Government Digital Service Podcast

Government Digital Service Podcast #15: Accessibility

January 30, 2020

 

Laura Stevens:

Hello, and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast, and the first one of the decade. My name is Laura Stevens and for regular listeners of the podcast, I now have a new job title as Creative Content Producer here at GDS.

 

And for the first podcast of 2020 we’re going to be speaking about accessibility. Everybody has to interact with government, people cannot shop around and go to different providers so there’s an obligation for government to make its services as accessible as possible. At GDS accessibility is considered in everything we do. It’s one of our design principles, we publish accessibility guidance on GOV.UK and we want to make sure there are no barriers preventing someone from using something.

 

And to tell us more about accessibility at GDS, I have Rianna Fry and Chris Heathcote. Please can you both introduce yourselves and what you do here at GDS. So Rianna first.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Yeah, so I’m Rianna and I am a Senior Campaign Manager here at GDS. So my job is helping to tell more people about all the great stuff that GDS does. And one of the main things at the moment is accessibility. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And Chris?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Hi, I’m Chris Heathcote, I’m a Product Manager and Designer at GDS. So I’m running the team that will be monitoring websites for accessibility going forward.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yes, and there’ll be more on that later in the podcast.

 

So I just thought a good place to start, because as I mentioned GDS has to design for everyone, so to give a sort of sense of the needs of the population we’re designing for I have a few statements for you both. And I’m going to ask you whether they’re true or false. 

 

  1. So true or false, 12 million people in the UK have some kind of hearing loss.

 

Rianna Fry: 

True.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

That sounds true.

 

Laura Stevens: 

It is true. Second statement. 6.4 million people in the UK have dyslexia. 

 

Chris Heathcote: 

That sounds true as well.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Yeah, it does.

 

Laura Stevens: 

It is true as well. And thirdly, 2 million people in the UK have significant sight loss. 

 

Rianna Fry:

True. 

 

Chris Heathcote:

At least 2 million I would have thought, yes.

 

Laura Stevens:

Yes. You are correct, they’re all true.

 

Rianna Fry:

Do we, do we win something?

 

Laura Stevens:

I’m afraid I didn’t bring a prize and now I’m being shamed, I’m sorry. 

 

Rianna Fry: 

Right, OK. Sorry.

 

Laura Stevens: 

But all these stats are from the GDS accessibility empathy lab. And this is a space at GDS which helps raise awareness about accessibility, and also is an assistive technology testing space. And there’s another poster in the lab that says when you design services, you need to think about permanent, temporary and situational accessibility needs. 

 

What does that mean?

 

Rianna Fry: 

So I think I’ll touch on situational accessibility needs. So for me that was one of the most sort of light bulb moments when I came to work on this project with Chris and the rest of the team. So often when we talk about accessibility, I think a lot people naturally think about disabilities that people might have, like motor disabilities or sight impairments for example. 

 

But obviously at some point, they’re, we’re in situations that prevent us from being able to use digital services, perhaps in the way that they’re initially intended. So if you just think about social media. So my background is in digital marketing so thinking about videos. Obviously captions are massive and subtitles for videos because when you’re on the tube, you can’t always hear what you’re listening to.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

So thinking about those kind of things was really sort of key for me, you know. When we build things or create content, we want as many people to see and use these things as possible. So considering all the factors that may prevent people from using something in one way, I think that’s what it’s about.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah, I mean at GDS we’ve always considered that wherever there is a web browser people will try and use that to interact with government.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

So right from the start, we saw people doing passport applications on their PlayStations. And we’ve seen…

 

Laura Stevens:

Really?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah. So we’ve seen mobiles, you know are now more than 50% of traffic often. And so we, what we, you know accessibility is just one way to make sure that people can always use the services and the content that we provide. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah I think definitely what you’re saying about mobiles as well. Because I looked up Matt Hobbs, who’s the Head of Frontend Development at GDS, tweeted about the November 2019 GOV.UK stats, and mobile was over 50%. It was 52.86%. 

 

Rianna Fry:

Absolutely, yeah.

 

Laura Stevens:

And I guess part of this is also thinking like why is it particularly important that government is a leader in accessible services. Like what, why is that so important?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

I mean as you said at the beginning, you know you don’t choose to use government, you have to use government. So you can’t go anywhere else. So it’s, it’s our obligation to make sure that, that everything is accessible to everyone. And it does have to be everyone, and especially those with disabilities, or needing to use assistive technology, tend to have to interact with government more. 

