The first UK Government accessibility meet-up

Earlier this year, I attended a government meet-up at the Mozilla offices in London. There were speakers from UK Government, the National Health Service (NHS) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), all brought together to talk about how they design accessible services. Here is my quick round-up of the talks and topics covered.

Accessible design works better for everybody

Alistair Duggin, head of accessibility at Government Digital Service (GDS) was the meet-up host and first speaker.

He reminded us that, in government, everything needs to work for everybody. We should never exclude anyone on the basis of disability.

When designing for accessibility, it’s important to think about access needs rather that disabilities. Access needs include vision, hearing, motor and cognitive issues. An accessible service or product must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust to everyone, no matter what their access needs are. He argued that, if something works well in extreme cases, then it’s better for everyone.

Accessibility should always be considered throughout a project. It’s common for accessibility to decrease over time, so don’t forgot about it after it’s gone live.

Accessibility research at the Home Office

Emily Ball and James Buller are user researchers at Home Office Digital.

They spoke how about how difficult it can be to organise user research with people who have access needs. The lead time can be up to 6 weeks.

They recommend that you should discover every participant’s digital skill level, reading age and access needs whenever doing research.

At their organisation, they are experimenting with ways to encourage more people to think about accessibility. One of the designers there has created a set of beautifully designed accessibility dos and don’ts posters.

Writing content for everyone

Roz Strachan is a content designer at GDS, she is also a teaching assistance in adult literacy classes. She has written a great blog post on how to write content for everyone.

Her talk included lots of good tips on how to write simple content that can be understood by everybody:

  • keep content short, clear and simple
  • organise information into manageable chunks
  • use bullet points to break up long lists
  • don’t use acronyms
  • avoid using all capital letters
  • use words that users use
  • be direct

Accessible healthcare design

Mat Johnson is a designer and front end developer at NHS Beta. His team are designing new ways for patients to interact with the NHS digitally.

Everything they do is accessible, because the NHS constitution says that it must provide a “…comprehensive service, available to all”.

He reminded us that accessibility must never be seen as a separate thing. We should always be thinking about it.

He recommended that designers should:

  • challenge overly complex interfaces
  • use simple, action focused language
  • design clear and intuitive layouts
  • pick colours with enough contrast
  • use clear and legible typefaces

Creating a positive environment at the BBC

Leena Haque works at the BCC and has autism. Her talk was full of brilliant insight into how people with autism deal with work and life.

For Leena, everything is amplified and sometimes she can feel allergic to her environment. Her autism can cause her brain to overload with anxiety. She compared herself to Godzilla. Godzilla was a misunderstood creature not a monster. He just struggled as the environment (downtown Tokyo) didn’t cater to his needs.

Leena finds it easier to communicate with visual metaphors (her slides were full of illustrations and gifs). But, she stressed how important it is to remember that no two autistic people are the same.

Further reading

If you’d like to learn more about accessibility, check out these great resources: