Ranked: the IP offices with the most accessible web platforms
- Research from WTR finds UKIPO has most accessible website of global IP offices
- Rank looks at accessibility for all users, including those vision and motor impairment
- Figures from UK, Benelux and New Zealand IPOs explain accessibility philosophy
New data from WTR identifies the national IP offices with websites that are most accessible for users, including those with vision or motor impairment. The web platform of the UK Intellectual Property Office leads the way, with its CEO Tim Moss telling WTR that it reflects an agency philosophy that “inclusion is a normal everyday right”.
The research focused on 50 leading IP offices from across the world, ranking the accessibility of their homepages using two measurement tools. The first, eAccessibility, tests web pages against over 40 metrics to determine any barriers exist in their web code (HTML) for users based on guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium. Those guidelines were created to recommend ways for web content to be more accessible to a wider range of people, including those with blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. The second tool, called WAVE, is similar – it identifies errors and alerts based on how web content is accessible to individuals with disabilities. Criteria includes analysing the contrast between text and background on websites, as effective contrast is important for users with low vision.
As Table 1 below reveals, a significant proportion of IP offices have websites with many issues – only 12 agencies have less than 50 accessibility alerts, barriers or errors. At the top of the ranking is the UKIPO, followed by the IP offices of Ireland, Canada, Norway, Mexico, New Zealand, Argentina and Germany. Each had less than 25 issues identified by the two tools. Commenting on the findings, the president of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, Mark Shapiro, claims one reason that some of the top-ranked agencies scored highly is due to laws implemented in their jurisdictions. “The UK, Ireland, and Canada IP offices might have performed better in accessibility testing is because those countries have certain accessibility and non-discrimination laws in place that may directly or indirectly require public-sector websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
Another factor that the top-scoring IP offices seemingly have in common, he adds, is a well-organised development team. “If a particular website performs well in automated testing, that means the code is probably comparatively clean and well-structured,” he explains. “Areas like heading structure and form labels are more likely to be in relatively good shape, and images probably have alt text associated with them – although it’s important to remember that automated testing can only determine if an image has alt text, not if the alt text is appropriate.”
On the flip-side, the homepage of the Serbian, Kazakhstani, Peruvian, and Thai IP offices each had over 300 issues identified. While the reasons for a low ranking will differ for each agency, there do appear to be some common elements that make the websites difficult to use for people with certain disabilities. “It does appear that these websites lack full keyboard support (or at least indicators to let you know where your keyboard focus is), have considerable amounts of content within image, and have at least some colour contrast failures,” Shapiro notes.
Table 1: national IP offices – homepage accessibility barriers, errors and alerts
Accessibility HTML barriers
Accessibility errors and alerts
Papua New Guinea
Republic of Korea
Source: HTML barriers from TingTun; errors and alerts from WAVE; data recorded by WTR on 25 November 2020.
Reacting to the agency's top spot in the ranking, UKIPO CEO Tim Moss tells WTR that the “fantastic accolade” is down to the office’s web team. “Their passion and diligence for upholding accessibility standards reflects the commitment we see echoed right across the IPO,” he says. “It helps to ensure that inclusion is a normal everyday right for every one of our customers and people.”
Expanding further on its accessibility efforts, a UKIPO spokesperson confirmed that it has been “building accessibility improvements into our processes and long term planning for several years”. Part of that, they explain, is ensuring every relevant person at the agency is aware of the importance of digital accessibility. “As standard, we ensure that all our in-house content creators, editors and publishers understand and deliver against the web content accessibility guidelines,” the spokesperson reveals. “Where we commission third parties to produce digital content, we have built the guidelines into our IT and procurement requirements. [However], whilst it’s heartening and rewarding to learn of our success, we recognise that there is always room for improvement. Therefore, we currently have a project underway to formalise the gains made in web accessibility. We aim to ensure that, as an organisation, we fix any documents that are not completely accessible, and we are also producing guidance for our teams to ensure that all our content is ‘accessible by default’.”
Such a commitment to digital accessibility is not a one-off. Talking to WTR, the national manager of the IP Office of New Zealand, Simon Gallagher, says that improving access to its service is part of its wider vision. “Website accessibility and mobile-first considerations are, therefore, always in scope,” he explains. “On the ground, we consider all improvements from a customer perspective, and that includes accessibility. This is to support and build our customer reach and access, and also the value customers obtain from our services. In fact, the next accessibility improvements are scheduled to be released in December 2020, which will improve the display of our search results in 2021 – providing ‘search snippets’ in order to target results.”
Making a difference
In further comments to WTR, Shapiro from the Bureau of Internet Accessibility says that all IP offices need to put accessibility as a top priority for in digital strategies. “When a website isn’t accessible, a considerable percentage of people with disabilities will be unable to use it, thus infringing on their rights to equal access and effectively discriminating against them on the basis of disability,” he says. “For an organisation, accessibility lets them reach more people, provide better experiences, and stay compliant with web-specific and broader accessibility laws.”
While having a fully accessible website could take a lot of resources (and finances), Shapiro says “every improvement toward greater accessibility is worthwhile and helpful” – and “even the basics make a real difference and aren’t hard to do”. For example, he adds, text alternatives for images, accessible hyperlinks, and full keyboard support “are among the most common and impactful areas to pay attention to” on websites. Further, captions and transcripts for multimedia content are also “high-impact, easy-to-fix issues”, as well as colour contrast, expanding: “By simply choosing text and background colours that stand out from one another, website operators can help make sure that most people can read the content, even if they have colour blindness.”
There are, naturally, options to go above and beyond. In fact, some IP offices have implemented some cutting edge accessibility content. For instance, the websites of the IP agencies of Chile, European Union, Japan and Thailand all have a font size option (helpful for those who are vision impaired). The German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) offers a sign language section and a simple and understandable language page, while earlier this month the Peruvian IP Office (Indecopi) launched videos in sign language (here and here) in an effort “to allow more Peruvians to know how to register their marks virtually” – multimedia that was made possible through a partnership with Peru’s National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities (Conadis).
Ultimately, says Shapiro, every organisation – be it IP office, association, law firm or corporation – should have a digital platform that is usable for any individual. “In reality, accessibility isn’t a specific feature or function; rather, it’s built in as part of a well-coded website,” he concludes. “Considering and building for the different ways people might navigate and consume content gets ahead of most accessibility barriers before they become an issue. Trying to retrofit or inject accessibility into an otherwise-finished product is a lot harder, more time-consuming, and more expensive than considering accessibility throughout. Accessibility is as much a mindset as it is a specific function.”