As if practice managers didn’t have enough on their plates dealing with the coronavirus fallout, the deadline for meeting website accessibility requirements looms on the horizon. Tim Green, of specialist web developer GPsurgery.net, explains more.
By 23rd September 2020 – just weeks away – all public sector organisations, including GP practices, need to meet new government accessibility requirements. The requirements are driven by the need for organisations to meet the 2018 website and mobile app accessibility regulations.
Accompanied by the usual fanfare of unnecessary jargon, the requirements are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (known as WCAG 2.1), an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility.
NHSX is committed to informing GP practices about their responsibilities, so you can expect a lot of communication about this topic over the next couple of months, including contact from companies offering expensive accessibility audits.
The intentions of WCAG 2.1 are good and better compliance with the guidelines will benefit all of us by making practice websites more intuitive and easier to use.
What does all the jargon mean?
Better accessibility just means making your website easier to use for everyone, regardless of any disability. A simple example would be allowing users to move around your website without using a mouse. If you try going to this NHS web page and pressing the TAB key on your keyboard repeatedly, you should see a highlighted active area moving down the web page in a logical manner. Pressing the Enter key will activate the highlighted link.
Common accessibility problems
Common problems include websites that aren’t easy to use on a mobile or can’t be navigated using a keyboard, inaccessible PDF forms that can’t be read out using screen readers, and poor colour contrast or moving text that makes the page difficult to read – especially for visually impaired people.
There are four WCAG principles of website accessibility. The good news is that they’re very understandable.
- Perceivable: This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses)
- Operable: This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface can’t require interaction that a user can’t perform)
- Understandable: Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation can’t be beyond their understanding)
- Robust: Users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)
How to check your website
It’s important to note that the practice is legally responsible for making sure its website meets the accessibility requirements, even if you’ve outsourced the website to an external supplier.
Therefore, the first thing you need to do is check your website. There are three possible routes – check the site yourself, ask your provider to help, or ask an expert to complete an audit.
Instructions on how to complete a basic accessibility check are provided by the government, but they’ll require a significant amount of time and effort to complete. Read the instructions on the gov.uk website.
Your website supplier should be able to give you a good idea of where you stand. Working together and responding quickly to any complaints from users will go a long way to improving accessibility.
You can pay an expert to complete an audit; the costs outlined by the government suggest fees from £1,300 to £4,000.
Things you might not need to fix
You don’t need to fix the following types of content because they’re exempt from the accessibility regulations:
- Pre-recorded audio and video published before 23rd September 2020
- Live audio and video
- PDFs or other documents published before 23rd September 2018 – unless users need them to use a service; for example, a form that lets a patient register with the practice
- Maps – but you’ll need to provide essential information in an accessible format like an address
- Third-party content that’s under someone else’s control if you didn’t pay for it or develop it yourself, for example, NHS widgets.
Make a plan
Practices are required to publish an accessibility statement and keep that statement under regular review.
With a well-written accessibility statement, you can show you understand the requirements. You should explain where you know your website is falling short, when and how you plan to address this, and if you can’t, why not.
You must also include details of who to contact when a patient experiences access problems, and how to escalate this if a resolution isn’t achieved promptly (very much like your complaints procedure). Make sure you include contact details for a patient to request information in an alternative, accessible format.
Working with your website provider to publish your website accessibility statement will really help you to get to grips with the new requirements. And while the work required may feel onerous, remember that the government has made it clear that the focus is on supporting compliance, rather than enforcement for failure.
Tim Green, is part of the team at GPsurgery.net