Arts Analytics: Accessibility

Arts Analytics - Accessibility

On 15 May 2014 it was Global Accessibility Awareness Day:

The purpose of the day is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities.

I’ve only just become aware of this (better late than never) so thought it appropriate to cover website accessibility in this Arts Analytics post, looking at how the websites of the arts organisations in my sample group perform.

Accessibility is an important aspect of a website’s design and development. It’s not just a case of doing the right thing (morally and legally) – there’s a good business case to be made too. The more people that can use your site, the more people can buy your goods and avail themselves of your services. There’s also a strong overlap between accessibility and SEO, increasing visibility of your site more generally.

But it’s also about doing the right thing.

Method

I ran the 100 websites in my sample group through the free scanner at wave.webaim.org and captured the results. Specifically:

  • Number of errors – these are almost certainly causing accessibility issues on the site.
  • Number of alerts – these need to be reviewed by a human who can take a view on whether they’re causing problems or not.

A word of caution – this tool doesn’t claim to have all the answers and the makers stress that it is most effective when used by someone knowledgeable about web accessibility.

For instance, WAVE might happily report no errors, whereas a human might see that the alt text (although present) is insufficient and creates an accessibility problem.

Still, it’s a decent starting point and works well enough for our purposes.

The results

Overall, I thought the results were pretty good. A few concerns in some places, but generally things aren’t too bad.

This wasn’t really much of a surprise. In my experience, arts organisations tend to take accessibility pretty seriously. I’ve worked with some that make a point about going above and beyond with this stuff as part of a wider aim to set the standard in terms of inclusivity.

A couple of headlines:

  • The average website has 9 errors and 32 alerts.
  • The following scored 0 errors: Palace Theatre Watford, Firstsite, The Photographers’ Gallery, South London Gallery and Royal Court Theatre.

Here’s the data sorted by the number of errors found. Data was collected on 20 May 2014.

Incidentally, something about the website for Theatre By The Lake means that WAVE doesn’t work with it. I’ve no idea what that’s about.

Another observation – you’ll see that Bristol Old Vic scored pretty badly with 55 errors. On closer inspection, 52 of those errors relate to the same thing – linked images missing alt text – repeated over and over. In which case there’s no need to panic – a relatively minor fix should clear things up. See what I mean by getting a real life human to interpret particular results?

WAVE Report of Bristol Old Vic | home

In case you’re wondering why the site looks mangled, it’s because WAVE inserts icons to show errors, alerts and other noteworthy features.

Recommendations

Ensure that accessibility is considered as part of the development of websites, apps and other digital projects.

If WAVE flags up a lot of errors or alerts on your site then it’d be worth getting someone to look into the true extent of any accessibility issues. That person can then make some recommendations for improvements.

Also bear in mind that even if your site scores well with WAVE, that’s not to say your site is necessarily accessible. If you want to get your site checked out properly then get a knowledgeable human to do it – the robots haven’t taken over yet.

A bit of BFI Player feedback

BFI Player

A couple of days ago, while thinking about the whole ‘MCN for the arts‘ thing that I mentioned in the last post, I popped over to BFI Player to see what’s happening with that.

There was a survey and, having 5 mins to spare and being a civic-minded individual, I filled it out. Seeing as how I spent a bit of time on one of the questions – I think it was a general ‘any other feedback’ one – I thought I’d post what I wrote here…

I really want to like BFI Player but each time I’ve gone there it’s been difficult to find a way in.

The homepage is currently swamped with trailers, which I really don’t see as the main thing that something like this has to offer. Can that category be excluded from Most Popular? That’d be a quick win.

The genres could do with tidying up too – discussions, interviews and lectures all seem of a kind and would stop cluttering the place up so much.

Those are minor gripes really. The biggie for me is that I find the barrier to participation just that little bit too high. Here’s how I’d fix that if I was involved.

There are two categories of film that I (and, I’m willing to bet, the majority of people coming to the site) want to be able to find quickly and easily:
1. Free films; and/or
2. Films I’m likely to have heard of.

If you were to hook me with those categories, get me registered on your site, learn a little about what I like and then educate me with the rest of the BFI catalogue then everyone’s a winner. I might even end up spending some money with you.

Hope that helps!

Looking at the site today the thing with the trailers isn’t nearly so bad, but why not just link to them from under the actual film (having them come up in a lightbox or something) rather than featuring them among the actual films? Also, there really is quite a bit on there that I’d heard good things about – Blue Is The Warmest Colour, The Selfish Giant, Sightseers, Berberian Sound Studio…

Thinking about it some more, have they made the classic mistake of categorising their films in a way that makes sense to them (Inside Film, Artists’ Moving Image) rather than one that makes sense to users (free, well-known)? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Whatever, good to see them getting some input from users on this stuff.

Agile commissioning and the arts

Arts organisation search engine

Last week I knocked together a search engine for UK arts organisations.

Why did you do that, Chris?

Honestly? It was partly for a joke and partly because it was easy enough to do. It started with posting the news that Arts Council England are commissioning a £1.8m ‘Multi-Channel Network for the Arts’ on the CulturalDigital forum.

That led to a few tweets, including this exchange:

Twitter conversation

Putting together a custom search engine on top of Google isn’t tricky. Just go to google.com/cse/‎ and follow the instructions.

To populate the search engine I used the list of URLs for the 100 arts organisations in my Arts Analytics sample. Amusingly enough, a few people didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so I set up a submission form and have since added the illustrious likes of the Wellcome Collection, Shakespeare’s Globe and National Museums Scotland.

Other custom search engines of this ilk include:

  • JURN: a search-engine dedicated to indexing free and ‘open access’ ejournals in the arts and humanities
  • museumcollections.org.uk which searches about 50 museum website collections sites

I’m not expecting it to be used much. As far as I’m aware there’s no general clamour for a niche search engine of this sort. If it does pick up traction then maybe it could be turned into a thing, fleshed out a bit and supported properly. What’s more likely is that it’ll sit around for a bit and pretty soon be forgotten about entirely.

Ok then. Is there a bigger point to be made here?

Why yes, I suppose there is. This is from ACE’s guidance doc relating to the commissioning of the multi-channel network:

Our hypothesis is that there is unmet demand on YouTube and other video
platforms for high quality arts content from audiences, if it is aggregated, packaged
and presented in the right way.*

The Arts Council’s approach to testing that hypothesis is to commit £1.8m over the course of a four year project. I would humbly suggest that that approach is insane. Or brave. But mostly insane. And increasingly outdated.

If I was involved in this I’d be asking some questions:

  • Where has this hypothesis come from?
  • What’s the quickest way to validate it?
  • How different is the digital video landscape likely to look in four years time?
  • If the opportunity’s so good, why have the existing MCN companies not taken it upon themselves to create one for the arts yet?
  • Is an MCN definitely the answer or is there another way to meet the challenges that have been identified?

I’m not saying that an MCN for the arts is a bad idea – maybe it’s a great idea. It’s just that this way of commissioning grand projects is open to all sorts of things going wrong. There are smarter, simpler ways to start than jumping in with both feet.

An encouraging sign

I was very interested to see the Government Digital Service’s post last week about Getting approval for agile spending. They sign off that post saying:

This could be the most exciting administrative change this year in supporting an agile culture in government.

I hope it’s successful, because I think other areas would benefit from a similar approach.

* I really wish I could rewrite that paragraph for them, the grammar’s all over the place. That whole doc needs a spellchecker run over it too.