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LGSS Digital Blog

Service design for local government

Panos Panayiotopoulos

User Researcher

Accessibility – making things easy – part 1

Why should we care?

This is the first part of a series on accessibility.

Back in September 2018, new regulations came into force concerning accessibility standards for public sector websites and mobile applications. If you’re like me and enjoy reading long and boring documents, you can find the legislation right here.
Specifically, there have been 3 deadlines set:

23 September 2019
For public sector websites published on or after 23 September 2018.
Any websites published after this date must be compliant before going live.

23 September 2020

For public sector websites published before 23 September 2018.

23 June 2021
For apps.

I got to hear about this from a colleague in late October and luckily there was a GDS information session on accessibility soon after where I got to experience more of the legal and technical language around the subject, much to my delight (weird, I know). This led me to the W3C website and specifically the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

Let me save you some time by saying – it’s a LONG and TECHNICAL list of guidelines on how to achieve the accessibility standards. When I first came across this I was taken aback, my initial reaction was to navigate away from the website and find something else to occupy my mind with.

 

But then it hit me.

 

The length of the document and its difficult language was practically discouraging me from taking any action or even read what that “service” had to “offer”. This was an (almost) perfect parallel to our situation as a digital services team.
What if our products make a user want to use something else?
Even worse, what if our products force a user to look for something else due to their inability to cater for user needs? That would most definitely suck, but it doesn’t stop there.

People cannot choose to use another service and are therefore stuck with whatever we offer them, accessible or not.

This is the point where our in-house UX Designer Lawrence got involved. His initial reaction to the checklist was that it was too technical, too complicated. His approach to everything we do is that we design for everyone, both internally and externally.

Thankfully he got involved at this point and with his assistance we created two more documents – UX Design Principles and a shorter, much simpler version of the huge checklist.
(You can actually find the UX Design Principles here!)

With some members of our design team already on board with this, it was time to also see what our dev team thought about it . At this point, we teamed up with a dev, Anthony, and shared what we had done so far. He offered his perspective and made an addition to the tech playbook dubbed the “10 Accessibility Commandments”.

This was finally starting to gain momentum and a couple more team members expressed an interest in the implementation of these principles within our process. During a meeting we had together, it became apparent that everyone involved is interested in implementing these guidelines – but we want to do it right and in a way that does not impede our ability to work efficiently and effectively.

 

Our action points:

 

  1. Look at the current list/estate of platform and products we have and determine for which of these we have to perform checks
  2. Research automated testing methods
  3. Find out where we stand currently – is there something we are consistently doing wrong?
  4. Research ways to automate interactive design testing
  5. Have a conversation with management about resourcing for this initiative

Improving your product’s accessibility can enhance the usability for all users, including those with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, motor impairments or situational disabilities (such as a broken arm).

Understanding Accessibility

Material Design, Google

To recap:
  • this initiative started with one person and now there are upwards of 6 people actively involved in it
  • team members of various “disciplines” are now involved
  • there have already been 4 different pieces of work created – two of them have even been published
  • management team is already aware of the initiative

This just goes to show that actions and initiatives can work if the idea is relatable and the people involved believe in it.

Why should we care about this issue?

Imagine going for a meal in a foreign country. Your goal is to eat. Unfortunately, you can understand nothing that’s written on the menu and the waiters don’t seem to understand English. The food is there, the waiters are there and the menus are there, but you still can’t eat.

Now imagine if that was the ONLY place to eat. I wouldn’t want to destroy the metaphor by explaining it, so hopefully you got that!

Accessibility is a universal issue and as Lawrence said in his blog, “this is for everyone”.
Being legally obligated to follow the guidelines doesn’t hurt either 😊

These are still the first steps in what I expect to be a very long and bumpy journey towards accessibility excellence.

 

Expect more and better from us soon.