 

So we do have an obligation for that.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And I think if you think about it, these are public services. They’re online public services so they need to be able to use, be used by the public not exclusive groups. And I think that’s what it's all about. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And sort of on that, or leading on from that, I wanted us to talk about GDS as leaders in digital accessibility. So at GDS, we’ve, we set up the cross-government accessibility community, the Head of Accessibility for government sits at GDS and as mentioned, it’s one of our design principles. So we want to design for everyone. 

 

And from your work here at GDS, do you have any sort of examples of where GDS has led in accessibility? So for instance you were talking there about assistive technology, and I know that GOV.UK, there’s a lot of work done on GOV.UK to make sure that it works with assistive technology.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes, I mean especially as sort of the standards for accessibility have changed over the last 7, 8 years that GDS has existed. We’ve always made sure that our code works on everything and for all assistive technology. And also we’ve made you know, now with the [GOV.UK] Design System made it possible for the, all services in government to take that and so they don’t have to do the work as well. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

So how can people use the Design System, if they’re listening and they don’t quite know what the Design System is. Can you explain it a bit please?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes. So I mean if you go to the GOV.UK Design System site, it provides basically all the code you need to make something look and feel like GOV.UK. You know we’ve always said that GOV.UK is a single domain for government, and that services in central government should look and feel like GOV.UK and be linked from GOV.UK.

 

And if you use our code, it means you get all the usability and accessibility benefits that we’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make sure work really well. And you get that basically for free. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah, and it’s also I guess you’re sharing the, as you were just talking about, you’re sharing the hard work. So if you’re a smaller organisation or you don’t have that sort of technical capability, you’re saying it’s already there. We can, you can just go to the...

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes, we saw that every, basically every service in government was spending 6 months or more, you know writing code that’s basically the same.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

That’s why the Design System exists, and is so popular. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And have you seen any sort of examples of…

 

Rianna Fry: 

Well I think, I think you mentioned this near the beginning as well, the accessibility empathy lab.

 

Laura Stevens:

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

So that’s sort of a space for people to really experience some of the impairments that people may have, and really put them in that space. And I think that really helps to bring things to life. Because it’s really easy to forget or not consider what some needs might be. And I’ve been along to some of the tours there and it’s, it’s great to see people in all different roles coming from all different kinds of organisations sort of using the different personas that are in that lab, to think differently about how web pages should be built.

 

And also even you know, the words that we use. And I think that sort of in line with what Chris was saying, there’s also the, the style guide. Because we often forget as a communicator, plain English is really important, that’s like a basic thing.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yes.

 

Rianna Fry: 

That most people know about and practice, but don’t necessarily consider as part of accessibility. And I know when I worked at the council we used the GOV.UK Style Guide as like the basis because we knew that there was a lot of research and it’s ongoing.

 

And also like as Chris said, you know it’s not just people within GDS that inform this work. It’s across government and also some of the wider public sector. There’s great communities that are sharing really great work in this space, and that all feeds in. 

 

Laura Stevens:

No I think that’s really interesting as well what you’re saying because you came from a local government background into central government. 

 

Rianna Fry: 

Yeah.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And you were able to use some of those sort of GDS or cross-government tools, and you were able to pick them up and use them. That’s really good.

 

Rianna Fry:

Yeah, absolutely yeah. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And, and you mentioned there that a lot of the work in accessibility it’s not, it’s not, even though a lot of it sits at GDS, it’s contributed to by people across the accessibility community across government. 

 

We’ve got a cross-government accessibility community, which has more than 1,200 people in the Google group. And are you involved in the community Chris or?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Well I’m on the email..

 

Laura Stevens:

Yeah.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

And I will, and I respond to questions about the accessibility monitoring. Yeah, I mean it’s I think, because accessibility cuts across so many different jobs in government, so it isn’t just the people that, that do accessibility auditing day in and day out and,but we now have those across government. 

 

But you know, all frontend developers, all designers, all user researchers tend to need to know something about accessibility, and have questions and even though they’re not you know, full time professionals in this, the community’s there to help everyone understand what we’re looking for and how to consider accessibility in everything they do.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And do you think that’s sort of been a shift because Rianna was mentioning like how in the lab, you get people of all different job titles in, and that’s sort of shift in making accessibility part of everyone’s job, not just people who have accessibility in their job title. Like neither of you 2 have accessibility in job title for instance.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah. I mean I think that’s been a big change like it was with design before and user research. It isn’t just a separate specialist, even though we need the specialists to you know, do the work.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah yeah, of course.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

It’s something that everyone has to consider as they do their job. So especially like frontend developers, we expect them to be testing their code for accessibility at, just as they are doing it. Which means that when they do do an audit and a specialist comes in and looks at the site, there shouldn’t be any surprises.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And I think that’s one of the, so Richard Morton, who’s the Interim Head of Accessibility across government, that’s one of the things that he says, is that actually the ambition for his role is that there won’t, in the future, need to be specialists necessarily because everybody has a, a level of understanding about it. 

