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Website accessibility tips for parish & town councils

Mark Tomkins

Whether you are new to website accessibility and just starting the process of making your council’s website accessible or you have been working on a council website for some time and and understand the importance, there are some key aspects in making sure that you present the content on your council’s website in an accessible and inclusive way.

The first thing to mention is that if you are a user of the Aubergine Parish Council website or Town Council website package, the base framework of your website already meets the required WCAG 2.11AA standard (and WCAG2.2AA from October) and we maintain that as part of our support. However, this resource page will help you make sure the content you add on to your council’s website pages is also accessible.

Here are the main areas when editing and adding content to your parish council or town council website:

1. Page headings – structuring the web page

The structure of a web page (and Word document for that matter) is vital to achieving good accessibility. The reason for this is that for those people who use assistive technology, such as screen readers, the headings of a page act as a means of navigation through the page’s content. It can be a great challenge for those without sight to know exactly where on a page the information they are seeking is located and so creating the page with sections using correctly structure headings helps them navigate straight to the section they need without having to go through the entire page.

The headings (or ‘H classes’) need to be sequential and chosen to structure sections and sub-sections within those headings. e.g. H1 = the page’s title, H2 = a main section heading, H3 = a sub-section within an H2 section.

Headings should not be chosen for how they look, but their structural order. This forms one of the basic principles of good website accessibility. If you would like more information on how to correctly structure a web page with headings, read our a blog article ‘Headings, page styling and text formatting – with accessibility in mind‘.

2. Images – making them accessible for all

A very common issue can be resolved with a small amount of effort. Images, by their nature, are for those users with sight but that doesn’t mean those without sight or who use a website with assistive technology aren’t entitled to know what the image represents. Especially if it adds weight to the information on the page.

Adding ALT text – a short, succinct description of what the image is vital. Your Aubergine website provides a box just for this when you upload it.

  • Avoid using ‘Image of…’ or ‘Picture of…’ as the user knows it’s an image already and would be audibly read by their computer as ‘an image of and image of a dog with a bone’
  • Be succinct but include the key aspects of the image.
  • If the image is a stock photo or adds little or no extra benefit just mark the image as ‘decorative’.
  • Avoid using images that have lots of text embedded, such as poster events. If you do use it, make sure the salient information about the event is in the ALT text so that those with disabilities aren’t excluded to knowing about the event.
  • Do not put information in ALT text for the purpose of SEO or adding jokes or ‘Easter Eggs’ of bonus information.

3. Links & link text – be descriptive

When linking to a page or document make the link text descriptive, and don’t use ‘click here’ or ‘more’ or ‘here’ as this does not tell the user where they are going or what they will open if they click the link. Sometimes links can be placed out of context to the words on the page and so it’s important to allow for this – the ideal is to follow the principle of ‘who, what, where’.

E.g. if you are linking to a document, let’s say it’s a council meeting minutes the link text should be: ‘Your Council Name Minutes December 2022 (PDF 62kb).’  Note the addition of the file format type (PDF) and the size of the document (62kb) so that the user has all the information they need before opening it.

If you are linking to a web page or another website, tell the user by making sure the link text matches the web page title or website name, e.g.  ‘Aubergine offer a range of Parish and Town Council Website Packages.

Links should be clearly identified by being underlined and have a visual mouseover effect when selected.

4. Text formatting – avoid over styling

The styling of text should be treated with caution but can be used to achieve a good outcome for all users, with or without disabilities.

  • Avoid underlining text unless it is a link. It infers it’s a link and may confuse the user if it does not link anywhere.
  • Avoid long runs of bold or italic text as this can be difficult for those users with learning disabilities or dyslexia.
  • Avoid all-capital letters, even in headings – it is harder to read when the words are all-caps. use the heading class for a section heading rather than just words in bold and all-capital letters

5. Colour – contrast is key

The use of colour, by its very nature being a visual element, means that you need to balance its use with those that may see colour differently to those without disabilities. Colour blindness, partial sight-loss and learning difficulties all require colour to be treated with caution.

Your Aubergine website will have been created and tested to ensure its colour these meets WCAG 2.1AA standards. However, because your website provides you with page editing tools, one of those includes colour and so there are some basic principles to follow:

  • Avoid coloured text if at all possible.
  • If you are using a background colour in a block area, any text on that background needs to have high contrast against the background. e.g. if the background is dark blue, the text colour should be white.
  • Avoid using coloured text in the middle of sentences, especially light colours.
  • If adding links, make sure the mouse-over and click effect provides a high contrast to show the user they have selected a link in an obvious way. For the most part, this is handled automatically by our system.
  • Avoid pastel and pale colours.

6. Tables – keep it for financial information

Tables are a visual interface, a visual device to order words and numbers. The issue is just that, they are visual and they do not have any underlying navigation for a user to be able to know in which direction the content should be read if they cannot see the table.

