Research by digital agency Sigma into the user experience of some of the UK’s top housing providers’ websites has suggested many are falling behind when it comes to facilitating online users, particularly those with disabilities.
Sigma’s report, ‘Are housing associations incorporating inclusive design into their websites?’ revealed a number of shortcomings associated with 10 UK housing websites including Great Places, Places for People, Yorkshire Housing and Accent Group.
Using independent, heuristic testing, Sigma scored each website out of a possible 30 points across a variety of categories encompassing: overall usability; ease of use on different devices; online self-service options; and their accessibility for all users, including those with auditory, physical, cognitive and visual disabilities. On average, the websites scored just 15.5.
The report found that many of the sites failed when it came to accessibility and inclusivity for disabled users, with seven out of the ten websites scoring way below average for accessibility. Only one of the websites had sufficient colour contrast, for users with visual impairments to view the sites, while just one was screen-reader friendly, meaning those using assistive technology would struggle to view the other nine sites.
In addition, most of the associations in Sigma’s testing had considered the growing importance of online self-service. However, only half of them had online account areas that were easy to find, and two didn’t have account areas at all. In addition, one of the sites’ online account area was unsecure.
Hilary Stephenson, managing director, Sigma, said, “While we only looked into a small sample of websites, our findings do demonstrate that many housing providers are struggling when it comes to their online experience, which is understandable when you consider the budgetary constraints hanging over them.
“However, in the housing sector, a good user experience has the power to increase tenant engagement, improve customer service, cut costs and simplify processes, so it’s in their best interest to think about how they might improve the online experience for tenants.
“Many of the websites we looked at had considered the importance of usability to some extent, but it was disappointing to see that so many failed to cater for disabled users. Plus, in light of the European Commission’s new accessibility legislation, all housing providers should now be striving to offer inclusive digital services, regardless of their public or private status.”