Designing online services that work for all - Are housing associations incorporating inclusive design into their websites?

A headshot of Simon Wissink, a white man with ginger hair and a ginger beard.

Business Development Consultant

20 minute read

Our usability and accessibility review of housing sector websites. The report found a number of areas in which the reviewed sites could be more inclusive to users.

Executive Summary

As more and more aspects of our daily lives are touched by the internet and technology, having good experiences online is more important than ever. The housing sector is one that is starting to realise the importance of a strong online approach as a way of better engaging with tenants and cutting costs at the same time. Consequently, increasing numbers of housing associations are working hard to grow their online self-service offerings.

However, many have work to do when it comes to the user experience of their websites and digital assets – a lack of awareness around digital strategy and budgetary constraints are just a couple of the reasons this has traditionally lagged behind. Yet, in the housing sector a good user experience has the potential to increase tenant engagement, improve customer service, simplify processes and cut costs.

In our research we investigated the UX of 10 housing association websites at random in February 2017 – looking at their usability, accessibility for all users, whether they worked across devices, and how well they were using online self-service. We also enlisted the help of Molly Watt, an independent consultant who lives with Usher Syndrome – which affects her hearing and sight – to test how well each of the sites accommodated users with visual and auditory impairments.

In our testing we found that:

  • On average the housing associations scored just 15.5 out of 30 on our testing matrix which assessed multiple factors
  • However, most of the websites had considered usability to some extent – 70% made it clear from the homepage what they had to offer and most made good use of content chunking - meaning content was easy to read
  • But, only three avoided carousels – a popular design trend which can frustrate users and lead to missed information
  • Seven out of the 10 websites scored below average (50%) when it came to accessibility
  • Only one of the websites had sufficient colour contrast – making it difficult for users with sight loss to view them
  • Just one was screen reader friendly, meaning those using assistive technology might struggle to view the other nine sites
  • Eight out of 10 had an online account area, but only half were easy to find
  • Most of the sites had invested in a responsive or adaptive website

You can download the full report, which includes useful recommendations for housing associations that are unsure where to start when it comes to improving their user experience.

Our usability and accessibility consultant, Molly Watt describes some of the issues she found when testing the sites in the video below.


Finding the ‘A’ to press it is a bit of a challenge. So that could be set better for someone to access it. So if I have zoom off and I try to enlarge
it, to me to be honest, it doesn’t look like it is getting much bigger.

Ooo, no, look at that. For some reason, even though I have changed the contrast, it does not maintain that. But here… it is still there. So I presume if I press it again…

oh no. So that contrast option isn’t an option.

I have changed the contrast so the black text is a lot clearer now, it is not blurry, and I have enlarged the text. Though saying that, it has not enlarged this bit, the tool
bar. Which is pretty crucial because that is the navigation bar to get me around the webstite.

Interesting…. That is the contrast.

All it did was change this bit, that was literally it.
I do not like the way when you select it, it goes to this really bright green with white.

This is horrible to look at. I would have to zoom in to read it, as I have been saying
I am literally squinting looking at that, it is quite bright.

That colour, for example, is not great. And there was like a yellow colour which was a bit too much. The darker colours are alright, but the brighter ones, like this ‘Your repairs’
one is quite bright. This though, this is okay. Having this, because it is not a white background but it is not too bright. Anything to avoid white really,
and having a high contrast is key.

This text, when I have zoomed into it I can read it, but without the zoom, it is a bit….

Because it is a white background and fine black text, it is a bit fiddly. This drop down menu is quite good because this is an iPhone and iOS setting there, because where I have large text set it comes up like that.

From here how would you find the contact page?

There is not that option here, I guess I’d go back home. No, there is no menu, there is search. That is really odd.

Sales… interesting, when you select it, it goes white in the background. Huh? What? It took me to another site. It should take me to somewhere in this website and give you the link to that website, to give you the option to go onto that website. So you are aware of exactly of where you are being redirected.

It is not quite big enough, the arrows are not very obvious at all, unless I zoom in there and I can see the arrows. Because I guess to me, if I do not see the arrows, I literally just see that as a list, I do not see that as an interactive bar.

The reason why it gets confused is because there is this multi kind-of screen where you swipe across here and when I go to zoom in, it is quite difficult to do that without moving this, because this is so moveable. So you kind of have to find a bit of the page that does not move, and zooming in and then moving the screen around.

The fact that that is there, and what I do regardless, when I zoom in it always pops up. It is a bit irritating! It is kind of like “er no I don’t want that go away!”.

So that kind of could be in the way of what I am trying to look at.

Unless I zoomed in I wouldn’t be able to…. Now it is not letting me stay zoomed in. To be able to see the drop down menu it is a bit fiddly. And now this thing keeps occurring,

I don’t know why.

That is quite small, but the colours and contrast are quite nice. But, to be wary of the fact that this drop down menu happens in front of moving images. So this thing that is happening, this carousel, while I’m trying to zoom in and look at that, can be a bit distracting. Again, it is good that is has these arrows back and forth, because that tells me that there is obviously a carousel thing going on. But, a bit like the one before, it is really heavy on text. So the fact that that

keeps moving around is a bit of a pain for someone who wants to try and zoom in to access that text, but the text keeps moving or disappearing or whatever.

The tool bar, that is really recognisable, that is one of the first things I saw, which is great, because that is the navigational bits around the page.

Interesting that it says ‘Accessibility, in keeping with our policy of customers first,
we have made sure that our website is accessible to all’… interesting!