Kirklees Council used every accessibility tool available, from free accessibility checkers to code validators. But then they discovered Silktide.

We sat down with Graeme Murrell to talk about how Kirklees Council improved its workflow with Silktide.

Can you give us an overview of the team at Kirklees Council?

We’re a metropolitan council that covers quite a large rural and urban area of around 420,000 people.

The team which works on the website is split into two, but both are in the IT department. We have one technical team and another of UX, design, content, and navigation. I work in the latter.

We also have a number of third-party sites, like the jobs website and the forms platform. We have a number of others that support specific functions. We buy those in and brand them to make them part of the Kirklees Council offering

The website itself is all hard-coded – we don’t currently use a content management system. We have around 6 people on each side of the team.

We started with Silktide in September 2020. Our accessibility score then was around 87, and now it’s around 95.

One thing we talked about at the beginning was the work needed to improve from an already high score. Once you get the big sweeping changes out of the way it becomes that much more difficult getting to the smaller items.

Our intention has been to get into the top 30 in the Silktide Index. Our whole team is behind it.

The culture of working towards high accessibility has been embedded in our team for quite a few years now. We’ve really worked hard to make sure our website is as accessible as possible.

What we found with the legislation is that it’s given us that extra ability to be a bit more persuasive within the organization. We’re working hard to make our web pages and our web content accessible, but other departments haven’t worked as hard to make their documents accessible.

The legislation has really helped us to put the argument forward that everything that makes up the constituent parts of the website should be accessible.

For example, PDFs make up the bulk of documents on our website. There’s an ongoing conversation between myself and other teams and services across the council. I give a presentation on the legislative requirements and that helps.

The legislation has meant that various champions for accessibility can now be found across our services, who can be asked what needs to be done.

It’s also given me support from, for example, the Information Governance team, which also led on GDPR.

It’s helped the accessibility message come not just from our department but also from others.

Let’s talk about where you were before you started using Silktide.

We previously used another provider, so we already were aware of automated tools. We’ve also used most of the free tools available from time to time.

In general, though, I found them quite difficult to use.

What impressed me about your product was the use of plain English to describe what needs to be done. And also the help links that point out what you need to do.

That’s really difficult to find in a lot of products.

The other thing that helps is Silktide itself. It’s a lot more accessible to use than many other products.

Without naming any names, one of the tools gives the result of broken hyperlinks as orange text over a blue background. Which is beyond ironic when you think about it.

How were you managing your content and making sure it was accessible without a CMS?

We use version control software to manage it. That’s the simple answer to the question.

But in terms of accessibility of the pages, we’d periodically generate accessibility reports on the site.

Then we’d react to those reports.

But it wasn’t always easy to do that. In one sense because those reports were only partial, and in another, because the product of those reports was not always easy to understand.

So it was difficult to react in a positive way to the reports that we got.

The third problem was that we were using a variety of different tools and bouncing between them. That included the free Chrome accessibility plugins and W3Cs validator.

So then you’re working on a presumption that in general, valid code is accessible code. But that’s a very broad statement and not always correct.

Something I find difficult to get across to content creators is they should maximize accessibility by making the link text exactly the same as the title of the page that it links through to. This is so the person who arrives at that page has confidence that they’re in the right place.

Everything, all content, is moderated by us. We’ll do either a small rewrite or a complete rewrite, depending on the contributor. Usually, we edit for length for the web.

So a lot of our role is also in the writing of the content, which is why we’re not just a technical team. We also know how to pitch the content and create the correct corporate voice.

We’re split between large and small-scale projects. I oversee the small-scale ones. That usually involves a bit of triage and discussion with the person who requested it. Finally, we’ll add it to our kanban board and start working on the backlog.

We then add the content in HTML.

We have a close relationship with our communications team. Most of the content will come from them, and for some content, we’ll direct people to them for advice on how it should be pitched.

There are quite a lot of decisions to be made before content even gets to the site.

How did you find out about Silktide and what was the process of purchase?

I was asked to look over Silktide fairly late in the procurement process. We set up 3 or 4 team members to have test accounts for our site and evaluate it.

I assigned each person on a rolling basis over 4 weeks to look at marketing, quality, accessibility, and then a week to bundle it together.

So that means we got a comprehensive look at what was on offer from a number of team members.

That was a really useful way of looking at it.

There was a considerable amount of time between this process and us actually making a purchase, obviously due to the pandemic.

We’re currently monitoring three of our sites with Silktide; our main site, our forms site, and our news site.

