Understanding accessibility

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Who should read this page

This is aimed at all staff and will give you a basic understanding of what accessibility is and how we need to be ‘inclusive’ of all when communicating with our customers and eachother.

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility means that websites, apps and tools are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them using ‘assistive technologies’.

For example, someone with impaired vision might use a screen reader (software that lets a user navigate a website and ‘read out’ the content), braille display or screen magnifier. Someone with motor difficulties might use a special mouse, speech recognition software or on-screen keyboard emulator.

When websites are created badly that cannot accommodate these assistive technologies, they can create barriers that exclude people from using the web.

Accessible design should be applied to all methods of communication - websites, letters, apps, posters and documents. By making something ‘accessible’, we automatically make the user experience richer for all users, whether they have a disability or not.

Who does this affect?

At least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability, such as a broken limb, recovery from surgery or even pregnancy. Take a look at Scope’s website for more stats on disabilities in the UK.

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, such as those in a rural area
  • people who have limited or expensive bandwidth

How do we make things accessible?

Examples

Some common examples of ways we can make websites accessible are:

Alt text on images

‘Alt text’ is the pop-up text that appears when you roll your mouse over an image. It normally describes the image, such as, ‘East Riding of Yorkshire Council logo’ or ‘Image of a dog catching a ball’.

This alt text is picked up by screen readers, a piece of software that ‘reads’ the web page to users who can’t see or has limited vision, and ‘describes’ the picture to them using the alt text we provide.

It’s not just people with limited vision that benefit, but people who turn images off to stop them displaying, because they have limited or expensive bandwith.

Keyboard Input

Some people can’t use a mouse, including many older users with limited fine motor control. An accessible website doesn’t rely on the mouse and instead makes all functionality available from a keyboard which can be controlled, for example, via speech input.

Transcripts for audio

Just as images aren't available to people who can't see, audio files, such as podcasts, aren't available to people who can't hear.

Providing a text transcript (a written alternative) makes this information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. A transcript doesn’t just benefit the disabled, but those who are unable to listen to an audio file due to a specific situation - no headphones, no speakers, no bandwith or in a public place. A transcript also allows users to skim read the content, to quickly get to the part that interests them.

Transcripts are a perfect example of why accessible solutions are of benefit to all users, not just those who are disabled.

Sub-headings in web content

Imagine trying to read the sports page on the back of a newspaper without sub-headings, such as football, cricket and rugby. If you only wanted to find out the football news, you’d have to read the entire back page until you came across football.

With sub-headings, your eyes can quickly scan the text and jump to the part that interests you.

Sub-headings benefit web users in the same way, as it allows us to quickly scan down a web page and read only the part that interests us.

For non-sighted users, screen-reader software reads out the headings first and allows the user to only ‘listen’ to the text that interests them.

This is why sub-headings are one of the the most important and easiest things we can all do to help all types of reader - whether its a letter, a poster, a website or a document. Being able to scan read puts the user in control.

What can I do?

We will shortly be providing a guide as to how you, our council staff can begin to think about integrating accessible design into the way you communicate, to both internal or external audiences, by web, intranet, letter, poster, news article - even a policy.

The ultimate communication goal is to get people to find exactly what they want, as easily and as quickly as possible. Our tips on creating accessible content will be able to help you achieve this.

If you’d like to be informed when this guide is available, please email the intranet redesign team - intranet@eastriding.gov.uk.

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