 

Obviously that’s a long way off.  

 

Laura Stevens: 

And also I guess he doesn’t want to talk himself out of a job.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Yeah! Exact--and that I mean, he does follow it up with that.

 

But I think, I think that’s what’s really nice about the community is that you have got people, so for example the designer that I’ve worked on, Charlotte, with the campaign for accessibility. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Is this Charlotte Downs?

 

Rianna Fry: 

Charlotte Downs, yeah. So since she’s been working that, she’s just sort of, her mind has been blown by all this information that’s out there. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And she’s now a go to person with GDS for design - accessible design - particularly around PDFs. And I think that’s the thing, sort of as you sort of get into it, it’s really easy to become really passionate about accessibility because it’s all about doing the right thing. And I think particularly within GDS, and actually most digital based roles I would say, it’s all about users. And accessibility, that’s what it’s all about. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

I’ve heard people refer to the PDF mountain in government. What does that mean and why is that related to accessibility?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

I mean right from the start of GOV.UK, we saw that central government alone was publishing pretty much everything as PDFs. And PDFs vary in quality and vary in accessibility as well. It is possible to make more accessible PDFs. But generally we’ve always said things should be webpages, content should be on webpages and in HTML. But, and in central government we’ve been moderately successful in that. There’s still a lot of PDFs being published but we’ve reduced that, and especially in services, they tend not to use PDFs anymore.

 

So I think legislation is a good time for, for all public sector organisations to reflect on that and see how they can change some of their processes and how they publish information.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So changing a mountain into a molehill.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes. I mean we, I think you know there will always be some PDFs for certain reasons but the number of PDFs being published should go down.

 

Rianna Fry: 

So just thinking about stuff like that, as Chris says, changing processes. Is there a reason why we have to have this as a PDF format, why can’t it be HTML? I mean it, the campaign, it, it was the same you know. 

 

How do we make the supporter pack in HTML, it doesn’t look as pretty, which for creative people might be something, like a bone of contention, but ultimately we want people to be able to use it. So creating things and making things available in different formats if you have to have a PDF, is the right thing to do. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah and I think that’s sort of interesting as well with the creative side of things. Because obviously as government though you need to make it’s as accessible as possible and I think GOV.UK has won design awards so it shows that like, accessibility doesn’t mean that like design goes out the window, not at all. Like I think it was Fast Company put us at the top 10 designs of the decades in the 2010s. So..

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah I mean even when we won the Design Museum's Design of the Year award.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

You know we were on, we were called boring.com the next day. But you know we have a lot of designers working here in GDS, and there is an awful lot of design built into it even though it may look a bit plainer than other websites. But that’s because we’re totally focussed on usability and accessibility.

 

Rianna Fry: 

There’s no point having a beautiful website if no-one can use it

 

Laura Stevens: 

I would just sort of, what I would like to sort of talk about is how accessible services help everyone. 

 

For instance we have GOV.UK content that’s now accessible via voice assistance. So I think there’s now more than 13,000 pieces of GOV.UK content that’s available via Google Home or Amazon Alexa. And why is that good for people, like why, why is that good having these sort of pieces anyone can access via voice?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

I mean there’s a lot of people that can’t use a standard computer and a standard web browser. I mean and that, that ranges from having disabilities through to just not understanding how a computer works and not wanting to understand how a computer works.

 

So being able to access government information if not services yet, just through voice I think is, is really important.

 

Rianna Fry: 

I was just going to say, personally as well, so a, a relative of mine recently was unwell and lost his sight. And he has an Alexa and so although it was still a difficult transition for him, him still being able to access things as soon as he got home really helped. 

 

Laura Stevens:
Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry:

And I think you know like Chris said, not everyone wants to use a computer as well.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Or if you’re sort of busy and out and about, sort of that situational side of things, it just makes things more accessible and more available for people, which is great. It’s easier right?

