For many of our customers, providing a fully accessible on-line experience is a legal requirement under The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018, but for everyone it is something we recommend as best practice when creating forms and surveys. Work on accessibility improves the experience for everyone, as we’ve mentioned in previous posts on accessibility experience and in the podcast episode on accessibility.
There are some great features in the SurveyOptic platform that simplify being compliant, which I’ll come on to at the end of this post, but first a review of the changes. The new criteria for version 2.2 of the WCAG were published in October 2023, and time is running out for organisations that are not yet compliant with the changes. WCAG 2.2 adds 9 additional success criteria to the earlier WCAG 2.1. standard (and the full criteria are available on the W3C website).
- 2.4.11 Focus Not Obscured (AA): Requires that when components receive keyboard focus, they are at least partially visible.
- 2.4.12 Focus Not Obscured (AAA): Enhanced level for focus visibility which requires the element to be fully visible.
- 2.4.13 Focus Appearance (AAA): Use a clear focus indicator of sufficient size and contrast
- 2.5.7 Dragging Movements (AA): Ensure that functionality that uses dragging can also be achieved without dragging, unless dragging is essential to the functionality.
- 2.5.8 Pointer Target Spacing (AA): Ensure that smaller targets have enough spacing between them to remain clickable.
- 3.2.6 Consistent Help (A): Requires that help options are presented in the same place across pages.
- 3.3.7 Redundant Entry(A): Don’t ask users to re-enter information when filling out forms.
- 3.3.8 Accessible Authentication (AA): Ensure there is an accessible way to authenticate without requiring complex challenges (e.g. solving puzzles).
- 3.3.9 Accessible Authentication (AAA): An enhanced level that also eliminates the need for object recognition.
There is also one requirement removed: Success criteria 4.1.1 Parsing is now obsolete as it should be considered satisfied for any content that uses HTML or XML.
There are some specific challenges for websites that use the GDS GOV.UK design system. Using this appearance is a requirement for the many SurveyOptic sites that operate under gov.uk domains. There has been much work on the GDS design system to meet the new 2.2 criteria, and many of the gaps identified during accessibility testing have been closed, but some still remain, and it is the responsibility of individual implementers to close them. The main accessibility changes are detailed on the design system pages. For customers currently using SurveyOptic with a gov.uk appearance there are no additional changes required as we have already addressed them in our implementation, based on previous accessibility audits. For customers using other brand appearances, we have conducted an audit of each of these. For departments using other legacy systems that need assistance to become compliant, please do get in touch and we will see how we can help.
Web accessibility and survey forms
We follow the 4 principles of web accessibility upon which WCAG is based:
- Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable – Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
For surveys delivered via the SurveyOptic platform, delivering on these principles this falls into three layers of functionality:
- The SurveyOptic platform itself – which provides the underlying HTML structure.
- The customer theme – which handles visual appearance, branding, logos, fonts, colours and input states.
- The content – the survey’s questions, instruction text, images and form field text.
Some platforms don’t have a themes layer, and simply give users a range of colours and the ability to load an image as a logo. Apart from the issues with theses solutions not providing consistent, accurate branding, it is a significant accessibility risk as users can often unintentionally choose colours that do not have sufficient contrast. By having customer themes in SurveyOptic, we bring the visual appearance under change management and can apply quality assurance processes to it. We build and test the theme when we set up a SurveyOptic instance for a customer, or after a change request, and as part of this process we check colour contrast to AA and AAA WCAG standards as well as checking it matches the organisation’s brand guidelines.
WCAG is a standard that is about content (that’s the ‘C’ in WCAG!) not platforms. A platform provider that describes their platform as fully WCAG compliant is usually over-reaching in their claim, as it isn’t possible to say that a platform guarantees that it produces WCAG compliant surveys, unless the content is reviewed and checked (there are a number of WCAG checks that can still only be carried out manually). For example, the new WCAG requirement to eliminate redundant entry is a matter of content design, and while we can provide automated checks for duplicate questions, this does not address the possibility of survey creators asking the same question in different ways. SocialOptic makes training available for all of our users to help them create fully accessible content, going beyond the criteria of WCAG to include our experience of working with specialists and users of accessibility tools in real-world environments over more than a decade.
SurveyOptic Accessibility Features
All of these features are available in the current version of SurveyOptic, and we can arrange specific accessibility testing for complex surveys, as well as support for writing full accessibility statements.
While we work to help our customers to meet the requirements of WCAG, we are also working with our own sites, and we’ll be updating our marketing sites so that we full meet the WCAG 2.2 criteria, and working with the vendors who provide tools to our team to help them do the same.
I mentioned that there are some specific features which can help SurveyOptic users with some of the new requirements. All but one of them are taken care of by the platform, but one is a job for editors, although the platform can still help:
3.3.7 Redundant Entry (A)
This requires that: Information previously entered by or provided to the user that is required to be entered again in the same process is either:
- auto-populated, or
- available for the user to select.
- re-entering the information is essential,
- the information is required to ensure the security of the content, or
- previously entered information is no longer valid.
More simply put: Don’t ask for the same information twice in the same session. The first and most obvious step is to avoid repeating questions. However sometimes a question might be different, but often have the same answer as a previous question. SurveyOptic allows a survey editor to default the question to the previous answer, which saves the user having to re-enter information if it is the same. We can take this a step further, going beyond the base requirements of WCAG, and using the SurveyOptic respondent portal, we can pre-populate answers the user has supplied from previous surveys or consultations, which saves everyone’s time and reduces errors from manually copying or re-keying answers.
The Accessibility Journey
There are always more improvements to make, but we are committed to keeping up with best practice and supporting our customers to be able to produce forms and surveys that go beyond just being compliant, to providing an excellent experience for every user.