Are blind people allowed to donate to your charity?

Sounds like a daft question, doesn’t it? The plain fact is, though, that most of the top charities in the UK we checked, have donation forms that people using screenreaders just can’t complete. Others make it impossible for people who can’t use a mouse.

Sometimes it’s down to the payment system, which may be outsourced, sometimes to the site’s own forms, sometimes both.

88% of charities with inaccessible donation forms

Last year, just ahead of Christmas, we did extensive research into over 30 of UK’s best known charities and found one, yes just one, that was fully accessible. Others were nearly accessible and could probably be completed by intermediate or expert screenreader users. The rest, 88% had serious accessibility issues.

We intended then to launch a campaign to help improve this situation, but got busy and ran out of time. We did email the charities with the worst forms to alert them to the problem, but got no response.

This year, we checked the same sites again, the situation has improved, but not by much. There are still almost 75% of donation forms that seriously challenge disabled people, only 12% of the forms this year are fully accessible.

That translates to a lot of people who can’t get through with there donations. Not a great state to be in, with Giving Tuesday coming up, followed by Christmas of course.

What to do

If you already have an arrangement with accessibility specialists, get them to check your website, or take advantage of our free offer. If you don’t have a relationship with any accessibility folk, just Google for one you like the sound of, or ditto about our offer. There’s still time to get the problems analysed and fixed before the two big donation events.

What’s the offer?

We’ll check the main donation form on your site, free of charge. We’ll then send you a report, itemising any accessibility issues found, again free of charge.

What’s the catch? Well, there really isn’t one, we’d like you to return the favour, by allowing us to mention on our website that we’ve assisted you. But that’s not a condition, in fact we won’t even ask until we send your report. We’d also like to help you improve the accessibility of the rest of your site, but again, it’s up to you.

Of course, there are limits to the offer, there isn’t time to do this for every charity in the UK, so it must be first come, first served. The offer closes 30 November. The deadline is just practical, it’s unlikely that a later report would give your web team enough time to consider and put our recommendations in place before Christmas.

To take up the offer, or ask any questions, please email: Please put “Charity offer” as the subject, so we don’t miss it.

How big is the problem?

Heard the one about the piece of string?

RNIB says there are 2 million people in the UK with sight loss. Not all of these will use screenreaders, but many thousands do, and many more thousands use screen magnifiers.

People with Dyslexia or learning disabilities are said to make up a huge percentage of the population, some stats put it as high as 20%. Some of these people will need to have text read to them through a screenreader. Reading would just take too long otherwise.

People who can’t use a mouse could make up an even higher proportion of UK citizens. Just consider the variables:

  • Everyone who has a broken primary hand or arm;
  • A lot of people with RSI;
  • Older people suffering from tremours;
  • Other older people, and those not so old with rheumatism or arthritis;
  • People with Parkinson’s Disease;
  • Those with serious upper limb disabilities, such as paralysis.

Many of the above conditions are painful or distressing. Any unnecessary keystrokes in the journey to make the donation are discouraging.

Talking of discouragement, I’ve been asked, “Why do disabled people give up as soon as it gets difficult?” Gob-smacked emoticon! If that’s a question you’ve asked, try this one on for size. Why should they, when your organisation would benefit, not them? It’s a bit like asking for a loan, then tripping up the lender before they reach you.

Wishing you a prosperous giving season.

Finding the main content when you can’t see

If you can see, you can find the main content of any web page, immediately and easily, just by casting your eyes down the page. It might be text or background colour; text size or whitespace. There’s always a visual clue to let you know where to start reading.

But what if you’re sitting in front of a black screen? What happens if you are a screenreader user who can’t see the page at all? Forcing a screenreader user to sequentially read or tab through all that header content, listening to endless navigation links, it’s just not nice. You are, to say the least, going to be a bit miffed! Continue reading Finding the main content when you can’t see

Screenreaders and how they work (part 2)

How do users navigate and interact with web pages?

To help understand the reasons behind technical accessibility requirements, its worthwhile describing just a few of the strategies available to a screen reader user for navigating and interacting with web pages.


Users can jump forwards or backwards, from one focusable control to the next using the TAB and Shift-TAB keys. Hyperlinks and form controls are always in the tab order, but for controls built from other HTML elements (e.g. <span>s and <div>s), these must be added to the tab order manually using tabindex.