 

Laura Stevens: 

Chris, you alluded to this earlier that the sort of regulations have changed since GDS begun. And while accessibility has always been part of GDS’ work, there are new regulations that have come in quite recently, and these regulations mean public sector organisations have a legal duty to make sure their websites and apps meet accessibility requirements. 

 

And can you tell me a bit about them and sort of, what the key dates are with that and…

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes. So this is a European-wide initiative that started in 2016. It’s now UK law. And any new websites that a public sector body makes, that's certainly in public, needs to be accessible now. And they should also publish something called an accessibility statement on their website that says how accessible they are and how to get in contact with them if you find any issues with them.

 

But then the big deadline is 23 September 2020, when all public sector websites, old and new, need to be accessible.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And how is this related to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which I called WCAG, but is that the correct way of pronouncing…

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah.

 

Laura Stevens: 

...that acronym? So yeah, the web--oh sorry.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

So WCAG is a W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] standard about web content accessibility. And it’s been updated pretty recently to version 2.1. And the standard that the legislation and we require is something called double A. So there are 3, 3 levels of accessibility mentioned in the guidelines - A, double A and triple A. 

 

And double A means that there should not be any major blockers to anyone being able to use the website. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Will the regulations apply differently to different parts of the public sector, for instance central government or to schools or to healthcare? 

 

Chris Heathcote: 

There are some differences. The legislation makes some exemptions especially, there is partial exemptions for schools and nurseries. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Although the way it’s written, actually they’re not quite as exempt as you might think.

 

Laura Stevens: 

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Because a lot of people are doing stuff online, and if the online is the only route to them that has to be accessible. 

 

Laura Stevens:

Yes. 

 

Chris Heathcote: 

But generally the exemptions are, are quite small. 

 

Rianna Fry: 

I think what’s really important as well is that, I mean it’s this is sort of easy, easier for me to say I guess because I work in an organisation that really cares about accessibility and already has accessibility built in to a lot of the ways of working. But I think for me it’s sort of helpful to think about this as an opportunity. So I think this creates a really good excuse to educate people about why that’s important and also now that there’s law behind this...

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry:

that feeds into the Equality Act, and I mean that’s really important. If you’re going to pay to build a website, or spend a load of your time creating content, then you want to make sure that people can access that content or access that, access that service.

 

Why, why would you want to try and get around that? Because all you’re doing is reducing the amount of people that can access it. So I think you know, although I understand that sometimes there are reasons for that like time. I think this is about behaviour change, and also education, helping people to understand that. If you’re, if you’re opening your service up, you’re reducing costs that may be elsewhere because you’re making your website more efficient and work for people so that they can self-serve.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And so do you think that’s why having an accessibility statement is a really good thing? Because you know how you’re saying this is a way of creating behaviour change. By the process of going through and creating accessibility statement, which is this statement on the website that says, this is why our service is accessible. And it also has to say, if I’m right, this isn’t accessible but this is how we’re working.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Absolutely.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah because GOV.UK has an accessibility statement, doesn’t it?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah. What we are trying to do is make sites accessible so pub--, so you know getting the information together and publishing an accessibility statement is a really good start to making sure that the website is accessible and remains as accessible as it changes. 

 

Rianna Fry: 

I was just going to say you know, I think that shows a commitment to making a change. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

I think it’s unrealistic to expect all websites overnight to be completely accessible, because some of this stuff involves a lot of legacy things.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yes.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And also PDFs, a lot of PDFs. But this, I, as I understand it, and I’m not an expert so Chris you might correct me on this, but that’s statements about saying you know, these areas aren’t right but this is our plan to fix them. And if you can’t access information here’s who you need to contact to get that. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yes. And that's an important part, you have that contact.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Absolutely, yeah. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

A name or an email address that you can go forward to.

 

And this actually leads me nicely on, because this was, we chose accessibility in January because there was a loose news hook for the podcast that January is when enforcement and reporting will begin. And this is quite a big job to undertake so Chris could you kind of talk to me about this next bit of your role?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah so to make sure that people are taking the legislation seriously, in each country in Europe, so it’s not just the UK, there is a monitoring body set up. In the UK it was decided that GDS would host that. And that’s the team I’m setting up at the moment. 

 

So we have an obligation in, in the legislation as well. So we will be monitoring a number of public sector websites. It’s about...by 2023, it’ll be about 2,000 websites a year.

