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Following much Twittering about the new British Monarchy website (www.royal.gov.uk), with various people pointing out some of its shortcomings, I thought I’d take the opportunity to give it a good going-over from an accessibility point of view, and post my findings here. The following list of issues is far from exhaustive, and in no particular order, but will hopefully highlight some of the major problems. If anyone involved in the site sees this, I’d be happy to give more info and fixes to the problems raised.

Of course I could do this with a thousand different sites, and there are far worse examples out there, but this one is particularly high profile so I thought it worthy of the extra attention….

Accessibility issues

Tested with Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP.

  • Many of the links have no visible hover or focus state. This makes it especially difficult for users to see where they are in a page when tabbing through the links.
  • The Accessibility link is the last link on the page. Normally it would be one of the first, to be easily accessed by those who might actually need help from the page.
  • Pages are missing Heading levels 1 and 2, going straight into level 3. Many Screen Reader users heavily use the Heading structure of a page to navigate – without a logical and correcty ordered hierarchy of Headings, this becomes much harder. Also, the main content of the pages is often not structured by Headings (good example on the About page, where the sections headings are formatted with <strong> instead of labelling them as actual Headings).
  • No evidence of Skip Links, which means you’ve got a fair bit of tabbing or listening to do to get to the main content.
  • Some of the image alternative descriptions are poor. One example had the description “HM-the-Queen-UK-image 10”, whilst others are missing completely. Surprisingly, though, some images have too much description (example: “A housekeeper cleans an item from the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace”).
  • With images turned off, you can’t see any of the main navigation.
  • With text size set to Largest on Internet Explorer, the text is still too small to be comfortably readable by some.
  • The site’s main logo, which says “The official website of the British Monarchy” is a background image and therefore has no alternative description. Also, on the homepage, the welcome message “Welcome to the official website of the British Monarchy” is missing a description. This means for those who cannot see or hear those images, the page can only be identified by the page title.
  • There is use of non-descriptive link text, such as ‘Find out more’, with no additional information given via a title attribute. This means anyone tabbing through the links, out of context, will not know what this link refers to.
  • The expandable Site Map does not expand in Firefox, but just takes you to the top page. In Internet Explorer the menu collapses, but you are then automatically taken to the main section page anyway.
  • Choosing a Realm from the drop down menu does nothing in Firefox. Nor does the “What is a Realm” link.
  • CSS and XHTML don’t validate to formal grammars.
  • Default language of the site is not specified via the HTML tag. This would be especially useful as there are Welsh and Gaelic versions as well (neither of which specify their language either).
  • When you select either Cymraeg (Welsh) of Gaidhlig (Gaelic), there is no obvious way of getting back to the English version. Surprisingly, large sections of the site are only available in English.

The site’s accessibility statement claims:

This website conforms to the UK government guidelines for websites. It also follows the Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, meeting level AA checkpoints.

I don’t even think it meets all the single-A checkpoints, let alone double-A, which means it could technically be at risk of losing its gov.uk domain (according to the Central Office of Information’s policy on Delivering Inclusive Websites).

I look forward to seeing improvements to the site in the near future.

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One Response to The Queen’s new website – royally inaccessible

  1. Heather says:

    I was equally incredulous at the site, particularly when I did a quick TAW check on its “Accessibility” page.

    I was not aware of the COI’s policy, particularly the December 2009 deadline. I recently went on a crusade of sorts about MSPs’ individual constituency sites, which by and large are of appalling quality, professionality, and usability, never mind accessibility. You might be interested to read it and to see the Scottish Parliament’s rationale as to why a publicly funded site which exists to promote goverment work is still not a government web site.

    http://idea15.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/why-you-dont-let-your-kid-make-your-web-site/

    Having read the COI page I am wondering whether the December 2009 rule will apply to the devolved administrations and their offices?

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