  • Don’t use tables in documents or web pages to achieve neatness – you are locking the content into a structure that means it will be difficult for users of screen readers and other assistive technology to navigate and digest the content in the correct order without barriers.
  • Keep tables for numerical information and consider keeping the table as simple as possible. If it’s complex consider breaking the information up across several tables.
  • Always provide headings and row titles to any tables so that the user knows the type of content.
  • Test the table by using your tab key on your keyboard to see what order the cursor travels through the content to see if it makes sense.

7. Accessible documents – beyond the web page

Councils need to make documents available to its users and so document accessibility is crucial. Councils are required to make the documents it publishes since September 2020 full accessible. Meeting minutes, agendas and other documents the council produces must be in an accessible format if it is going to be added to the website. The exceptions being anything older than September 2018 or has been produced by a third party. When adding documents to the council’s website, you need to consider the most accessible format.

  • PDFs produced to PDF-A standard from MS Word achieve a basic level of accessible.
  • MS Word has an in-built accessibility checker that can be run before saving-as a PDF.
  • Avoid using the ‘print as’ PDF option from Word – this removes all heading structure.
  • Adding the Word document brings accessibility benefits but introduces the issue that not all uses have Microsoft software. The document can also be downloaded, edited and redistributed without the council’s authority.
  • PDFs that are scans of documents are not accessible and should not be used if the original MS Word file exists. Scans are just images and the words on the page cannot be read by screen readers.
  • Avoid adding Powerpoint, Publisher and other proprietary format files as this requires the user to have the software licence to open them. They are also not an accessible format.
  • Best practice is to put the text in a structured format on the web page itself using headings rather than a file attachment.

File & document names

When adding files to a website, ensure the filename is in plain syntax – that way it will be easy to know what the file is before opening and the Aubergine website platform makes links and buttons to that file with the text already added in plain English.

E.g. Make the file name on your computer ‘Your Parish Name Minutes December 2022.pdf’ – it can be searched on your PC, the website and is clear as to what the file is. Avoid acronyms where possible. Here is a good example of document naming and link text working well together on a parish council website.

8. Forms – inclusive engagement

For the most part, the forms on your Aubergine website have been developed to work with assistive technology and for those with disabilities. However, it’s important to remember that if you have our eForm building module, when creating a form, make sure that the form field labels are clear and descriptive so that it is obvious to the user what you are asking them to provide.

If you need guidance on how to use the eForm module please contact our support team form-specific help.

9. Maps

At present, maps are excluded from compliance with WCAG2.1AA and that required by UK Public Bodies. However, when providing public-facing services, maps can be useful. The key thing to remember is not to include information in a map as the only or primary source.

If you are providing a map, you must first make sure that the information contained within it is on the web page in a structured format. A visual map can only be a secondary method of information source.

E.g. if you have a web page that has a map showing all the town’s public car parks, ensure that there is a list of those car parks with the full address, too.

If you are displaying a map of the town, parish or ward boundary, in the text describe the area using directional language, e.g. ‘To the north is the main centre of the village. To the west of the village centre is the westernmost point of the parish boundary finishing at the village of Yourtown.’

10. Language

As a public body, you have a responsibility to make sure that all the information you provide is available and accessible and inclusive for everyone. Whilst many aspects of website accessibility relate to formatting of the site and content, you must always follow a plain English approach to how you write the content – this helps those with learning difficulties as well as those with cognitive challenges.

  • Avoid complex terms or phrases that are council-specific.
  • Break large paragraphs of text up into separate sentences.
  • Avoid acronyms where possible.
  • Ask a colleague to read the text and describe to you how they understand it.
  • Follow the text formatting tips as previous mentioned.

How to check your website for accessibility issues

Websites need to be checked for good accessibility in two ways – automatically, using software and manually by people – only then can you make sure you have checked it thoroughly.

Automatic accessibility checking

The first step is use a browser extension tool, such as installing the WAVE by WebAim browser checker. This free browser extension will provide you with a button in your browser that you can press when on your website page to see if there are any errors or alerts. You need to do it on a per-page basis but is a good process to adopt as you edit website pages.

Aubergine provide a quarterly full website scan and report service where we will check every page of your website and provide a report, with explanations and descriptions of how to fix the issues. This is charged at £299 + VAT per year with the service running each quarter.

Manual accessibility checking

The best way to be sure your website page content is truly accessible is to involve your community, in which, will almost certainly be users who can help you improve the accessible quality of what you publish. Consider reaching out to your community through social media channels to see if there are any local people who may have disabilities that can assist you periodically with experience-based feedback on things like page structure and document formatting.

New, fully compliant website packages that meet WCAG2.2AA  are available from £499 + VAT

Further help

As a member of the Aubergine parish and town council website platform our experienced team is here to assist you if you need any help in adding content to your website.

You have free access to our:

  • Website Learning Centre where there are 100+ curated ‘how-to’ videos for each part of the website’s function.
  • Free monthly Zoom-based refresher training sessions to top up your skills and you can book a training session place for yourself and team members.
  • Call our experienced team on 01525 373020.