 

And what we do is most of that will be automated checking using automated accessibility checkers. But we know that that only covers 30 to 40% of accessibility issues and WCAG points. So we’ll be doing a bit of manual checking as well and, and for a certain amount of websites, we have to do a sort of fuller audit that’s more like a traditional accessibility audit.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And this is done on behalf of the Minister for Cabinet Office isn’t it?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes. So yeah, they’re the person that's mentioned in the legislation. And yes, we’ll be reporting to them about what we find.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And when you go through these websites, how do you get back in touch with them, do you create an accessibility report, how does that work?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

So, so what we’re going to do is from the testing that we do, we’ll write a report. We’ll send that to the public sector organisation and start a conversation with them really about do they understand the report, do they see the same issues that we’re seeing, and what they’re going to do to fix them.

 

And hopefully that’s a constructive conversation and we can provide technical support where needed.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Yeah, and would you also I guess point to some of the stuff on GOV.UK? There’s accessibility guidance there as well. Would you be using that?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yeah absolutely. I mean, I mean both, both the stuff that we publish for central government like the Design System and the Service Manual. But also you know we are looking also for resources around the W3C publish and things like training that, that are starting to happen that we can point people to so that you know, they, they can fix the issues as quickly as possible.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Say if a website has been found with accessibility issues, what would be a way of enforcing the findings of a report?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

So we’re working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in England, Wales and Scotland, and for Northern Ireland it’s the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. They are actually doing the enforcing on accessibility because it, it, falls under the Equality Act, so they’ve been enforcing accessibility for, for a while. And so that’s their role.

 

However we will be enforcing whether they, the sites have accessibility statements or not because that’s an additional thing on top of the Equality Act.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So you’re gonna be very busy over the next year and onwards from there.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Yes. I mean it’s never ending. Yes we’re recruiting at the moment - the Audit Team. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Are you giving a plug on the podcast if anyone’s listening and they want to apply?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Well we will, we, we’ll certainly have some roles opening over the next year.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And how will you find this sample of websites, or do we not know this yet?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

We’ve spent quite a while coming up with a list of what is the public sector and what isn’t. 

 

Laura Stevens:

Yes.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

And also what websites they have. There’s another team in GDS called the Domain Management Team, who have also been trying to look at what websites government runs, and what the public sector runs. And they’re more tasked with making sure that the domains remain secure and are being used properly. 

 

But you know this list hasn’t existed before. So we’ve also approached it, we’ve crea--we’ve gathered lots of open data that government publishes around public sector organisations. And we’re using that to create a sort of master list of the public sector that we will then sample against. 

 

Laura Stevens:

Rianna you actually mentioned this earlier, and I know you’ve joined GDS relatively recently in the summer of last year. And sometimes I think accessibility can be landed on a person, one person in an organisation, and that it can feel quite overwhelming when suddenly there are regulations that people need to, and they need to learn a lot of knowledge quite quickly, how did you find that when you joined and you were given the accessibility campaign to manage? When you had to learn all this information, what did you find that was helpful or how did you find that process?

 

Rianna Fry: 

Well I think I’ve been really lucky in that I was surrounded by experts at GDS.

 

Laura Stevens:

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And also there is so much information on GOV.UK. And I mean, that’s not a plug, it’s true. And so like I said before, Charlotte Downs for example, she, when she, when we started working on this together she did a load of research on different things.

 

Because I mean, even once you know it, even once you’ve been through some training on how to create an accessible document. When you’re knocking together a document, it’s really easy to forget. Like I said, it’s behaviour change. So I think it’s about checking in with other people and asking other people to just check over content.

 

You know I remember when I first started working on this project and I sent out a survey and I made an assumption that it was accessible and it wasn’t. And that was..

 

Laura Stevens: 

And it was a survey about accessibility?

 

Rianna Fry:

It was, yeah. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Oh, yeah.

 

Rianna Fry:

I mean it was a steep learning curve. Thankfully it was only live for about 2 minutes before I noticed.

 

Laura Stevens:

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And me and Richard [Morton] then worked together on some stuff, but I think that’s what it’s about, it’s about asking people to check in. And you know things aren’t always going to be perfect but that’s why it helps to be part of communities so that you’ve kind of got constructive friends

 

Laura Stevens:

Yes.

 

Rianna Fry: 

that can give you constructive feedback on how you can improve what you're doing. So I think, yeah it’s about seeing what’s out there and speaking to people and asking people to, for feedback on what you’re doing. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And I know we mentioned before the communities are very active, the blog posts are very active, but also so you’re running the campaign for accessibility, we’ve had 75,000 visits to the GOV.UK guidance since August 2019. And you’ve also created a campaigns pack, and is that for people, who who’s that for?

