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Government for all: opening up online services – Q&A with James Buller, Home Office Digital

James Buller is a user-researcher at Home Office Digital (HOD) leading on access needs, and has been contributing to the Government Digital Service (GDS) accessibility blog on GOV.UK, the UK government services portal.

Below is a republished, adapted version of the Q&A in James’ GOV.UK post (with some additional material), explaining how he works with service users to meet accessibility requirements, as well as his own use of assistive technology and the wider work of HOD.

James’ original post can be found in full on the GDS accessibility blog, linked to at the end of this article.


Top travel websites still failing users with disabilities, report uncovers

Many of the most popular travel companies are still not making their websites accessible, new research has found.

The report (named ‘Are travel companies burying their heads in the sand when it comes to user experience and accessibility?’, compiled by digital user experience agency Sigma), tested ten of the most popular travel websites in the UK across three main categories: accessibility; usability; ease of use on different devices.


Steering digital inclusion from the driving seat: Q&A with Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet

When he helped co-found UK technology access charity AbilityNet in 1998, Robin Christopherson was already on his way to helping drive forward digital accessibility, and since then his work has continued to change people’s lives. He is now AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, after helping to grow the charity’s services. These services include website and mobile accessibility consultancy, which AbilityNet now delivers to companies including Microsoft, the BBC, HSBC and Sainsbury’s.

Christopherson has also led and worked on all manner of projects and campaigns to increase digital accessibility, particularly for blind and visually impaired people. This has included providing expert commentary for news sources such as The Guardian, and presenting on and testing new technology, whether that’s a driverless car or the latest smartwatch.

In recognition of his valuable contributions, he was surprised with a special award at the annual Tech4Good Awards earlier this month. e-Access Bulletin caught up with Christopherson to find out more about his work and get his thoughts on the evolution of accessibility.


A cautious welcome as Europe looks to lock-in web accessibility

A provisional agreement to make public sector websites and mobile apps across Europe more accessible has been reached, creating mixed reactions from the accessibility community.

The deal between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission was made earlier this month, and relates to the existing ‘Directive on Web Accessibility for Public Sector Websites’, which has been the subject of debate since its introduction in 2012 (See e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage at the following link: ).


Conquering the website accessibility divide

By Donna Jodhan.

There is the digital divide and then there is the technology divide. Now I’d like to add the website accessibility divide to this list.

The ‘website accessibility divide’ refers to those of us who are unable to access websites due to navigable and usability reasons, versus those who do not have any difficulty accessing websites.

The former group often describes those of us who are visually impaired, and for me, as one who falls into this category, I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in my personal life whenever I am unable to do things such as: access information independently and in privacy; complete forms on my own; request information without having to ask for sighted help; download and read documents without having to ask for sighted assistance; read content on a website on my own.


Governments warned not to “exclude millions” by legalising digital barriers

A letter from 20 NGOs has warned European ministers of the severe impact on disabled citizens’ lives that proposed changes to a web accessibility directive would have.

If exemptions to the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites are adopted, then electronic communication with public organisations, downloading documents and accessing intranets at work will all be affected, and in some cases made impossible for disabled citizens throughout Europe, say the NGOs.


Special report: How accessible is WordPress?

By Graham Armfield

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system (CMS). It now powers over 20% of the world’s websites, and that figure is steadily rising. People choose WordPress for its flexibility as a web platform, and because it can be used to create a stylish website extremely quickly, using freely available themes (or templates) and plugins. But how accessible are the websites produced with WordPress and the admin screens used to manage those sites?

WordPress is a true open source project. It has been created and amended over ten years by literally hundreds of developers. Sadly, many of these developers had little or no knowledge or experience of accessibility, meaning that many inaccessible practices were baked into WordPress themes, plugins and admin screens.


Bristol accessibility group ‘could be national model’

A cross-sector group of technology developers, academics and public sector workers, formed in the UK city of Bristol to exchange knowledge about digital accessibility, could be a model for similar initiatives across the country, one of the group’s founders has told E-Access Bulletin.

Léonie Watson, an accessibility consultant who advises the Government Digital Service, said the idea for Accessible Bristol was first sown about three years ago when she was working at digital agency Nomensa. Alongside colleagues from her work, Watson joined forces with developers from Bristol City Council and University of Bristol.

“We realised there was a thriving tech scene in Bristol, and quite a concentration of accessibility and usability companies and accessibility and usability departments within bigger companies such as Nokia and Orange”, Watson said. “So we thought – why don’t we create something to bring people together?”

After a year of activity, the group petered out in 2013 as some of its core people moved away or changed jobs, she said. Then a few months ago, a conversation on Twitter started by someone looking for accessibility experts in Bristol led to Watson pointing out the group was still there, but dormant. “We had an overwhelming response.” The group has now been restarted with monthly speaker sessions followed by open discussion and networking. January speaker was Steve Faulkner, technical director for web accessibility at the Paciello Group and co-editor of the HTML5 specification. Its February speaker is set to be Ian Pouncey, senior accessibility specialist at the BBC.

The idea behind the events is to give developers and designers in the city, the chance to hear some excellent speakers and to get to know each other in the hope they can share information and solutions, Watson said. “There are umpteen developers in different teams across the city all going through the same problems, so there is a good chance someone, somewhere has found a solution.” The group can also start bringing practitioners together with people with disabilities, allowing developers to talk to people using a range of different devices or assistive technologies, she said.

