Selena Ryan-Vig and Sarah Chapman, Cochrane UK’s Knowledge Brokers, highlight some changes we’ve made on the Evidently Cochrane website to make our blog more accessible to all.
Evidently Cochrane is our blog for anyone interested in finding and using the best quality evidence to inform decisions about health. Our weekly blogs usually feature new or updated Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews. In systematic reviews we search for and summarize studies that answer a specific research question (e.g. is paracetamol effective and safe for treating back pain?). The studies are identified, assessed, and summarized by using a systematic and predefined approach. They inform recommendations for healthcare and research. More on a health topic and aim to explain evidence, place it in context, and reflect on what it means.
Making evidence as accessible and understandable as possible has always been a priority when writing and editing blogs. For example, we always aim to explain (or avoid!) jargon and are mindful about using plain language.
However, making our content accessible is about more than how the blogs are written. It is also about functions and features of the website itself. One in five people in the UK has a long-term illness, impairment or disability (Department of Work and Pensions, 2018). It is likely, therefore, that a considerable number of our visitors are among them and it is a legal requirement that websites are accessible. There are important considerations to ensure our content is accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these, as well as those with learning disabilities and cognitive limitations. This is something we have learnt much more about over the past year…
Finding out what would make the blogs more accessible
In September 2019, we were contacted by Dr Simone Stumpf, a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Design at City, University of London. Each year, Masters’ students on the Inclusive Design course carry out an evaluation of a website as part of their coursework. Their task is to see what problems might arise for people with various impairments in using the website. We welcomed the students evaluating the accessibility of Evidently Cochrane in this way.
The students audited the site thoroughly, against the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 guidelines; W3C, 2018) for conformance with level AA (the conformance level used in most accessibility rules and regulations around the world). For example, they navigated the site using only a keyboard, evaluated the site’s coding, and accessed the site using various assistive technologies that people may use, such as ‘screen readers’ (which read the text on websites aloud, for the benefit of those with visual impairments).
A few months later, we were sent the top five pieces of coursework, which included various recommendations for improvements. Some of the recommendations were ‘techy’. We passed these on to Minervation, the company who look after the development of Evidently Cochrane, and they began working on the technical side of things. Other recommendations were for us – the website editors – to act upon.
Some key changes
With Minervation, we have made a number of improvements to the site and fixed issues highlighted by the students. For example, we have:
- Simplified the Evidently Cochrane homepage. For instance, visitors can now click to move between the highlighted ‘featured blogs’ at the top of the homepage. Previously, the highlighted blogs changed automatically every few seconds, which could be distracting and difficult to navigate.
- Amended and/or added alternative text (alt-text) to images where this had been missing or inappropriate. This had been problematic for non-sighted visitors for example. Sometimes it had been difficult to make sense of the nature or purpose of some of the images, infographics and icons on the website.
- Simplified and improved the layout of our newsletter sign up form.
- Improved our glossary. In 2019, we added a glossary which means that hovering over some of the words brings up a plain language explanation. The students saw this as a good feature. However it was not without problems, which we have now addressed. For example, we have changed the set up so that a definition only appears the first time a particular word appears in a blog. Previously, if a blog mentioned ‘risk’ multiple times (for example), this would be defined each time. This could be particularly distracting and off-putting for anyone using a screen reader, who would have to listen to the definition being read aloud multiple times.
- Made it easier for visitors to view the site in high contrast or increase the font size. These options are now available via the two buttons on the left-hand side of the pages.
This list is not exhaustive but gives a sense of some of the changes. Equally, while we have tried our best to address all of the recommendations in the students’ reports, we are aware that not all of the recommended changes have been possible – primarily due to restrictions of the website itself. We recognise that there is always room for improvement.
If you have any difficulty accessing the information or resources available on our website, or if you would like to find out more, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d also love to hear if the website is working well for you, perhaps for the first time!
We are very grateful to Dr Simone Stumpf and the students at City University who carried out the evaluation work. Thanks also to Minervation for working on the website improvements.
Join in the conversation on Twitter with @CochraneUK or leave a comment on the blog. Please note, we cannot give medical advice. We will not publish comments that link to commercial sites or appear to endorse commercial products.
Selena Ryan-Vig and Sarah Chapman have nothing to disclose.
Read Sarah Chapman’s biography and blogs. Selena Ryan-Vig’s biography appears below.
Department of Work and Pensions, 2018. Statistical release of Family Resources Survey. [Online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/692771/family-resources-survey-2016-17.pdf [Accessed 10 September 2020].
W3C, 2018. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. [Online] Available at: https://www.w3.org/TR/2018/REC-WCAG21-20180605/