – accessible to users with cognitive impairments. These include visitors who may have difficulties with memory, comprehending and reasoning or users with adaptive behavior impairments. For example users with dementia, dyslexia, autism.

You should:

  • Write in plain English
  • Use short, simple sentences
  • Do not use long or complicated words
  • Break up long blocks of text into headings/bullets/short paragraphs
  • Don’t use figures of speech
  • Don’t use footnotes
  • Don’t expect users to remember information from a previous pages