Watson said she is not aware of such a diverse accessibility practitioner group meeting elsewhere in the UK, though the model should translate well to other areas. “If it works, it would be brilliant if other places took it up.”

Web accessibility: embedding inclusion

Most organizations are either oblivious to, or terrified about, web accessibility.

They are probably aware that up to 20% of their customers – people with disabilities – could be clicking away from their websites, or leaving their mobile apps every day without having bought anything or found the information or service they wished to find.

They may have even heard from one of this 20%, complaining about problems they can’t reproduce, talking about ‘assistive technologies’ they don’t understand, and asking for what seem like impossible fixes.

They know there is the possibility of being sued if they don’t do the right thing, but they don’t know how far they need to go to prevent that. So if they do make something ‘accessible’, it’s usually only for one product, or one version of a product.

If this sounds anything like the place where you work, I have some comforting news: you are not alone.

I learned directly where I believe most organizations want to be from the heads of diversity and inclusion of the top blue-chip corporations in Europe at a meeting of the Vanguard Network in 2011. Here, the event’s chairwoman spent a whole hour asking each of the delegates what one thing would really make a difference to their organization’s inclusion practices, if they could achieve it. When delegates were asked to vote for which contribution they felt was the most important, the following was the unanimous choice: “What I want is to strategically embed inclusion into my organization’s culture and business-as-usual processes, rather than just doing another inclusion project.

I spent much of my time subsequently conveying the following to the people in the room:

That they could implement a strategy that would allow them to attract and keep that 20% of their audience who are disabled, while not detracting from the user experience of those who aren’t.

That there was a way they could sleep soundly, knowing that they’d done enough to cover their ‘accessibility risk’, but without costing the earth.

That, through following a simple, strategic business-aligned framework, they could embed the best practice necessary to consistently achieve these aims throughout their organization.

And that all of this work could also benefit their organization in their bottom line, as benchmarked analytics show how disabled people’s increased use of their sites increases their turnover and profits.

What did I have that could take them from their position of pain to the place they all wanted to be? The answer is British Standard BS 8878:2010, Web Accessibility – Code of Practice.

It’s not the catchiest title in the world, but BS 8878 opens up in detail the strategies, policies and processes that award-winning, best-of-breed organizations like the BBC, IBM, Vodafone, Opera, BT and Lloyds Banking Group have used to become ‘accessibility competent and confident’, so that they can be used by any organization, no matter how big or small.

It does this at a time when the legal imperatives behind accessibility are being strengthened internationally, and when tablet and smartphone vendors are racing to promote accessibility as a key selling point of their handsets. It also does this as we start to enter the massive demographic change that will result in the number of people who need accessibility rocketing up, and the ‘missing 20%’ become 50%.

There has never been a better time to get into web accessibility, and people who have implemented BS 8878 are increasingly telling me that incorporating its user-centred inclusive design thinking into their production processes has resulted in not only more accessible websites and apps for disabled people, but better websites and apps for everyone.

NOTE: Professor Jonathan Hassell has more than 14 years’ experience of embedding accessibility within digital production teams in leading companies worldwide, and he wrote the British Standard BS 8878. This article is based on an edited extract of his new book “Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility”, reproduced with permission from BSI.

More information on the book and to access free accompanying case-study videos.

British Standards can be obtained in PDF or hard copy formats from: or by contacting BSI Customer Services on 020 8996 9001 or email:

Lack of skills and awareness fuel web inaccessibility, survey finds

Lack of skills or knowledge and lack of awareness of web accessibility are responsible for the great majority of website accessibility problems, according to a US survey of web accessibility practitioners.

Almost four in 10 respondents (36.6%) rated lack of skills and knowledge as the primary reason behind web site accessibility; and only slightly fewer (36.2%) lack of awareness. Other factors cited were Fear that accessibility will hinder the look, feel, or functionality of a website (13.2%); and lack of budget or resources to make it accessible (13.9%).

The research was conducted by WebAIM, a non-profit accessibility research, software and services body based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. The body surveyed 900 web accessibility practitioners from North and Central America (58%); Europe (28%) and worldwide, working in all sectors.

Most of the web accessibility practitioners responding only work in their roles part-time, the research found. While 51.3% indicate that web accessibility is their official role or a significant part of their job assignment, only 29.3% spend more than 30 hours per week in this area. Meanwhile just under a third of respondents (31%) said accessibility work represents “a small part of my work or assignments”; and nearly one in five (17.7%) carry out accessibility work on their own initiative, or as a volunteer.

Asked which was the main factor behind their organisation’s motivation for implementing accessibility, just under a third (31.4%) said Compliance with guidelines and/or best practices. About one quarter (25.7%) said Moral motivation (it’s the right thing to do); a similar number (25.6%) said Legal, contractual, or structured negotiation requirements; other factors included Fear of a lawsuit or complaint (10.9%).

Within an organisation, management support was cited as the most critical factor to ensuring a successful web accessibility effort (36.7%); followed by Staff that are proficient in accessibility (24.8%); A clearly defined policy and/or guidelines (22.3%); Sufficient budget or time support (13.9%); and Legal mandates and requirements (8.7%).

The survey also found that people working in the web accessibility field are generally older, better paid, and better educated than their peers in the wider field of web development, and that the accessibility field has a larger proportion of women and people with disabilities than other technology fields.

However, a significant pay disparity exists for people with disabilities, who earn an average of at least $12,400 less than those without disabilities despite having very similar education level and years of experience, it found.

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