We’re making sure we meet the latest regulations so government is accessible for everyone

Imagine you need to find something on the internet. You do a quick Google search, find the result you want, click on it and have a look at the website, finding all the information you need. You might watch a video, or click through a series of questions to find the information you’re after.

Now imagine that you have one or more of the following:

Stick figures show how each of these disabilities might look in permanent, temporary and situational scenarios.

A diagram of permanent, temporary and situational disabilities for touch, see, hear and speak, from the Microsoft Design Toolkit.

  • a visual impairment
  • motor difficulties
  • cognitive impairment or learning disabilities
  • deafness or impaired hearing

Imagine that the site you need to use isn’t built so that you can easily access what you need. You can’t hear the video and there are no captions, the buttons are too small for you to easily click, the copy isn’t easy to understand because it uses words you’ve never seen before, or your screen reader can’t read all the text on the site because it’s an image.

This is the reality of at least 1 in 5 people in the UK, and many more who may have a temporary or even situational disability: it’s more common than you may realise.

In the UK there are:

  • 1.5 million people who have a learning disability
  • 7 million people who have dyslexia
  • 2 million people with a visual impairment

Naturally, these are all disabilities which would affect potential users of internet platforms, so we need to make sure that our services are easy for everyone to use, whatever their needs.

a comic book image of a man shovelling snow on the steps outside a school. Children are waiting to get into the building, including a child in a wheelchair. The man says he will clear the ramp of snow once he has finished clearing the stairs for the other children. The child using a wheelchair says that if he clears the ramp, all the children can get in

credit: Michael F Giangreco and Kevin Ruelle

It’s also true that accessible platforms, generally, are well-designed platforms. They’re clear, concise and easy to navigate, making life easier for everyone who needs or wants to use them – as this cartoon demonstrates.

What we’re doing to make the grade

On 23 September 2018 new regulations (the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018) were introduced to make sure that all public sector websites and apps are either built to accessibility standards or will be amended to meet them.

This means that every website and platform with a gov.uk web address needs to be easily accessed, easy to understand and easy to use by:

  • 23 September 2019 – New websites/platforms (built after September 2018)
  • 23 September 2020 – Old websites/platforms (built before September 2018)

To achieve these standards, Crown Commercial Service got help from a supplier of accessibility testing services, Olenick, who are helping us understand what we are doing well, what we need to do better, and how to improve our public-facing sites.

User testing: testing with disabilities

Along with all the technical testing, Olenick worked in partnership with Ulster University to arrange for our sites to be tested with two groups of disabled users, including people with visual impairments and learning difficulties.

The second round of testing worked with testers from NOW Group (a social enterprise in Belfast supporting people with barriers to employment and learning). Their service users include people with all levels of learning difficulty and learning disability, as well as those with autism and Autistic Spectrum Conditions, and they have developed the JAM card and app. The JAM card is designed to allow users to ask for ‘Just A Minute’ of extra patience – a discreet way of telling whoever they are communicating with that they need a little more time.

While of course all our testers were equally important to us, easily the most adorable was Morris

composite image of testers from Ulster University, including Morris the guide dog, a medium sized, golden furred dog.

Testers from Ulster University, with different disabilities on day one of testing, joined by Morris the Guide Dog

the guide dog. Morris was very patient throughout the testing, and even graciously decided to catch up on his sleep to let his companion complete the tests. As a result of Morris’s kind assistance, Olenick are now looking into sponsoring guide dog puppies – something our Newport office has been doing for a while.

Following on from the testing, CCS are hoping to work together with Olenick to set up more fund-raising for guide dogs, including a coffee morning – so it just goes to show, guaranteeing accessibility has more wide-reaching benefits than you might think.