Top tips for making your intranet accessible

Post by Luke Oatham

Tuesday 21 April 2020

A generic image of open doors inside a house with the IC Space and GCS logos

How can you make sure your intranet is accessible to all? Luke Oatham from Agento gives us his top tips and pitfalls to avoid.

About 20 years ago, I started working on my first public sector intranet at The London Underground (LUL). It was there that I first discovered web accessibility.

I joined LUL at a time when a blind man in Australia had won a court case against the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. The Committee had been ruled in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and ordered to pay damages of 20,000 AUD. The W3C website has the archived case study.

After this ruling, government and public sector organisations were put on alert to provide accessible websites and intranets. But the drive was not particularly to help users with accessibility needs; it was chiefly a reactive step to comply with the law and protect against legal prosecutions and the potential need to pay damages. 

I was part of the small team working on London Underground’s intranet that won the Nielsen/Norman Group award for the ten best public sector intranets of 2005. One of the primary factors for the win was our work on accessibility. We learned that many of the changes that we incorporated on the intranet for accessible users, also helped the non-accessible users.

Jump forward

Two decades after joining LUL, I manage a small company, very much involved in public sector intranets and I continue to promote accessibility. In fact, I’m still using training slides from years ago that haven’t changed much in all that time. Why? Because accessibility is about human beings, and as a race, we haven’t changed much physiologically over the years. 

Yes, technology has changed, a lot. But we still have eyes that we use for visual input. There are still people with poor or no visual input. We still have brains that can’t hold much information in short-term memory. 

All of this plays into how we create accessible content. I provide training courses on accessibility as part of our writing for the web course. There is an exercise to write ‘alt’ text for photos. One photo is a school-girl writing a competition-winning slogan on a chalkboard. The slogan doesn’t appear anywhere in the accompanying written text and is only visible in the photo. Most people come up with ‘Girl writing on blackboard’ or something similar for their alt tag text, failing to include the vital slogan text that is not ‘visible’ to people who can’t see the photo – which is discrimination. 

Get onside with The Equalities Act

The Equalities Act now governs accessibility and, like GDPR or copyright, site managers and publishers must comply with the law. 

Training is important. Most publishers, when let loose on their new content management system, will only be trained in the mechanics of how to publish content. They’ll learn how to copy and paste some text from a Word document and click the button to make the web page go live, or worse, just how to upload a Word document. This kind of training doesn’t ensure that content is useful or accessible. 

Here’s my three top tips for ensuring your intranet is accessible to all:

  1. Use hyperlinks correctly. Instead of linking on words such as “click here” or “more info”, make sure that linked text clearly describes what it is linking to.
  2. Use HTML headings such as H1 and H2 instead of making text bold. This helps everyone, including screen-reader users and search engines.
  3. Be careful when copying and pasting content from other media to your site; embedded HTML code such as typefaces, font sizes and colours can make your site inaccessible to users who have their own stylesheets.

You can find the latest accessibility guidelines on the W3C website.

Luke Oatham

Director – Agento Digital