Arrow keys, enter and space:

Arrow keys are used to interact with controls (e.g., a select dropdown or set of radio buttons); enter and space often activate buttons, links and other focusable controls.


<caption>s and row and column headings (<th>s): Using a command key, users can jump directly from table to table in a webpage, and then navigate the rows and columns using arrow keys. If the table has a <caption>,it is announced when it receives screen reader focus; if the table has properly marked up row and column headers , they are announced while users navigate up and down rows and across columns.


Users can navigate a hierarchical heading structure. For instance, users can move directly to the <h1> (which should head up the main content) when the page loads, or by jumping from one subsection to the next if they are headed by <h2>s. They can also access a list of headings, ordered in order of appearance, hierarchy or alphabetically, through which they can browse and move focus to any one directly.

ARIA landmark roles:

If ARIA landmark role attributes are used to mark headers, navigation, search widgets, main content and footers, users can jump from one block to the next.


Users can jump from hyperlink to hyperlink, or bring up a list of hyperlinks, order them in a number of ways, and then move to or follow one of them.

<label>s and <fieldset>s

Likewise for form controls – users can jump sequentially through form controls, or bring up a list of labels, then order them in different ways, browse through them, choose one, and jump straight to that control. If a form control has an associated <legend> this is announced as context for each of the labels a <fieldset> contains.


Jump to the beginning or end of lists with one command (<ul>, <ol>, and <dl>) or move to each list item in turn.

The implications? Use semantic markup

Reading through the short list of strategies above, it should be apparent that effective understanding content in, and navigation of, webpages relies heavily on semantic markup and structured content (headings, lists, labels, fieldsets, etc.). This is why it is important to always use appropriate semantic elements, and is a requirement of WCAG 2.

Remember, while semantically neutral markup may be styled using CSS to visually convey structure, this structure cannot be detected by screen readers – so this structural and semantic information is lost to their users. For example, all the following can be styled with CSS to visually convey structure and meaning, but screen reader users will miss out on this contextual and structural information.

  • Using <div>s for <fieldset>s,
  • <b>old or <strong> for headings or labels
  • <span>s with onclick events standing in for hyperlinks
  • a series of <span>s for a list

Further more, if semantic markup is used inappropriately, it can lead to screen reader users missing or misunderstanding page content, or perhaps skipping over what they assume is content they are not interested in. For example,
Using headings to embolden text instead of <strong>

  • Form controls with no <label>s
  • <label>s with no form controls
  • non hierarchical use of headings
  • buttons where a hyperlink would be more appropriate (e.g. for navigation links)

Taking all of the above into account, screen readers, like browsers, work most robustly and consistently when web pages are well crafted with semantic code.

Remember: One of the main foundations of accessibility is using semantic markup.

Screenreaders and how they work (part 1)

While WCAG has been formulated without reference to specific assistive technologies, one of the most widely used are screen readers.

Screen readers are applications which allow people – usually people who are blind or partially sighted, but also others such as people with dyslexia – to use computers, including operating systems, word processors, integrated development environments, music players – and of course browsers.
Screen readers,

    Communicate all content by voice, and/or by braille display.

  • Enable users to navigate a site, and explore a webpage’s content and current states without needing to use a pointing device or view a screen.
  • Alert users to changes in state and content of web pages.
  • Enable users to read and interact with a web page’s links, forms, widgets and other focusable controls using only a keyboard.

Who uses them?

Screen readers are used by,

  • Blind people, and partially sighted people without enough useful sight to see and operate a webpage.
  • As an aid for partially sighted people who have some useful vision, but who might find it inconvenient or exhausting to rely only on sight alone.
  • People with sensitive eyes who find looking at a screen for prolonged periods painful.
  • Dyslexic people who might have good vision, but have difficulty in reading text.

How do they work?

We’ll concentrate on using screen readers and browsers, although of course they are used to interact with most software using similar methods.

A screen reader application acts as an intermediate layer between the browser and user. Hooking into the accessibility API of a browser, they build their own Accessible DOM from the browser’s DOM of the webpage. When someone operates a screen reader, they are interrogating and navigating this Accessible DOM, rather than navigating the browser’s DOM directly. The screen reader manages its own virtual cursor which is independent of the one seen in a browser – be aware that the virtual cursor position may not match the browser’s cursor visible onscreen! Of course, for the screen reader user it appears they are directly interacting with the webpage.

