Accessibility was one of our top priorities when we started work on our new website. As well as making our service available to as many as people as possible, we wanted to achieve the AA standard in the big wide world of website accessibility.
So what does AA standard mean? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an organisation that sets international requirements for website accessibility. There are three levels that websites can aim for: A, AA and AAA.
Each level has a specific set of standards that you must reach to pass the rating. AAA is the highest standard but is very difficult to achieve. Most sites aim for AA as this covers a wide range of accessibility requirements and this is the standard set by the Government Digital Service.
So we (the digital team) set about asking disabled people, older people and people who use assistive technologies to test our new site. This was a good start, but to be really confident that we could achieve AA, we got in touch with the Disability Accessibility Centre (DAC).
Showing us how it’s done
The DAC specialises in testing websites for accessibility, employing people who have disabilities ranging from visual, hearing and mobility impairments to learning difficulties, dyslexia and colour blindness. We wanted to find out more about the work they do, so we took a trip on a cold February morning to Neath in Wales, where the DAC is based.
We spent the day sitting with people with different disabilities as they showed us how they use specific technologies to test our website and highlighted what we needed to improve.
It was a real learning experience and gave us a true understanding of the barriers people with disabilities can face online. It would have been impossible for us to replicate this sort of testing ourselves.
For example, a tester who is registered blind showed us how he navigates websites using Voiceover - which is a screen reader available on Apple iPhone. He explained how we could make our site easier for someone who cannot pick up the visual cues we all rely on.
You can actually switch an iPhone screen off and try to navigate websites using Voiceover. This will give you a feeling of what it’s really like to be visually impaired. If you have an iPhone give it a go.
Disabilities can affect people at any time in their lives. Another tester became virtually blind later in life. He showed us how he uses Zoomtext to make the text as large as he needs and to read out the words on the screen. This showed how difficult it can be to understand a website’s structure if you can only see a few words at a time.
Maintaining our commitment to accessibility
Since DAC tested and audited our website, we have been working hard with our digital agency to sort out the accessibility issues they identified. The DAC has now retested our site and accredited it as meeting level AA. We proudly display their logo on our website so customers can see our commitment to accessibility.
This doesn’t mean that our work on accessibility is complete. We will always look for ways to improve and meet the needs of the people who use our website.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what we’re doing to make our website accessible, please get in touch Digital@ombudsman.org.uk
If you would like to delve further into the nitty gritty of accessibility, you can find out more on the W3C website