Betagov accessibility strong, early test shows
The government's new trial single portal for online services, Betagov, is highly accessible to users with special access needs including disabled people, unlike its prototype "Alphagov", accessibility experts have said.
The technology access charity AbilityNet carried out some early testing this week for UKAuthority.com, pronouncing itself pleased with the results. While a few minor issues were found (more technically-minded readers, see end of this piece) the overall accessibility level was excellent, said AbilityNet head of digital inclusion Robin Christopherson.
"It is encouraging to see that Betagov has achieved such a good level of accessibility when so many websites across all sectors are still nowhere near this standard", Christopherson said. "We need to start thinking of accessibility as an integral part of every step of the process, and not just a bolt-on consideration which can so often be compromised due to poor implementation. Nowhere is this more important than in assisting disabled people to access vital public services and information."
The prototype "Alphagov" service developed last year was the subject of much controversy over its lack of support for accessibility, despite the predecessor being presented as an experimental, conceptual model which was not attempting to build in accessibility.
Léonie Watson, an accessibility consultant hired by the Government Digital Service to lead accessibility work on Betagov, said some of the improvement was down to use of British Standard BS8878, a code of practice aimed at building in accessibility to decision-making at all stages of a web development process, including recording all relevant decisions taken. The work had not been without its challenges, however, given the scale of the project.
"We are trying to follow BS8878 as closely as we can, testing the standard against an incredibly enormous and complex website," Watson said. "The standard means looking at your audiences and so on - it's just that when your audience is everybody, that is an enormous task. Subjects range from maternity leave to fishing licences and several thousand issues in-between.
"But I still think BS8878 is a very useful framework because it is as much about the questions you ask yourself, the decisions you take."
Overall, Watson's work with the Betagov team has been "refreshing", as she has not had to make the case for accessibility to anyone - its importance is understood, she said. "It's taken as read - though that doesn't mean we don't still face budget and technical challenges."
As the trial site is developed and expanded, accessibility testing work including user testing by disabled people will continue in a constant cycle of improvement, including more work to ensure services for mobile devices are as accessible as possible, Watson said. Work is also underway to create British Sign Language versions of the site's video content.
Lucy Dodd, an accessibility consultant who last year criticised Alphagov's lack of accessibility, welcomed the new design."It is looking hugely better, and shows what can be achieved when accessibility is considered from the outset and integrated into every stage of a web product's design and development", she said this week.
AbilityNet results in full:
The early test on Betagov by AbilityNet for UKAuthority.com found the team "has done a really good job, with the exception of the below issues":
No skip: There are no "skip to main content" links to allow users to bypass the top level navigation
Search icons: Search results include an icon by information type, for example Quick Answer or Service, but there is no legend to explain what these icons mean
Long links: Some link text is too long, for example on the disability living allowance page, the linked text 'No thanks, just tell me how to claim' would work better as 'how to claim'
Font rendering: The "easy to read" font for dyslexic users looks like it hasn't rendered right and the letters are quite thin when compared to a version of the font on the creator's website.
Sheriff warning: The tester ran Betagov through the automated testing service "Compliance Sheriff" which found 23 shortcomings when measured against international accessibility guidelines. However most were minor and the tester said "a manual check
discounted some of those such as form submit buttons and short headings which actually weren't errors".