We spoke with Mark Hook, Website Manager at Christ Church, Oxford, about his experience with accessibility and how Silktide helps with his workload.
Can you tell us more about your role and responsibilities at Christ Church?
As Website Manager, my role is in the maintenance and development of the Christ Church website. I think of myself as both a content manager and as a user experience manager.
Christ Church is a joint foundation of the College and Oxford Cathedral, and has a Picture Gallery – two things which make it unique amongst Oxford colleges – and the website attracts a very wide and varied audience.
All the development is done by an outside company, Global Initiative. The site was built on Drupal, and there are around 30 content contributors across Christ Church. Most of these people are adding content and contributing to the site in addition to their ‘normal’ day jobs.
My day-to-day tasks are general maintenance, dealing with navigation and structure. I also train all of our editors and write all the documentation.
I didn’t come to the job with much in-depth knowledge of accessibility, but, since doing it myself regularly, I’ve learned a significant amount about it.
We had focus at the beginning on pushing our accessibility score up, we wanted to get to a place where we could demonstrate where we were compliant, but also show how we were still working on improving accessibility around a few outstanding issues.
Can you talk us through your experience and views on web accessibility?
I am completely supportive of accessibility. I’ve been working on websites for 21 years and one of the first experiences I had was to sit with a blind user at the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), who showed me how he used a screen reader. If I wasn’t aware of accessibility challenges before that I certainly was afterward.
I’ve become more aware of the range of accessibility challenges there are, not just visual impairments. The more you involve yourself, the more aware you become of how important these issues can be.
Christ Church has been receptive to the necessary work on accessibility and there’s never been any hesitation in supporting initiatives. It’s just been about making the changes that we weren’t aware of. The legislation has helped us focus our efforts a lot more. WCAG has opened up our understanding and shown us that accessibility issues are more far-reaching than we had previously anticipated.
Who is using Silktide?
I am the only user. The content contributors make create and edit their own content, and I monitor the content via Silktide’s regular reports.
We’re also using the content module, which has been hugely useful because we didn’t have any automated spelling or broken link checking.
Rather than waiting and dealing with accumulated issues every few months, I now know straight away when issues come up.
The content module is a brilliant tool and although it wasn’t our focus for purchasing Silktide, it’s been really helpful.
What challenges were you facing that prompted you to choose an automated platform to help you monitor your website?
At Christ Church, the process was entirely manual. Collectively the colleges have a communication officers group, and we meet regularly to discuss the issues that are common across all the University sites.
It was at one of these meetings that the subject of the new accessibility legislation was brought up. I found Silktide through a webinar that Oliver had given, talking about the upcoming accessibility legislation back in 2019 for IWMW. This was a great introduction and helped me initially start researching our accessibility requirements.
We took a group demo with Chris and a number of other Oxford colleges, and it was obvious to me that Silktide was a comprehensive solution. The demos helped people to understand just how software can help with managing accessibility for a website.
Nobody in Christ Church had any qualms about starting the accessibility project. It was good, though, to be able to show that we are getting value for money from Silktide.
It also helps to take all the pressure off which is a huge thing for essentially a one-person team. I know that Silktide keeps an eye on a range of things constantly so it’s one less thing for me to worry about.
What were the most important criteria in choosing Silktide?
Clarity of the interface. The report came back in such a way that the issues were really clearly identified and explained.
I liked the fact that the issues were ranked. I could deal with all the WCAG Level A criteria first, those which are deemed most important in WCAG. I could see them immediately and prioritize them.
It also appealed that I could filter certain issues out for our developers. In practice I spoke to them about almost everything. I also liked the mobile testing. I liked the flexibility in assigning which pages I want it to look at.
The Silktide reports are also really easy to understand, you don’t need to be a developer to decipher the interface.
You talked about usability, but do you find the individual explanations useful?
Yes, they’re essential. What I like about it is that it starts with the headline but then allows you to get into the details afterward. I think the more information of that kind that you can provide, the better Silktide will become.
I’m more confident about accessibility, so much so that staff now direct accessibility questions to me. This is thanks to Silktide, as my knowledge has increased substantially since I started using it.
How would you describe your process before Silktide?
It was a combination of manual checking and using free tools. We had a free broken link checker and a plugin for performing basic accessibility checks, and I also relied on my external developers to point issues out to us. When I first shared the Silktide reports with the agency it was because I wasn’t necessarily able to explain the issues that needed fixing to them. So it was useful for them to be able to see the pages where issues were highlighted.
I also think something I didn’t understand initially was the power of the constant monitoring of our website because I was so focused on the immediate things I needed to fix.
So in fact the monitoring of the site wasn’t a huge consideration when I was looking to purchase Silktide, but it’s become such an important part of my work.
What’s your advice to other people who might be considering using Silktide?
It has helped us to transform our website. It’s transformed my understanding of the accessibility issues I had, and also of the ongoing need to constantly monitor your website. So I would certainly say to give Silktide a go and trial it.
Was the investment in Silktide worthwhile?
Absolutely, without a doubt. To the point that I had no hesitation in asking Christ Church to renew Silktide for another year. It would be very difficult to keep on top of the range of things I’d need to check manually or to have to assemble via Chrome plugins.
In discussion with other departments, it had come up that new websites had been built to be accessible by development agencies. Even though that may be the case, as soon as any new content starts to be added it’s highly likely that it won’t remain fully accessible. So this is where a platform like Silktide really helps.
How would you describe Silktide to a friend?
It’s a one-stop solution. The fact that it’s telling you about every issue, including the ones you have to check manually, really does feel like it’s a comprehensive solution.
Clear interface and constant monitoring are the most important things to me.
If you haven’t got the time or the expertise, or you’re not confident, then Silktide is something you can easily understand, and something that’s going to keep on top of it for you. It makes a huge difference.
Why do you do business with us?
From the first webinar I watched it was so clear and so easy to understand. You didn’t even push the product that hard.
David was supportive, Chris and Lee who came to see us did a really good job of making the product look like it would solve our problems. And genuinely, it has.
It does exactly what they told us it would do, and I haven’t had any difficulties at all. We’ve been able to configure Silktide to work the way we want it to work. It’s also scalable which makes it affordable to all.
It’s helped us resolve so many issues, and as the person who holds operational responsibility for the site, I don’t have any anxiety that something has been overlooked.
So it’s easy for me to say to my colleagues ‘just try it’.