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Digital Inclusion at Parliament

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Accessibility, Continuous iteration, User research
A sign that says 37 steps down to the gallery
Image by Brian Suda, using Creative Commons License 2.0

In February, some of us from PDS went to the third cross-government meetup about accessibility. It was organised by accessibility experts Alistair Duggin and Rosie Clayton of the Government Digital Service (GDS).

I'm a user researcher but my previous experience with accessibility was limited. It involved entering a bunch of URLs into an automated tool, making the suggested changes and voila - one accessible website.

Screenshot of Tenon, an automated accessibility tool
Tenon, an automated accessibility tool

At the accessibility meetup, I realised that there’s much more to it than that. Here's just some of what I learned on the day.

Testing with special access requirements

Lots of people wanted to know about recruiting people with special access requirements to test their services. As Mehet Duran of GDS shared in a recent blog post, testing accessibility using automated tools has many advantages. They’re quick, inexpensive and within reach for most organisations. However, Mehet also explains that these tools work best when tested with real people with real disabilities.

For instance, a tool such as WAVE can tell us an image has an alt tag for describing the image for those who use screen readers. What it can’t tell us is whether that description makes any sense to the person hearing it. Observing someone with a visual impairment using their own tools can help spot these kinds of issues.

Similarly asking a person with a cognitive impairment to give feedback on a piece of text can give us deeper insights. We’re building a new website and we need these insights to understand how to build it for accessibility.

To help us, the User Research Team will be working with the digital accessibility agency, Digital Accessibility Centre. They’ll conduct usability testing with a range of people with disabilities using various assistive tools on our behalf. We’ll add to this research this by testing with staff in Parliament who have special access requirements themselves.

Start early and repeat

During the meetup Jeremy Anderson, a front-end developer at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), talked about a project to improve accessibility on the Universal Credits service.

Jeremy highlighted the importance of starting accessibility testing early during a project. His experience showed that some changes can be made more easily than others. For instance, adding ARIA tags to hide unnecessary elements from screen readers is straightforward. However, if a website feature is challenging for people with motor disabilities to use, it may need more complex development at a later stage.

Jeremy also stressed the importance of doing continuous accessibility testing as a website transforms over time. Once you reach an accreditation level such as Accessible AA, you’ve got to keep working to maintain it.

Creating awareness

Karwai Pun, an Interaction Designer at Home Office Digital, spoke about ways to remind ourselves about the importance of digital inclusion. Karwai is a member of an accessibility group at the Home Office. Together with this group, she created a set of posters which illustrate some best practice for inclusive digital design.

Home Office Accessibility poster
Home Office Accessibility poster

There are six posters, each providing guidelines for designing for people from the following groups:

  • low vision
  • D/deaf and hard of hearing
  • dyslexia
  • motor disabilities
  • users on the autistic spectrum
  • users of screen readers

The posters have been so successful they've been translated into several languages and are available in different formats on GitHub.

The posters will be appearing across PDS offices soon!

If you’re interested in taking part in the accessibility testing, please get in touch.

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