Navigation and interaction is entirely keyboard based, using tab and shift-tab, arrow keys, and other special command keys. There is no reliance whatsoever on pointing devices, and neither is it necessary to see the screen, or even have one plugged in.

When users interact with the Accessible DOM – for example, click links, uses widgets such as drop down menus – the screen reader forwards on those commands to the browser. They also allow users to fill in forms, often using some form of ‘forms mode’, which, for instance, treats characters as input for text boxes rather than commands to move around a page.
If the content of a webpage (i.e., the browser’s DOM) updates or changes, whether caused by the user or not, the browser’s accessibility API triggers change events. The screen reader can detect these, and it updates its own Accessible DOM accordingly.

Sighted users will probably be able to see the changes, but screen readers will not know the changes have happened, unless they happen to navigate to them later on. Sometimes this is fine, but if it is important for screen reader users to be aware of the changes (e.g., an error message), the webpage can be marked up with ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) live regions. Then when content changes inside these regions, screen readers alert users of those changes as they happen, with varying degrees of specified urgency.

Its important to understand that users, mediated by the screen reader, access the DOM of the webpages directly, and pay no attention to the visual representation of the webpage the browser builds using CSS.

The next post will describe how screenreader users interact with web pages…

The Socitm effect


In our accessibility analysis of some local authority websites that are failing their site visitors, we at AccessEquals detected a hidden trend. While we were very surprised at the low level of web accessibility of the 65 one star council websites we were able to review, they are by no means the worst. Our analysis shows that the worst performing and most inaccessible council web sites are usually those run by local authorities that don’t subscribe to the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm).

To put it in context, local authority websites undergo an annual survey by Socitm, who organises this massive research project and compiles the “Better Connected” report of survey findings.

For Better Connected 2015, 407 Council websites were ranked using a star rating system. Three and four star sites are counted as performing satisfactorily; one and two star ranked sites are either inaccessible or fail to provide the type of service that council tax payers have a right to expect.

Socitm is a subscription service that provides councils and other public bodies with information, consultancy, and access to best practice and guidance to help them offer a quality online service to their council tax payers. That’s fair, as grandma says, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

However, some local authorities don’t seem to think that they need this kind of support and advice. Socitm-subscribing councils make up around 75% of the 407 surveyed for the report. 112 UK local authorities aren’t subscribed to it.

We weren’t able to do an independent check of the unsubscribed councils’ website accessibility as they aren’t named. However, we could, and did, compare the results of subscribed and unsubscribed councils.

Comparing the ranking

The Better Connected star ranking is a measure of overall performance, including accessibility, usability and service provision. The stats for the councils awarded 3 or 4 star ranking, (performing satisfactorily) show:

  • 54% (158) of the subscribed councils give satisfactory online service to their residents.
  • Only 23% (26) of the unsubscribed councils perform satisfactorily.

So the people living in the areas covered by the unsubscribed councils, which includes nine London Boroughs and no fewer than 62 Shire Districts, have a 77% chance that their council’s online performance is well below what it should be.

Comparing performable tasks

The star ranking is computed from a number of different factors, including a check for the type of task that you might reasonably expect to be able to do online at your local authority’s website, such as report a missed bin collection. The Better Connected assessors have a list of these tasks and report on how many of them they could successfully complete.

  • 74% of tasks attempted on subscribed sites were successful.
  • 53% of tasks attempted on unsubscribed sites were successful.

Computerised handling of enquiries is both more cost-effective and more efficient than manual methods. So you’d think that budget conscious councils would be as keen as mustard to get as many of these tasks online as possible. But almost half of those who don’t subscribe to Socitm are also unprepared to give council tax payers access to economic means of communicating with them.

Impartial assessment

There are two factors that convince us that the assessment contains no bias against unsubscribed councils, the first we know from several years experience as assessors and the second is published on the Socitm website:

  • The Better Connected survey assessors have no idea of the subscription status of any of the councils under assessment.
  • All councils have at least two months after the end of assessment to either subscribe or unsubscribe from Socitm.


Our analysis suggests that there is a significant ‘Socitm Effect’. The correlation between Socitm subscription and website accessibility and usability is evident and we believe, linked to the quality of the advice and guidance available to subscribers. It’s not possible to establish beyond doubt that subscription is the only or primary factor. But what is obvious is that councils that don’t invest in a subscription seem equally reluctant to invest in web accessibility and the provision of the most cost-effective services and best online experience for their constituents.

