Accessibility: making sure that everybody can use our website

Over the past couple of months, we have been working with the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) to test how easy it is for people with disabilities to use the ONS website. 

This is important because, from September 2020, new legislation will mean that we have a legal duty to make sure our website meets accessibility requirements (measured against the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard).

DAC employs a team of testers who each have a disability. Some of the team tested our website using the technologies they rely on – like screen readers, voice recognition, and mobility aids – whilst others gave us feedback on their experience of using the website with conditions such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and visual impairment. We’ve blogged about our work with DAC before when we visited their testing centre.

We have just received feedback from DAC and will be working on some improvements to the website over the next few months to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make our website accessible. 

The main areas we’ll be working on are:

  • Improving the website code – especially the code we use to create forms, interactives and links – so that they can be more easily used by screenreaders.
  • Some pages aren’t very intuitive to use when users navigate the page using just a keyboard (by pressing the “tab” key).
  • Improving the automatically-generated PDFs the website creates for our statistical outputs.
  • Reviewing our colour palette – across the website and our charts – to make sure the colours stand-out enough for users with low-vision.
  • Creating guidance on how to make spreadsheet downloads more accessible – by using headers and removing blank rows and columns, for example.

The report also reinforced the importance of some content standards we often consider, but can’t always uphold. From September, we are legally bound to make sure that we never:

In the Digital Publishing team at ONS, we often talk to teams about accessibility. Sometimes, meeting standards can feel restrictive, but our work with DAC has helped underline how important this is. Accessibility is an essential part of providing fair access to the services we provide.

Improvements which stem from accessibility often benefit everybody. Many of the things which create a better experience for someone with dyslexia make things easier for people using the website when they are multitasking, or distracted. Improvements which benefit people using screenreaders can also make things better for people accessing the website on a phone.

We’re now working hard on translating our work with DAC into practical improvements to the website over the next few months. By September, we will publish an updated Accessibility statement outlining how we make sure the website works for everybody, and how we’re continuing to make things better. 

If you want to find out more about our work on accessibility, our Lead Brand and Print Designer Andy Budd recently wrote an explanation of more practical ways to make documents and presentations accessible.