Public Sector Budget Planning Should Include Accessibility Technology
The end of the financial year is fast approaching. Come March 31st, all public sector companies will be rolling out their budgets and development plans for the rest of 2021 and into 2022, and web accessibility provisions should absolutely be part of that.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a significant rise in public sector organisations that use our web accessibility software. In the last 6 months alone we have seen a 20% increase in the need for online support. Making sure a website is accessible and inclusive to all users is important for any business, but by the very nature of the services offered and the functions served by public sector bodies, it is arguably even more important for them.
2021 has already been dubbed ‘The Year of Accessibility’. Digital inclusion factors rank high in priorities for business development, and with more and more people relying upon online information, those in the public sector are under increasing pressure to keep their users updated with all of the relevant information and news.
Why is Website Accessibility So Important in the Public Sector?
Looking towards the next financial year, public sector bodies need to be aware of a number of factors that affect digital accessibility…
Equal Access to information
We tend to think of the internet as a place where everyone has instant access to the information they need at all times, but that’s simply not the case. Here in the UK one in five people has a disability that means they struggle to access information online. Examples include:
Literacy and language barriers
Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances
Any customers who struggle with one or more of the issues listed above can be considered vulnerable, as any inequality in access to information leads to an inequality of access to services. Plus, in challenging circumstances, vulnerability levels increase and those with accessibility needs fall further through the cracks as they struggle to keep up to date with changing information.
Our Aging Population
As the ageing population increases, so does the percentage of the entire population with disabilities, visual impairments, and hearing loss. The internet gives elderly people the ability to connect with relatives and friends on a regular basis and is an important tool in allowing senior citizens to lead independent lives.
Helping Self-Serving Accounts
With the continued closure of many retail outlets and points of face-to-face service, call centre teams are struggling to service the influx of callers. Wait times have been at an all-time high, and many consumers have struggled to reach an operator at all. Providing more practical and efficient ways for customers to communicate online can help avoid situations like this.
Public Sector Accessibility Laws
The government expects that public sector websites and mobile apps meet accessibility standards by complying with the World Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. The deadline for compliance was September 23rd 2020, yet recent research showed that 40% of local authority websites’ home pages still aren’t accessible to people with disabilities, and far too many other public sector websites don’t meet baseline accessibility standards either.
The COVID-19 Effect
With many people confined to their homes, it has never been more critical that websites take into account all users, including those with disabilities and accessibility barriers. Essentially, this has changed the priority of web accessibility to be something that has to be done, rather than something that should be done.
2020 Toolbar Usage
During 2020 Recite Me could directly see the impact Covid19 was having on people accessing information online. This could be seen through a surge in toolbar usage with over 100,000 pages being made available to people with access needs in July alone. Throughout the year toolbar usage increased by 55%.
Public Sector Data Trends
Providing accessible websites is the best way to guarantee inclusion and ensure consumers do not become more vulnerable or excluded from the information, services, and support networks they need.
Recite Me is here to help all public sector businesses and organisations to communicate information more effectively by making websites accessible and inclusive of all users. Over the last calendar year, we have helped many different organisations within the public sector to achieve this.
To help education institutions provide an inclusive experience, we can install our assistive toolbar across the full digital landscape of educational organisations, not only the main website. This ensures that more people can access and modify the content in a way that makes it useful and usable. We’re proud to assist a number of colleges and universities, including:
As people switched to online learning in 2020, Recite Me saw a spike in toolbar usage soar to over 18,000 unique users in May, an increase of 50% from January. Over the past 12 months, a staggering 625,000 toolbar launches were made, allowing users to view over 3.7million educational web pages.
“The University of London is committed to providing an inclusive and accessible online experience. Recite Me enables us to provide additional online tools and services for those visiting our website and increase the level of accessibility quickly and easily.”
Mark Harrison, Head of Inclusion, University of London
Local authorities are responsible for a wide range of community provisions, including housing, traffic schemes, voting systems, recreation, environmental projects, and amenities like rubbish collection. Without adequate online information about all of these services, residents are left in the dark about rules, regulations, and what is going on in their communities. We already work with a growing number of local authorities, including:
West Devon Borough Council
South Hams District Council
Torridge District Council
Comhairle County Council
Recite Me Toolbar Usage across Public Sector websites
At the start of the first lockdown, Recite Me usage on local authority sites increased by 87% between February to June and continued to increase steadily throughout 2020. The latest figures suggest usage by over 95,000 unique users accessing nearly half a million barrier-free web pages using Recite Me.
“We really want to meet the needs of the people who live and work in Preston, and we believe the tools Recite me offer helps us achieve this.”
Ian Heslop, Digital and Web Manager, Preston Councils
Having access to public sector services like the police, fire brigade and ambulance are essential to the wellbeing of our society, and even more essential is the opportunity for equal access. The Recite Me toolbar already assists many public service organisations, including:
Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service
Scottish Ambulance Service
"It is hugely important for us as an organisation to be accessible to the public we serve. Our website holds a lot of information which everyone should be able to access easily. Thanks to the Recite Me Toolbar, we have made vast strides in making our website more accessible”.
Clare Kelly, Chief Executive, Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner
Health services across the UK are in high demand due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Their websites are the gateway where people can access vital health information during a time where people are unable to leave their homes. Therefore it is paramount that this information is easily accessible. With over 20 NHS organisations using Recite Me, we can see clearly the demand for web accessibility support in this sector. Over 50,000 people have used Recite Me accessibility and language options to aid their online journey. Organisations we support include:
Public Health Wales
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH)
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
How Accessibility Technology Helps
Software like the Recite Me assistive toolbar promotes inclusivity by allowing people to access websites in a way that is best suited to them. Functions include:
Fully customisable text size, font, and spacing
The ability to change text colour and background colour contrasts
A screen mask to provide colour tinting and block visual clutter
Additional reading aids such as an on-screen ruler
Text-to-speech functions in 35 languages
Having text read aloud at varying speeds
A real-time translation feature catering to over 100 languages
A built-in dictionary and thesaurus
A “text-only” mode that strips away graphics and other page clutter
These functions account for singular alterations and also more complex scenarios where users may require multiple adjustments for ease of use. By facilitating this, website owners are able to remove barriers and allow for equal access for everyone.
Is website Accessibility on YOUR list of priorities for your 2022 budget? We hope so! If you’d like more information about our web accessibility services, please feel free to get in touch with our team for an informal chat about how we can help. Alternatively, you can book an online demo of our toolbar in action. Together, we can make a difference and provide everyone with equal access to vital information online.