As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, it has never been more important to ensure that all users can access online services and understand digital content. This is especially true for people with disabilities, neurodifferences and people with low literacy.
Recent research has shown that 98% of websites fail to meet accessibility standards. This means that they may not be accessible to 14 million people in the UK with a disability. It has also been reported that a in four people people over the age of 50 experienced problems accessing online products and services during lockdown.
Recognizing the challenges and importance of digital inclusion for all, Hull University Hospitals (HUTH) are improving digital accessibility for the patients they serve.
HUTH is an NHS Trust serving patients in Hull and East Yorkshire. They work from two main hospital sites: Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital. They have approximately 11,000 employees and serve approximately one million patients each year.
Over the past year, the HUTH team has worked hard to improve accessibility for its online visitors. Bonnie Gray, Head of Digital Communications, said:
“We are embarking on a big digital accessibility journey here at HUTH and that is my main goal/priority for 2021/2022. We are a small team here in communications, but we are determined to make a big impact.
Technical accessibility and WCAG
The first thing HUTH wanted to improve was the technical accessibility of the Trust’s website. This is not only the right thing to do but it is also a legal requirement as set out in the UK – Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018. All public sector body websites are required to respect the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at level AA.
Bonnie explained the gigantic nature of the task she faced and explained:
“Ten years ago we had a large hospital intranet and a public website. There were a lot of accessibility issues and a lot of inaccessible documents. People didn’t know about accessibility.
“Things are different now. We understand how important it is for all of our users to be able to access and understand our website. As a result, there is a growing investment in the adoption of tools or platforms to improve accessibility.
HUTH uses Texthelp’s digital accessibility and readability tool ReachDeck to help them find problems and make changes.
ReachDeck has three main features – listener, editor and toolbar. The auditor is a WCAG accessibility compliance checker. WCAG being the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – known as the International Standards for Web Accessibility. The Editor is an editing tool that supports creating easy-to-understand content for everyone and the Toolbar is an accessibility toolbar that provides online user assistance features.
The ReachDeck auditor helps HUTH easily find accessibility errors on its website. They simply run an on-demand scan and receive WCAG errors at levels A, AA, and AAA, along with readability issues and broken links. Downloadable reports help them prioritize fixes.
Speaking of the ReachDeck listener, Bonnie said:
“I really like the Auditor tool. We work to maintain AA compliance but, being the competitive person that I am, I really want to achieve AAA compliance.
Readability and accessible content
It’s not just about technical accessibility. It is equally important to HUTH that people can understand the content and information they provide to patients.
Research suggests that many people struggle to understand information on websites. In a recent survey of 2,000 people over the age of 50, 25% had difficulty online during lockdown. Of those who encountered an accessibility barrier, nearly a third (31%) struggled to know what to do or what to click and 22% wanted easier-to-understand words and instructions.
It is well known that the average reading age in the UK is between 9 and 11 years old and around 10% of the population suffers from dyslexia. However, medical information is often of high reading age or uses a lot of technical or medical jargon. It’s hard to understand.
ReachDeck’s editor makes it easy to simplify content. As employees type, the tool highlights jargon words and long sentences, gives an overall reading age of content, and recommends changes. The Hull team has worked to improve the reading age of its website and all public materials. They aim to make everything they post easy for patients to understand.
“The Editor tool is something we find very useful. We really want to promote it to our colleagues and have our whole team using it. We encourage everyone to think about how they create web content and documents. »
Support all website users
Assistive technology helps people with disabilities navigate the Internet independently. But only a in 10 people in need have access to the tools they need due to high costs. Thus, HUTH now offers text-to-speech, reading and translation support for all website users.
Hundreds of people use the features every month. They translate content into their native language, convert text to MP3 files for easy listening, and simplify web pages to eliminate distractions.
Bonnie says, “The Toolbar element of the software is fantastic. Statistics are high from patients using features and accessing support. »
Accessibility, friendliness and inclusion. The key is in the combination.
Truly inclusive websites are those that can be viewed, understood and used by everyone.
HUTH understands the importance of addressing accessibility barriers that may exist in technical coding, content, and design. Through the use of technology, they are able to find accessibility and readability issues on a large scale. By complying with WCAG, they are following the guidelines that exist to help us make good choices when it comes to digital accessibility.
They allow all departments to do their part by sharing tools that help keep inclusive communications at the forefront. Ultimately, their commitments help create a welcoming digital world for all.
As HUTH continues his journey, we wish him well as he continues to set his goals higher and higher.