Socitm: Local councils lead on website accessibility awareness

Six in ten local councils have poorer website accessibility than the private sector firms with the best sites, according to Socitm.

Abbey and Barclays banks, supermarkets Tesco and Marks & Spencer, and travel site First Choice all demonstrated strong success in useful accessibility features, according to the report. These included the option to change text size and contrast, and offering video and audio transcripts.

But as a whole, most councils had a better awareness of overall of accessibility issues, and had taken more steps to improve their policy, than the private sector, according to a supplement to the report ‘A world denied’.

The highest performing councils included Warwick, Barking & Dagenham, Salford City and Cardiff County.

Socitm also examined website accessibility statements that, according to the latest guidance from the government’s Central Office of Information and the British Standards Institute, play a central role in helping that websites are accessible to users with disabilities.

Many local council sites had a good accessibility statement, which often indicated they took the issue seriously, Socitm said. Some 79 percent of councils have a link on their homepage to an accessibility statement, compared to 44 percent in the private sector.

Martin Greenwood, programme director at Socitm Insight and author of the supplement, said all organisations should create an accessibility statement based on the COI and BSi criteria. “The accessibility statement plays a key part in any campaign for raising awareness internally, and possibly externally, of the importance that the council attaches to this issue,” he said.

While simply putting a statement did not solve the issue, he said, “the statement itself is the first step in the right direction”.

Councils were also more consistent than businesses in responding to accessibility queries. Some 53 percent gave a “satisfactory” reply to an email about help for a blind person using the website, Socitm said. This was far higher than the 23 percent in the private sector. Northampton, Tunbridge Wells, Belfast and West Lindsey were highlighted for giving useful responses.

Socitm urged councils to continue to demonstrate good practice in accessibility, adding: “If accessibility good practice is not followed, and websites are not designed to accommodate their needs, disabled people and others can find [sites] difficult or even impossible to use.”

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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