With the elections and referendum on the voting system used in the UK happening today, we at Nomensa have been wondering what would happen if the deciding vote were based on the level of accessibility achieved by each of the three main political parties websites. To a certain extent, accessibility has the potential to have more of an effect on individual voting than you would first expect. Accurate statistics on the number of people with a registered disability in the UK are hard to find. However, in 2002 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimated that there were 11 million people in the UK with a registered disability. This accounts for roughly 17% of the population. Needless to say, this accounts for a significant proportion of the voting population and should not be overlooked by any of the political parties. Indeed, doing so could potentially lead to reduced votes. This highlights the importance of accessibility for organisations, service providers and political parties alike.
On the 1st of October 2010 the Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (everywhere except Northern Ireland). The Equality Act places an obligation on all service providers to ensure their services are accessible to people with disabilities. Digital services are included under this piece of legislation. The Central Office of Information (COI) defines WCAG level AA as the minimum standard expected of all public sector websites. Strictly speaking, if the websites for the three main political parties had .gov.uk domains they would be duty bound to adhere to level AA accessibility. Since none of the websites that we looked at were on .gov.uk domains, it's probably debatable whether the political parties are public sector and are therefore expected to have websites that conform to the COI guidelines. However, in my opinion the three main political parties should be leading by example, ensuring that their websites are accessible to as many people as possible.
What we did
We performed a quick accessibility check of the homepage from each of the three main political party websites. The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are internationally recognised as the benchmark for building accessible websites, and measuring web accessibility. We checked each website's homepage against all level A and level AA accessibility criteria from WCAG 2.0. Where issues were identified they were logged and recorded.
What we found
None of the pages that we had audited achieved either level A or level AA accessibility. Of the pages that we audited, the homepage for the Labour party website contained the most issues (17 in total). The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties' homepages followed with 10 and 11 issues respectively.
|Number of issues identified at level A||Number of issues identified at level AA||Total issues|
It is worth mentioning that, at the time of writing, the Labour party homepage was the only page that contained video content. This meant that the Labour websites home page contained a wider array of elements than the other two pages that could potentially cause accessibility issues. However, what is clear from the statistics shown above is that each of the main political party websites suffer from more issues than is acceptable.
People with a fairly wide range of disabilities (both physical and cognitive) are likely to be affected by the issues identified on each website. Since none of the websites that we audited even achieved level A accessibility an election based on web accessibility would likely end up confusing, disorientating and frustrating everyone. This is surprisingly apt since the same could be said of the experiences offered by the web pages that I have been discussing in this blog post. On a more serious note, however, each of these political parties is potentially losing votes because people with disabilities cannot access the information on their websites. However, even more concerning than this is the effect that this has on the rights of British people. Politics is supposed to be an inclusive process that empowers the public. If people are unable to access information about the choices that they have with regards to political process, is this not excluding people from public life? In the general election of 2010 the three main political parties used slogans such as "A future fair for all", "Vote for change" and "Change that works for you, building a fairer Britain". Unfortunately, none of these slogans accurately describe the experience of any of the party political websites that I have discussed today. Wouldn't it be nice if these sites were fairer, more inclusive and worked for all of us?