Elements or Lower

Tue, 18 Mar 2008


For over a year now, we’ve been planning and working on a new version of www.woking.gov.uk, and it’s now finally live. For me personally, the project has absolutely dominated the past six months, and together with Buy Our Honeymoon, represents some the best work I’ve ever done.

Before and after

The old Woking site had evolved gradually since prior to my involvement over ten years ago. Sure, we’d redeveloped the CMS a couple of times in that process, but each successive version of the site used content largely copied verbatim from the previous version. The structure had become labyrinthine, and the design (last updated in 2000) had become known internally as the “Rover dashboard”.

The Council’s Web Strategy Group saw the opportunity to completely refresh the site from scratch, with a brand new design, a completely reworked navigation structure, and a refresh of various aspects of the CMS. I’m terribly grateful that Article Seven was commissioned without hesitation to deliver both the new design and the technical implementation of the new site.

Accessibility was a key priority in the new site, and to that end we asked the Shaw Trust to help us work through the process. Just under a year ago, they carried out a full audit of the old site, highlighting any areas of concern. Once the new site templates were ready, the Shaw Trust assessed them, and just before the final site went live, the entire site was audited again and any final recommendations implemented. This whole process was incredibly valuable, particularly since it’s not a mere workthrough of the WCAG checkpoints. The Shaw Trust extensively test the site using people with a wide range of real disabilities, and any issues they highlight generally stem from real access problems experienced by testers using a variety of assistive technologies.

For example, there’s no WCAG checkpoint that encourages you to implement distinct link restyling on :hover and :focus, but doing so is a great help to both keyboard-only and dyslexic users. Moreover, in attempting to follow WCAG checkpoint 10.4, we’d included placeholder text in our search box on the old site, which actually caused genuine problems for a blind tester using the screen-reader software, JAWS. The new site doesn’t have placeholder text, 10.4 be damned.

We also included an option to switch accesskeys on (your preference saved in a cookie), and have a pair of zoom stylesheets for low-vision users — that also happen to be great for mobile access too.

We wanted to include Google Maps in a number of places on the site, and so I developed a system to try to mitigate the accessibility issues of this. Maps embedded on the site have their zoom and pan controls moved to a row of keyboard-accessible buttons below the map itself (although the normal click-and-drag mechanism continues to work too, of course), and a link to Google’s HTML version of the map is displayed instead in the event that Javascript isn’t enabled.

As a result of all this, the site has been awarded Accessible Plus accreditation from the Shaw Trust, one of only seven organisations in the UK to achieve such a high standard. All of us who’ve worked on the site (including a substantial team of web publishers) are immensely proud of this — but none more so than me.