Artswork is a national youth arts development agency, committed to transforming the lives of children and young people through arts and cultural practice. As well as running our own programmes of professional development, apprenticeships and work-based learning, we are Arts Council England’s South East Bridge Organisation – one of 10 Sector Support Organisations working nationally to connect the cultural and education sectors so that children and young people can have access to great arts and cultural opportunities.
Through our various roles we connect with a wide range of audiences, including arts and cultural organisations, schools, local authorities and young people, who have a range of needs. As our website serves many different functions, we need it to be clear and easy to access no matter the needs of the user.
Atelier is a website and digital marketing agency, based in Southampton, and we have worked with Artswork for a number of years on their websites (www.artswork.org.uk and www.connectingwithculture.com) and marketing.
We work with a significant number of not-for-profit organisations, particularly organisations in the arts and cultural sector. Although accessibility is relevant for all websites, those in the not-for-profit and public sector tend to be giving it more consideration. We find this is because they are generally more aware of the specific needs of their audiences, or they recognise that the nature of their organisation attracts a higher proportion of people with accessibility needs.
Artswork - main aims
As an organisation, Artswork has a clear Equal Opportunities Action Plan, and ensuring our websites meet a high standard of accessibility is an important part of this.
Our main website was relaunched in November 2017, and consideration had been given to incorporating accessibility techniques during this process.
In early 2019 we met with Atelier to discuss further updates to the website, and decided to undertake a full audit of the site’s accessibility features so we could have a clear picture of how we were currently performing.
Rather than simply asking Atelier to make accessibility updates, it was really important to the team that this process built on our own internal understanding – we saw this as the start of a process, and wanted to have a clear and understandable roadmap for where we were heading.
We decided to benchmark our site against WCAG 2 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag). These guidelines are internationally used and recognised – for example, gov.uk requires that all public sector bodies in the UK use them – and seemed a good fit.
Atelier take us through the process
Atelier began the process by completing an initial audit of the website against the varying success criteria from the WCAG 2.
The criteria are based on three levels, A, AA, AAA.
Each level contains different accessibility adjustments, which are categorised based on the overall impact they have on the design and presentation of the website pages. The higher the level, the more universally accessible the site will be – although this can also mean the design of pages may be restricted or compromised.
Atelier audited the site via a checklist, breaking down each of the accessibility requirements by level and cross-referencing these against the site. This highlighted which criteria were being met, and which would require changes. Where changes were needed, we gave our recommendations as to how they could be achieved.
This audit process took a couple of days to work through, with some specialist tools required to test and audit aspects – such as alt tags and colour contracts.
Once the audit was complete, workshops were scheduled with Artswork to go through the list, talk about the impact of making certain changes, and suggest how these could be carried out.
Following this, Artswork selected a number of improvements to implement initially, with a commitment to continue building upon this over time.
We managed to make some quick wins by:
- adding aspects such as a breadcrumb menu to improve site navigation
- adding underlines onto hyperlinks so they could be identified without colour
- making sure all images on the site had alt text as standard
Coping with compromise
At the highest level some of the WCAG guidelines can be restrictive, and we faced some key challenges adjusting elements of the website to meet accessibility criteria without compromising on the overall design.
For example, we needed to achieve clear contrasts between the foreground and background without deviating too far from Artswork’s brand colours. These colours had to be amended slightly to pass the colour contrast tests, and a new colour was introduced to improve the visibility of focus states.
Artwork - next steps
We still have a number of steps to take to be fully AA compliant, but thanks to the audit process we are clear as to where we need to be and what we can do to get there.
Making videos accessible
The next step for us in terms of full compliance of Artswork.org.uk is a review of our video content – although all of our videos have subtitles, the WCAG highlight the additional need for transcripts/audio-description describing what is happening in a video.
We plan to undertake some research into best practice when it comes to this, and will ensure the need for both subtitles and action-description is clear in the brief for all video content produced in the future.
Connecting with culture website
Away from Artswork.org.uk, we will also be working with Atelier to carry out a full audit of our directory site – www.connectingwithculture.com– a simple search engine built as part of our Bridge role, enabling schools and youth organisations to quickly and easily find arts and cultural organisations near to them.
- Be methodical. Rather than focusing on one level of the WCAG we decided to benchmark our website against all criteria. This means we now have a clear road map to follow as we continue to make improvements.
- Find a partner. Partner with somebody who has access to accessibility software. Some of the audit steps would have taken weeks if they had needed to be done manually.
- Don’t get too hung up on trying to achieve everything. AAA can be a massive compromise on your website’s design and is only appropriate for a handful of websites. AA is a reasonable standard.
- Involve the whole organisation. Although the audit and updates have primarily been managed by Artswork’s Communications team, we have been sure to involve the whole staff team where we can, making them aware of all updates and providing them with some ideas for how to make their own work more accessible.