The news site is the area where the communications team has the most contact with our customers, so we’re now monitoring it for accessibility.

One of my other areas is to talk with the IT Liaison and Planning team, who talk to services on procurement of things like our jobs website.

We’ve embedded 6 or 7 accessibility-focused questions into our procurement process.

Silktide: So the key thing which will effect change in the private sector is public sector organizations saying, ‘We’re not buying from you unless you’re accessible.’

Graeme: I fully expect it will become more important as time goes on.

Another reason we’ve done this is to prevent companies from selling us something they claim is accessible, which then isn’t. And then expecting us to be a consultant on their behalf in helping them make it accessible.

And given we are responsible for all content on our site, whether our own or from third parties, is something I try to get across in my internal presentations.

The law is completely agnostic as to the source of an inaccessible thing. If it’s on one of our sites, generally, we’re liable.

Do you have any internal training for people to use Silktide?

Everybody has found it easy to use, to tell the truth.

We’re focusing on accessibility across the whole team, and that’s the focus for this period.

We use the reports to monitor our progress over time, as Silktide allows us to compare how we were to how we are.

Next up we’ll be focusing on quality, and finally, marketing. Silktide is now an integral part of the workflow.

How was your workflow before Silktide?

Some issues we wouldn’t find at all. Internal broken links weren’t so much of an issue as we’d written our own checker for that. But for external broken links, we’d only find out when we were told by someone.

For spelling and grammar mistakes we didn’t have any facility for checking. So for a number of these, we had no monitoring in place.

With accessibility, we had a wide variety of tools of varying quality. I’ve not used any of them for months.

Now, we’re actually able to rally the team together. We’ve not had something we can point to that we can work towards, and that’s something great we use Silktide for.

It helps us let our managers know what we’re doing and what we’re working towards. It also helps us know when we’ve achieved it.

Would you say the Silktide Index helps you?

Yes, there’s definitely useful information in there. For us, it’s not just about improving our scores but also about seeing how we benchmark nationally. Visibility is important.

The organization is also keen to see it. We’ve just been put forward for a Council of the Year award, and this becomes part of the suite of things we are trying to achieve.

It’s also a really important time to try to achieve greater accessibility.

With everybody sitting at home during the pandemic and already excluded from many things in society, there’s the risk that people with disabilities will be excluded even more.

Silktide: It’s really interesting that you say that because, in our recent study of Index data, the most accessible group is UK Councils but the least accessible is UK retail. Which is ridiculous given that some parts of UK retail have seen growth of 78%. And UK supermarkets were second-lowest.

These are two areas where you think ‘These should be better, especially over the last year.’

Graeme: Yes I think some of the stories that came out are really resonant. I remember listening to an accessibility program and someone was explaining quite simply that they couldn’t buy their mum a birthday card. And that kind of story hits home.

It’s been interesting to hear the GDS take on things like social media. For example, Facebook and Twitter are not, by default, accessible. But the GDS say ‘it may not be a legal imperative, but there is still a moral imperative there to make it as accessible as possible.’

How would you describe your process before using Silktide?

We used a variety of different tools to test different accessibility and other parameters, and that process was largely ad-hoc.

We’d use all our knowledge of how to make things accessible, but the actual testing of whether or not things are accessible would be generally ad hoc.

Without Silktide, I wouldn’t be confident that we’d find all the issues.

Also any report we created using any particular tool would only be a one-off report. You’d not get any historical data.

What’s your advice to others considering using Silktide?

I’d advise them to use it. But also not to just buy it and sit on it. Get busy with it, and make it a part of your working processes.

How would you describe Silktide to a friend?

It’s a really useful tool for assessing the overall quality of your website.

It’s particularly useful to be able to tell whether that website is providing services to everybody in the community.

Silktide helps us answer the question, ‘Are we being inclusive to the community with our services?’

It helps me tell, with confidence, that we are doing that to the best of our ability.

What do you love about our product?

It’s easy to use, describes things in plain English, and gives useful help links.

Why do you do business with us?

I find that you’re really good to work with. You’re really friendly, you give us good advice, and you also take advice about the product too.

It’s great that you’re taking that feedback on board and some of our suggestions are already lined up for the next version of Silktide.

There’s one more thing that’s been unexpected but useful. PDFs are the most difficult area for us because PDFs are created by everyone other than us.

So there are massive awareness-raising and training issues there across other departments.

But the legislation specifies a specific date for PDF accessibility. Silktide lets me see all our PDFs and when they were published.

So I can match our PDFs with their publication date to find out if those do need to be made accessible.

That’s been really useful.

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