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Site migration to improve accessibility

Current web engine

Currently the Parish Council is using Google Sites - or more accurately, Google Classic Sites - as the engine underlying our web site. This has many benefits:
  • many people can be set up as owners or editors, no need to share logon credentials;
  • adding and editing pages is fairly intuitive;
  • documents can be uploaded easily, and linked to from any page;
  • the pages are automatically shown in a 'mobile-friendly' form if it's detected that the user is viewing the site on, say, a phone; and,
  • many aspect of the appearance can be tailored to fit the needs of the site.
However, there are a number of disadvantages regarding accessibility:
  • pages are not properly structured, making it difficult to navigate by keyboard alone. (In particular, whilst H2 to H5 sections can be set up, there is no way to set up an H1 section.)
  • The site owners cannot set up text alternatives for graphic elements - for example, if you have a PDF file attached to a page, the engine adds a little PDF icon to the file - but this automatically-added graphic element does not have any description associated with it.
  • Each page has a line at the bottom with links allowing visitors to, for example, print a page or report pages to Google. These links - over which the site owner has no control - use low-contrast colours, making them difficult to read by those with sight problems.
In addition, Google is deprecating Google Classic Sites, and encouraging site owners to move over to the new Google Sites engine. Unfortunately, this has a number of the same problems regarding accessibility, and also only allows a single site 'owner'. Whilst it is possible to have a number of site editors, the fact that there is only one owner makes contingency planning more difficult. Migration to the new Google Sites will take work, so it is sensible to consider if there is an alternative that gives the Parish more control of the site elements, and thus better control of site accessibility.

Requirements and the migration process

In no particular order (at present), we list below some of the factors affecting the choice of web engine and web service provider:
  • Control of elements affecting accessibility
  • Ease of editing
  • The ability to upload PDF and other documents for use by parishioners and others
  • Automated backups and software upgrades
  • multiple site owners and editors, to avoid the need for credential sharing and allowing for traceability of actions
  • the ability to use our own domain name for the site
  • 'mobile friendly'
At present, the top contender for the web engine is WordPress -  widely used, and there are many hosting sites that make it easy to use these engines. (phpBB would be another alternative, should we wish to provide user forums at a later date, but would require more ongoing effort to manage the site.) Some hosting sites are free; others offer a restricted free service - for example, limiting the page templates to ones that incorporate information about the site hosts, and banning the ability to use your own name for the site - and a higher level of service for a monthly charge. Another alternative is to opt for a site builder such as Weebly, which costs £9/month for the ad-free version; as with Google Sites it offers a proprietary interface, and investigation would be needed to determine - with appropriate choice of site templates - the degree of accessibility it could offer.

Once a new site is sufficiently populated and checked for accessibility issues, the domain name can be switched across (leaving the old site still available for a while in case of problems). Old documents would be migrated 'as-is', but maintaining the old page structure or naming is not considered essential. Old posts would not be migrated.

If the old site is to be maintained (in a frozen state) for some time post-migration, it will need to be converted to the new Google Sites format, as - according to the current schedule - the  the classic sites engine will be wound down in October 2021.