19th February 2020

University websites, meet accessibility

Nick Buckingham
Head of Experience and Product Design
Blind man using a braille screen reader

One in five people in the UK lives with some sort of disability. That’s 20% of our population living with auditory, motor, visual or cognitive differences.

And most of those people - especially students - have computers, use the internet and would like to use it as easily as people living without disabilities.

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, right? That’s why here at Deeson, we’re championing web accessibility across the board, from semantic HTML to easy-to-read text and back again.

Read on for a look at why accessibility is more than just a nice-to-have, and check out some of our top tips on creating a higher education website that works for every single student.

Then and now

Cast your mind back to 2008. There was a set of guidelines called the WCAG 2 and in those guidelines was a rating system with some A checkpoints (the must-haves), some AA checkpoints (the give-it-a-go-if-you-cans) and a few AAA checkpoints (the only-if-you’re-building-a-website-for-people-with-disabilities).

Fast forward to 2018 and things had changed: It became legislation that any public sector website needed at least an AA rating, bringing a new focus to accessibility and the opportunities within.

The right thing to do

Let’s break it down:

  • 19% of the UK are living with an auditory disability, which means their experience of audio is dramatically different.
  • 12% experience motor disabilities like tremors, which means their ability to use a mouse or tap a screen is affected.
  • One in seven adults have a reading age of 11, making complex copy challenging to read. 
  • 3% of the UK have significant sight loss, with 0.5% clinically blind.

If you’re anything like us, those stats make you want to jump up and immediately make every website more accessible, and not only because of the legal imperative to do so.

In the 2017/18 academic year, 94,120 students with disabilities enrolled at university - what self-respecting organisation wants to turn them away?

There are the PR implications - why would you want to be seen as somewhere all are not welcome (Dominos, I’m looking at you)? At a base level, it’s simply, fundamentally the right thing to do.

Leading the way

We’re pretty into accessibility here, and that filters into every website we work on. In fact, our design and frontend development work for the University of Derby has seen their website rated the most accessible higher education website in the UK.

As Deeson’s Accessibility Champion, I get to touch on every project we run, so here are my top tips for kicking off your accessibility project:

  • ‘Have to’, not ‘Want to’
    Accessible websites are no longer a nice-to-have, they’re the law. If you’re running a public sector website, it’s down to you to lead the charge, and nowhere is that more important than in education.
  • Champion your champions
    Having accessibility champions in your business shares responsibility and keeps the whole team accountable for every project.
  • Build strong foundations
    A great website has accessibility at its very core, hard-wired in at semantics level. Retrofitting a website that isn’t up to par is a long, hard battle that can be easily avoided by getting it as right as you can the first time around.
  • See the big picture
    Bottom line: everybody should be able to visit your site, and most users don’t care about your genius code or clever design - they just want to be able to use the website like everybody else can, so keep the focus simple.

How does your website stack up?

While the WCAG 2 guidelines provide a set of rules to adhere to, practically speaking, what works for one user might not always be right for another, but it starts with knowing where you sit in that legal ratings system.

We like to kick things off with a mini audit that gives you a simple MSCW view on the things you Must, Should, Could and Would change.

After the audit, we’ll be able to work with you on implementing improvements that will benefit you and your student body, whether they’re living with disabilities or not.

Drop us a line to find out more, and bring your higher education website bang up to date.