A more accessible website

We’re reaching the end of our project to improve the accessibility of the CMS templates we use on the York website, and we’re pleased to report that we’ve made some significant progress.

We wrote a blog post about starting the project last year, explaining the accessibility issues we need to cater for, and how we were going to approach the work.

We used a tool called Siteimprove to carry out automated testing of the website. Siteimprove gives us a score to help us see at a glance how well we’re doing, and then lots of detail about what to fix to improve the score. Our starting score was 65.9/100.

We’re happy to say we’ve improved on that considerably:

We now score 89.2/100. The small circle in the image shows the current industry benchmark of 70.6.

The solid blue line on the graph on the right shows our progress from when we first got access to Siteimprove in June last year, and were scoring around the same as the education average, and charts our progress up to today, where we are sitting comfortably above it. We had some quick wins early on in the project, and then continued to work on the various issues to reach the current peak.

The fluctuations in our score through the months were caused by various factors, including changes to how Siteimprove makes its calculations, us adding and removing pages, and some false positives being wrongly flagged and then corrected.

Siteimprove’s score doesn’t include problems that can only be identified by manual testing, and so also doesn’t reflect the changes we’ve made to fix those problems. However, it does give us a useful starting point.

Improvements

Most people without accessibility needs won’t have noticed any huge changes to the website. We’ve made lots of behind the scenes fixes without really needing to alter how the pages look.

Where colour contrasts were not accessible, we’ve used similar colours but with a higher ratio, or changed the opacity of text boxes over images.

We’ve made edits to templates and individual pages, improving the accessibility of, for example:

  • Text
  • Forms, including search boxes
  • Images
  • Image links
  • Image galleries
  • Tabs
  • ‘Show more’ links
  • News listings
  • Events pages
  • Keyboard navigation

We’ve also created a new content type for classic pages, called “Multiple image box links”. It’s primarily for use on landing pages, and allows you to create a row of two or three image link boxes.

  • It automatically creates the correct alt text for the image, which should be the same as the link text. When done manually, often the alt text has incorrectly been left blank, or has text which describes the image rather than the target of the link.
  • It creates consistency within the page and across all pages. We’ve found that sometimes the heading is the link, sometimes it’s the picture, sometimes it’s both
  • It’s faster to create the content. It can be time consuming to create the same layout using multiple content types
  • Styles such as ‘unpadded’ are automatically applied, hopefully eliminating layout problems

See the image link boxes wiki page for more information.

Documentation

We’ve written an accessibility statement detailing the current status of the site and the issues we’re aware of. The statement is linked from all CMS pages

We’ve also written documentation for people creating online content, and some specific guidance for CMS users.

If you’re creating or editing web pages in the CMS, please use our checklists for creating accessible content. I would also encourage you to take a look at the examples of a screen reader in use to help you understand more about how a visually impaired user accesses web pages:

What’s next?

23 September 2020 marked the deadline for public sector websites to meet the accessibility legislation requirements. We’ve done a lot to improve our site, but there’s still more to do.

Accessibility will be one of our first considerations when designing any new templates. We’ll actively check for any new accessibility issues with our existing templates, as well as continuing to chip away at some of the remaining fixes.

There’s still plenty of work to be done to fix the content of the site. Siteimprove access is currently being rolled out to content developers in Communications, and accessibility checks are included in the process for creating and editing new sections on the site.

Some content issues can be checked using Siteimprove, but in many cases it takes someone looking at each page and ensuring that, for example, headings have been included and are nested logically, that link text is useful, and that images have been properly described or marked as decorative, as appropriate. That’s not a small task on a site the size of ours, so we’re looking at prioritising pages which receive the most views.

If you spot any issues with accessibility across the York site, please report them using this form:

The form is also linked from the accessibility statement mentioned above.

If you’re a member of York staff interested in digital accessibility, check out the #digital-accessibility Slack channel.

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Aimee Phillips

I'm a User Experience Designer in Communications at the University of York. My role includes carrying out usability testing, and ensuring accessibility is at the heart of everything we produce.

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