Colin Stenning 17 February 2020

The accessibility challenge

The accessibility challenge image

At Bracknell Forest Council, we support over 120,000 residents in the heart of Berkshire. We are hugely committed to delivering on a framework which ensures that we can both adapt and innovate as a council, to maintain Bracknell Forest as an enjoyable place for all residents to live.

As public services continue to become increasingly connected with the online world, a digital-first approach to customer service is at the core of our strategy. This is in place to overcome the challenges we now face when providing support which caters for all. This strategy not only allows us to build strong, safe, supportive communities, but also put the power into the hands of our residents by providing digital gateways needed to take advantage of our services and maximise their independence.

To do so, we needed a robust website that delivered the flexibility and functionality to support our digital team in achieving complete accessibility and make iterative future development of the site much more efficient.

Building a fully inclusive website

We have been working hard to ensure that our website is fully accessible, inclusive and user friendly for all visitors. This has been achieved through an ongoing programme of work designed to help users self-serve across the website wherever possible. Such work has included reviewing all website content to ensure it is useful and easy to read, fixing accessibility issues in the website code or our chosen Drupal content management system and ensuring all information on the website is presented clearly for all readers.

We take the accessibility of our website very seriously and so to achieve our aspiration of high level accessibility. In 2016, our in-house digital services team first partnered with Drupal developers at Microserve. Microseve developers performed a full audit of the work to date and highlighted key areas needing further improvement.

Given the very nature of digital development, a holistic approach to web accessibility was adopted, allowing us to fully resolve the issues that surfaced throughout the project. Working with the agency, we were able to make the necessary changes to the site’s technical architecture within our Drupal system whilst migrating it to a reliable managed hosting environment.

A website for the future

The development team ensured all work was completed in line with Government Digital Service Standards guidelines, and that it met the expected high standards of accessibility, whilst remaining consistent with Drupal best-practice and coding standards.

Today, what we now have is a modern, contemporary website which is mobile-responsive, follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 level AA and complies with the accessibility standards coming into force under the EU Web Accessibility Directive. The public website is also Web Access Initiative level AA compliant and has also been positively received by the residents of Bracknell Forest. Now, our users are able to complete key user journeys on the site 50-60% faster when benchmarked against the previous site.

Our site has also received a number of independent accolades, which include a 4-star rating when reviewed by Socitm. It has also earned a coveted Shaw Trust Accreditation for accessibility - for which the website is reviewed monthly to ensure standards are maintained.

This project quickly became an essential part of our overall digital transformation strategy and improving access to the public website. Working with Microserve, we continue to deliver an inclusive and usable local government site which improves the lives of people living, working and visiting the borough. What’s more, these achievements take us one step closer to our goal of becoming the highest-performing local government site in the UK.

Colin Stenning is digital services manager at Bracknell Forest Council

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