Disabled people excluded by inaccessible council websites

Most of us will moan about our local council at some time in our lives: missed bin collections or streets full of litter are just two of the things likely to irritate us. We feel cheated out of a service we’re paying for. Now imagine how much more frustrating it is for disabled or older people, many of whom can’t use their council’s website, not even to find out how to complain about being unable to use the website.

Under the Equality Act Local Authorities in the UK are legally obliged to ensure that their websites are accessible to everybody.

How are council websites monitored?

They all undergo an annual survey by the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm), who report on the results each Spring in a report called “Better Connected”. It ranks council websites using a star rating system, where three and four-star sites are performing satisfactorily, while one and two star ranked sites miss the mark. Some of them miss it by miles.
The 2014-2015 Better Connected report highlights some distressing results for people with accessibility needs:

  • 43% of council websites earned a three star or four star rating.
  • 57% were found wanting and only got one or two star rating.

Better Connected surveys check for more than just accessibility – they also cover service provision and usability on each website. So the 57% below-par council sites are likely to be frustrating or confusing for everyone.

Then why am I talking in terms of service denial for people with disabilities? Well, it started as curiosity. Until three years ago I was involved for a long period in the accessibility testing component of Better Connected. Local authority website accessibility was pretty dire back then. Perhaps it had changed?

So the AccessEquals team spent a few fruitful hours focusing on the accessibility of identifiable council websites that earned only one star. We were shocked. Not only are all the sites we checked failing to meet the accessibility standard required by UK government, but some were so bad that disabled or older people would find it impossible to move beyond the home page.

Access denied

People who can’t use a mouse

The most seriously affected people are those with dexterity problems: older people with hand tremors; teenagers with sports injuries; computer nerds with repetitive strain injuries or those with disabilities that prevent them using a mouse. Usually these users will navigate a site [One way to cope with this is to move ] by moving sequentially through links and form controls using the keyboard tab key. This is called keyboard navigation.

In the 65 one star sites we found:

  • 21 sites with important content that simply couldn’t be reached or activated by keyboard navigation
  • 24 sites with links that had either poor or no focus indication at all. So keyboard users would not be able to see which links they have tabbed to and therefore will be unsure which link they are activating
  • 3 sites with no way for keyboard users to reach the main content without having to tab through dozens of links. In contrast, mouse users can reach all content quickly.
  • 3 sites with JavaScript functionality that caused loss of focus. Imagine, you’ve pressed the tab key 32 times and there’s only three more to go before you get to the link you want … bam, you’re suddenly back to the page top. Excruciating!

Of the 65 one-star sites viewed, 43, a shocking 66.2%, were found to be unusable for anyone who has to use a mouse.

People using screenreaders

People who are blind or have serious sight loss use screenreader software to convert text to speech or Braille so that they can read and interact with websites.

So, council websites can expect visits from people like property solicitors who need to find out about permitted development, students who want to know how to vote, or householders who want to report missed bins. All may be blind screen reader users, and as they can’t use a mouse they are also keyboard only users.

In the 65 one star sites examined we found:

  • 21 sites with important content that couldn’t be reached or activated by screenreader users.
  • 3 sites with no way for screenreader users to reach the main content without having to tab through dozens of links. In contrast, mouse users can reach all content quickly.
  • 3 sites with JavaScript functionality that caused loss of focus. Imagine, you’ve pressed the tab key 32 times and there’s only three more to go before you get to the link you want … bam, you’re suddenly back to the page top. Excruciating!
  • 2 sites using visual cues like colour as the only indication that fields are required or errors have occurred in forms.
  • 4 sites using a CAPTCHA challenge (a distorted image of text) in forms, but don’t have an audio alternative for non-sighted users.
  • 5 sites in the Welsh language have English text that is not identified as such so that screenreaders will not pronounce the content properly. Sometimes entire pages in Welsh are read as English.

In total 38 sites, or 58% of the 65 one star sites have accessibility errors so insurmountable that even expert screenreader users would be unable to work their way through them.

People with attention difficulties

People who have difficulty concentrating will find it impossible if a web page contains moving or blinking content that distracts them and can’t be stopped. Most affected are those with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, but it may also impact others.