 

Rianna Fry: 

So that’s for supporters. So for us, as Chris said this is a massive job, there are so many organisations that need to know about this. And the people that are potentially responsible for managing a public sector website aren’t necessarily in digital roles. They’re not necessarily people that GDS are talking to or aware of. 

 

So if you think about things like GP surgeries for example, they fall into the remit of public sector. Now my GP surgery definitely doesn’t have a digital team. So the, the point of the supporter pack is to try and get especially central government teams onboard, their engagement and communications teams on board and talking to people about the regulations.

 

So we’re trying to make it easier by bringing that information into one place, which is all the point of the campaign page. So we’ve tried to break it down into 4 steps. So signposting people to guidance that will help them to understand whether or not they’re going to be impacted. Believe it or not, some people aren’t sure whether or not they’re classed as a public sector organisation.

 

Then secondly deciding how to check the accessibility of their websites. Then making a plan to fix any problems and lastly publishing an accessibility statement, which really summarises the findings and the plans to fix any issues. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And you’re saying there that this is all in one place, where is that place?

 

Rianna Fry: 

So it’s on GOV.UK/accessibility-regulations.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So if, so if I’m from the public sector I can go there and just…

 

Rianna Fry:

Absolutely. Yeah, it’s an open web...

 

Laura Stevens:

Yeah.

 

Rianna Fry: 

...webpage. And I’m, I mean my information’s on the supporter pack so if there are any campaign people out there that want to talk to me, then I’m more than happy to share any additional resources that we’ve got, that we’re using internally and whatever else.

 

Laura Stevens: 

And do you have any sort of top tips, or from your work you’ve done in sort of starting this work on accessibility. Are there any sort of things where you’ve spoken to other organisations, you’ve been like oh that’s a good thing to share. Any best practice or anything like that?

 

Chris Heathcote: 

I mean I think that, that it isn’t just all..it isn’t just a single thing that people need to do. You know we understand that people have websites and they might need to retrofit some accessibility onto that but it is really about changing processes. 

 

So especially when we talk to people like local authorities, the number of people that publish on the website is quite large and it’s educating them to know how to make good PDFs, how to write well, how to, how generally how accessibility of content works. And making sure there’s a process to make sure that that happens. That needs to be in place as much as actually fixing the website and the technical aspects of accessibility.

 

Rianna Fry: 

And I think education is really important. So I think what helps is to tell, help colleagues across organisations to understand why they need to do certain things. 

 

And I think it helps that people, people have an awareness of the Equality Act, and understand when something is law. So I think that helps and I would say to try and use that to, yeah really educate people and try and get people on board internally.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So as a closing segment I thought it might be nice to ask both of you if there’s something in particular that motivates you to work in accessibility, or if there’s something you’ve come across in your work that’s made a real impact on you, and sort of galvanised you to keep going on this.

 

Chris Heathcote: 

I mean I think we, what we see is when we talk to users, and we talk to users all the time, is it gives people independence. People can do things for themselves, they can self-serve, they can see the content on GOV.UK. And it’s, it’s something that they’ve you know, moving digitally has actually changed people’s lives. 

 

Rianna Fry: 

Yeah, I think I’d echo that you know. And it’s important that organisations know about the regulations. So supporting those really hard working digital colleagues that spend a load of time researching what, what works for users, and a load of time trying to tell other people how to, you know why PDFs shouldn’t be used. 

 

So I think for me, that’s really important. And also just you know that lightbulb, seeing that lightbulb moment of people going ‘oh god, yeah we really should be doing this and being able to signpost them to the tools to be able to kind of put it into action.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So thank you to Rianna and thank you to Chris for coming on the podcast today. I hope you’ve enjoyed being on the GDS podcast, a first for both of you.

 

Chris Heathcote:

Yeah. Thanks for having us. 

 

Rianna Fry:

Yeah. Thanks for having us. And thank you for choosing accessibility to be your first podcast of the decade. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Well I do.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Not just the year, the decade! I mean it feels like it’s really significant. This is going to be a podcast that people remember. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

And so yeah, you can listen to all the episodes of the Government Digital Service podcast on Apple Music, Spotify and all other major podcast platforms. And the transcripts are available on Podbean. 

 

So thank you both again, and goodbye!

 

Chris Heathcote: 

Bye.

 

Rianna Fry: 

Thanks!

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