Making our information and web services open for everyone

Here at the Parliament, we’re at the heart of politics and decision making in Scotland.

Two of our key aims are to encourage more people to get involved in Parliament’s activities, and to make sure that anyone who wants to get involved can do so easily.

As set out in our Public Engagement strategy, our goal is ‘improving awareness of the relevance and accessibility of Parliament, particularly in under-represented groups’.

What we mean when we say ‘accessibility’?

When the word ‘accessibility’ is used, people automatically think about screen readers (the equipment blind people use when using websites) and physical accessibility.

But the best description I’ve heard of the term is by UK Government accessibility expert Alastair Duggan.

He wrote in a blog post:

‘When I talk about accessibility, I’m using it to mean that people are not excluded from using something on the basis of experiencing a disability. Accessibility means that people can do what they need to do in a similar amount of time and effort as someone that does not have a disability.

‘It means that people are empowered, can be independent, and will not be frustrated by something that is poorly designed or implemented.’

So, to make a website accessible everything in it needs to be equally usable for a person with a disability as it is for a person without one.

Why accessibility is important

In 2016, 33% of adults in Scotland had a long term limiting health condition or disability.

And anyone can become temporarily disabled at any time, meaning that everyday tasks can become difficult. You can struggle to do basic tasks without support for a range of reasons like if you:

  • have a mobility issue with your hands
  • are carrying a child in one hand and trying to use your phone with the other
  • lose your voice when you’re not well
  • forget your glasses

Unlike the private sector where people can choose from a range of competitors and service providers, there’s no alternative option for most of the information and services that the Parliament provides.

And many of our most regular users access the Parliament’s website for work. If you’re a lobbyist or a journalist with a disability, not having an alternative source of parliamentary information could make doing your  job extremely difficult.

If you’re thinking disabled people do not need to check the Parliament’s website for work, former MSP Denis Robertson or former MP Dame Anne Begg would probably have a different opinion.

While it might seem like accessible websites only benefit people with disabilities, they’re actually better for everyone. For example, they’re faster and easier to use and can appear higher in search engine result pages.

New rules enforcing accessibility

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 were launched in September 2018.

Under these regulations, every new public sector website and app will need to meet certain accessibility standards.

New public sector websites need to meet the standards by 22 September 2019, older websites by 22 September 2020 and apps by 22 June 2021.

As we’ve just launched our new website, we need to comply by September.

What we’ve done to make our new website accessible

Right from the start, we’ve been clear that this website must meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standard. These are sets of guidelines for improving web accessibility. Meeting them has been challenging due to a range of legacy issues which we have had to deal with.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done on the accessibility of the service so far. We’ve done this in the following ways:

The style of language used

As set out in our previous blog, the National Literacy Trust says that 1 in 4 adults in Scotland (26.7% of the population, or 931,000 people), experience challenges because of their lack of literacy skills.

To make sure we’re not excluding people from understanding the work that Parliament does and the decisions it makes, we’ve written all of our webpage content in plain English.

We’ve also tried to make our information readable for people who have a reading level of around primary 7 (age 11 – 12).

We hope to make more progress with this over the coming months as we help staff across the organisation lower the readability of the information they create.

Design accessibility

Although we’re dealing with complicated topics like legislation and parliamentary debates and questions, we want to make the information about these topics engaging.

So we’ve used different ways to present information, for example the timeline on the Bills (proposed laws) page which explains what happens at the different stages of a Bill:

This image shows the Bill timeline with the different stages each type of Bill goes through before it becomes law.
Our interactive Bill timeline shows the different types of Bills that pass through Parliament and the stages they go through. This is on our Bills page.

Making the way we present this content not only engaging but also accessible has been a key focus for us.

We’ve worked hard testing them in different accessibility tools and have continually improved the designs to try to make our website work for everybody.

Technical accessibility

Through our website build process, we’ve embedded accessibility testing to ensure what we have released is as accessible as it can be. To do this, we use accessibility testing software that shows us aspects of our site that are not accessible. We then change the code behind these sections to resolve the issue and test again. When it passes we know it is accessible.

This work also follows up on accessibility training with our development staff to ensure they understand accessibility and build services in an accessible way.

Going forward we're planning to introduce a new digital design system which will establish a design approach at Parliament that we know is accessible and ensure we're future proofing our services for accessibility.

Moving forward

As we continue to get the legislation information on our new website and start on our next tasks, we’ll encourage teams to look at their processes and procedures to make sure accessibility is considered throughout the work they do.

We’ll also be embedding a clear, easy to understand style of communication as standard for the Parliament, as recommended by the Commission for Parliamentary Reform.

If you’re an accessibility expert or someone with a disability and would like to work with us to improve the accessibility of our services, we’d love to hear from you so drop us an email.