Also, where the moving content contains text, the lack of a pause mechanism makes it difficult or impossible for people who can’t read quickly to understand what the message was.

In the 65 one star sites we examined:
30 (46%) with carousels or other constantly moving content with no means of pausing or stopping the animation.

Access disrupted

Apart from the complete barriers, I should also mention that of these 65 websites:

  • 29 (44.6%) didn’t use heading structure correctly. Several had home pages with no headings at all, while others used heading markup as a means of styling.
  • 23 (35.4%) have a number of instances of images with inappropriate or missing alternative text.
  • 26 (40%) have form errors ranging from identical ID attribute values used on multiple input elements or unlabelled form fields and buttons, right down to labels not being coded properly resulting in required field indicators not being detectable by screenreaders.
  • 47 (72.3%) use text and background colours that don’t meet the minimum required contrast ratio.

All in all the one star rating was a fair cop. What I find so surprising is that so many of the websites are clearly new, modern designs, and look very professional. I just hope that accessibility was clearly marked as an essential component in any requirements specification, so that the victim councils can try to reclaim some of the wasted revenue.

The highlights of Better Connected 2015 results are available after registration at
the Socitm website

Let’s get UK elections online

Would you trust someone you don’t know to cast your vote in an election? Without online voting, that’s exactly what many blind people have to do, and it’s not acceptable.

Picture these two scenes, which happened in the UK on 7 May 2015:


A blind man (let’s call him John) is struggling to find the door of the polling station where he’s going to cast his election and council votes, so a member of the public kindly guides him in there.

The polling station officials ignore John and begin asking the man who guided him in what John’s name and address are. When John finally gets their attention, he explains the situation and the guide leaves.

Then John is given his two ballot papers and shown to a booth. When he asks for the plastic templates that fit over the ballot papers to show him where to put his X, the official asks a colleague, scrabbles around and comes up with a single template. John expresses concern that the ballots are different lengths and the template won’t fit both papers, and the official discovers that it’s an old template that doesn’t fit either paper.

So John is forced to rely on the integrity of the official to mark both papers on his behalf, denying him the right to a secret vote, and leaving him feeling less than confident that his votes went to the intended recipients.


Ann is aged 75 and suffers from debilitating arthritis. She’s very politically opinionated, and wants her voice to be heard in every election.

Ann’s daughter has promised to drive her to their local polling station, but is ill on election day and is unable to make it.

Ann needs to be accompanied when she’s out and about, and so is unable to go there by taxi. So she can’t cast her vote for the first time in over 50 years. She told us that she wishes she’d placed a postal vote, but 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

How would online voting help?

If John and Ann were able to cast their votes online,  John could cast his vote securely on a website with the help of his screen reading software but no input from anyone else, ensuring that his vote was cast correctly and secretly. Ann would be able to vote securely on her tablet, without the extra discomfort that leaving home involves for her.

Help us campaign for change

We’re asking David Cameron to set the wheels in motion to have online voting ready for the 2020 UK general election. Please sign and share our online voting petition on

Every signature gets us closer to allowing disabled people to vote with confidence and in secrecy like everyone else. Thank you.

Resistance to accessibility

I was reading Anne Gibson’s excellent article on A List Apart (opens in new window) , Reframing Accessibility for the Web (opens in new window), and it got me thinking about resistance I’ve encountered to accessibility. It often feels as though the lot of the accessibility evaluator is to be continually telling developers, designers and management – no: no, that doesn’t work; no you can’t do it that way; no, you can’t use that really cool bit of functionality; no, that carefully coordinated colour scheme has to go.

This naturally leads to resistance, a reluctance to change, and even sometimes resentment – I can see it on their faces! And in truth, I felt similar emotions when I first encountered accessibility. All my beautiful code maligned! And now I have to learn a new way of thinking and doing things? Everything has been just fine until now!

Then followed frustration – I tried hard, but more often than not got it wrong. It was difficult to know what was accessible, and what was not – everything I did felt tentative. I lost confidence – there didn’t seem to be any hard and fast rules to follow. A solution that worked in one situation didn’t help in another. This seemed more akin to black magic than logical deduction. Feeling like I was always ‘wrong’ was very frustrating.

And so from these feelings, objections arise.

Continue reading Resistance to accessibility