The GDS Accessibility team is here to make it easier for departments to build digital services that are accessible for everyone.
We want to ensure that there are no barriers that might prevent anyone from accessing a digital service. This means people who are hard of hearing or have visual, cognitive or motor impairments. But beyond that, it means all users – not just those with permanent disabilities.
You might, for example, be trying to listen to a piece of content in a noisy office. Or trying to read something on a screen which has the sun shining directly onto it. You might have a temporary impairment, such as an ear infection or a broken arm. Or you may, as you grow older, develop a permanent impairment.
Making services accessible means making them better for all of us. Watch this video to find out more about what we mean when we talk about accessibility:
The challenges service teams face
Last year we carried out research into how government service teams were approaching accessibility and the challenges they faced.
One of the things we found was that while there were lots of detailed specifications available around accessibility, it was difficult to know how to put them into action when designing and building government services.
This meant that service teams might struggle to understand what they need to do to make their service accessible. This could lead to accessibility being treated as a bolt-on rather than an intrinsic part of service design. And this, in turn, could lead to increased costs if accessibility issues were discovered late in the process, and heightened risks of excluding people from accessing services.
While making sure your service is accessible is part of the Digital Service Standard, we found that the specific requirements weren’t as clear or straightforward as they could be. This meant that teams lacked a clear mandate for dedicating resource and time to delivering against the requirements.
Government has a legal obligation to make its digital services accessible to everyone under the Equality Act 2010. The UK is also signed up to incoming European Union directive on public sector website accessibility. This is due to become law in the next 12 months and will, among other things, require government to report on whether or not their digital services are accessible.
This means it’s vital that we make accessibility as clear and easy as possible for service teams. So we’re updating the accessibility guidance in the Service Manual. We’re making it simpler, clearer and easier to understand.
We’ve published a series of guides, including an introduction to making your service accessible and a guide to testing for accessibility. These include guidance on how to deal with accessibility in the discovery, alpha, beta and live stages of a project, and how to understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).
The guidance is based on findings from our discovery user research. We spoke to teams across 8 departments and agencies – including GDS. The people we spoke to included developers, user researchers, product owners and service assessors.
For the first time, the new guidance clearly articulates accessibility requirements for digital government services.
The guidance states that digital services should:
- meet level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as a minimum
- work on the most commonly used assistive technologies, including screen magnifiers, screen readers and speech recognition tools
- include people with disabilities in user research
It’s important to note that these requirements are not new. But this is the first time that they have been clearly stated in one place in guidance.
This makes it clear for service teams to understand what they need to do to make an accessible service and for service assessors to know what to look for.
Supporting the guidance
The guides we’ve published are just the beginning. We’ll be publishing more soon, including guidance written specifically for different job roles. This will help people understand the specific role that they can play, making accessibility the whole team’s responsibility.
And we know that guidance on its own is not enough. People need to feel confident and comfortable dealing with accessibility issues. They need to be able to ask questions and seek advice.
This is why we’ll continue to grow the cross-government accessibility community, which currently has more than 620 members. We’re talking to other heads of communities to make sure accessibility is embedded in every aspect of service design. We’re also working with the GDS Academy to embed accessibility into the training that they offer service teams.
All government departments have now nominated an accessibility lead to champion best practice building digital services, and this group will meet regularly to discuss accessibility issues.
Making things accessible is the job of all of us. And only by working together and supporting each other can we ensure that government services are accessible by default.
You can find guidance on how to make your service accessible in the Service Manual:
You can also find out more about the four principles of digital accessibility in this video: