Croydon Council has failed to meet its legal obligations to make its website accessible to visually impaired residents, according to an independent survey.
Regulations passed in 2018 gave Britain’s public organisations three years to ensure that all content published after a set date was fully accessible, allowing websites and mobile apps to be used by as many people as possible, including those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing.
The deadline for websites to comply with the regulation was September 2020.
But an assessment by document processing firm Codemantra has discovered only 1per cent of Croydon Council’s website complies with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
Using internationally-recognised accessibility standards, Codemantra checked 701 documents on the Croydon Council website. It found that 697 failed to comply with the standards.
Checking 12,309 pages of the council website that were scanned, the assessment found more than 19,859 errors.
Important documents found to be non-compliant on the Croydon Council website included details on the borough’s Family Justice Centre Referral Form.
And this is all despite the council, under then chief exec Jo Negrini, spending millions of pounds on an expensive recruitment spree under a “digital director”.
Neil Williams was put in charge of the council’s new Croydon Digital Service in 2018. He inherited what was acknowledged then to be one of the least user-friendly websites among London local authorities.
To fulfil the council’s statutory obligations to those with special educational needs and disabilities – SEND – Croydon launched a Local Offer site which was also found to break the law in several respects.
And it gained national notoriety when it spent at least half a million pounds on its controversially procured, and entirely unnecessary CrapApp, for residents to report fly-tips, missed bin collections and dead animals, which was so bad it had to be scrapped in 2018.
After his arrival at the council, Williams signed a “pledge” in which, basically, he promised to do his job properly: “to transform digital services for residents, putting their needs first and radically improving their experiences of interacting with the council online”.
This was Williams and Negrini’s shared vision of “digital-first”, where as much of the council’s contact with the borough’s residents would be handled remotely, online, with forms on the council website. Vast cost savings were promised…
Despite hiring dozens of staff, many of them on six-figure consultancies, to achieve the cost-savings promised by digital-first, Williams announced he was quitting his council job at the end of last November.
According to Codemantra’s survey, Croydon Council is among dozens of London authorities that are not compliant with UK regulations and globally-recognised accessibility standards, with the error affecting hundreds of documents and forms.
This means that residents who live with visual impairments or reading disabilities are denied access to important information and services and unable to complete forms they cannot read.
“While many councils have adapted websites to comply with digital accessibility regulations, we’ve found that the documents and forms that lie within the webpages have been largely ignored,” Codemantra’s Mark McCallum told Inside Croydon.
“In some cases, councils’ accessibility statements do accept they have failed to make documents accessible – but this hardly helps the website users.
“This failure is akin to providing wheelchair access into a building, but not having an elevator once inside.
“Particularly as covid infections are rising, it is crucial that sight-disabled Londoners are able to access information and find support where they live.”
As well as councils facing potential reputational and legal risks for non-compliance, productivity losses due to excluding individuals with vision impairment or burdening them with unnecessary barriers can be enormous.
According to 2021 data published by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, there are 10,300 people in Croydon Council living with sight loss and 1,825 who are registered blind or partially sighted.
“By addressing all the content on their websites and ensuring it is available to all regardless of disability, local authorities can make their communities a better place and create wider benefits,” McCallum said.
Accessibility testing of council websites was undertaken by codemantra between November 2021 and January 2022. Codemantra uses an AI-driven platform that automates digital document accessibility compliance, and transforms documents into accessible formats.
Inside Croydon invited the council to comment on this latest abject failure, but the propaganda department in Fisher’s Folly failed to respond.
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