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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.

- Please tell us about yourself:

“I’m a user-researcher at Home Office Digital. I talk to and observe users of our services to understand their needs. I relay these to my team to improve our provision. I’m also thrilled to be leading HOD on access needs alongside Emily Ball, raising peers and senior colleagues’ awareness, skills and standards of accessibility, plus sharing good practice across government.

“Outside of work, I’m a trustee for Aniridia Network UK (found at the following link: ),the charity that supports people with my rare genetic eye condition. I manage all aspects of its communications, IT and membership.

“Aniridia means my eyes didn’t develop properly as a baby. Most obviously, I have no irises – no coloured part of my eyes. That means I can’t shut out sun or bright light. It also means I can’t see detail and am very short-sighted. Essentially, I see everything over-exposed and in low resolution.”

- What visual aids do you use?

“Various magnifying glasses, sometimes including the camera and an app on my phone. To see things like presentations, I use a monocular. It’s a mini-telescope capable of focusing very nearby. This is useful when a colleague wants to show me something on their computer screen a few feet away. When outside, rather than sunglasses, I wear special green-tinted eye shields to cut out blue glaring light, without affecting contrast too much.”

- What assistive technology do you use when you’re on the web?

“Since my job is about usability of website interfaces, I avoid overriding their designs, such as with high contrast colours or larger fonts. So I use screen magnification software set to at least 200%, often more. At my desk, the screen view is spread across two monitors so that (most of) a line of text can be read with just head movement, rather than horizontal scrolling.

“That’s not possible with my Android phablet, but the large screen makes interfaces like the keyboards appear large. Plus, even with large fonts or zoom, a decent amount of stuff is still in view.

“I keep up with blogs using RSS feeds and listen to blog posts during my commute. The pronunciations can be fun. For example: ‘Now read live reporting from GDS’ could sound like: ‘now red liv reporting from geedesh.’

“Podcasts and videos are great alternatives to articles. Particularly for tutorials – I’ll seek out an audio-visual tutorial rather than a written guide.”

- What barriers do you regularly face on the web and in other parts of your job?

“Reading written materials or filling in paper forms is hard. Beyond the obvious, examples include: labels on sandwiches inside a glass counter; a reception desk sign-in sheet; art gallery labels; colleagues’ notes. As well as being hard to see, there are physical barriers or social expectations that inhibit my methods of perceiving them.

“Online, when using screen magnification, the biggest difficulties are due to notifications, dialog boxes or buttons being out of my current zoomed field of view. I have to physically scroll around, hunting for the interface I need. That is disorientating, takes valuable time and lots of mouse movement effort, which could lead to repetitive strain injury.

“Applications with text that cannot be enlarged are a pain. I can use the Android zoom, but then I have to swipe back and forth to read lines of text. To avoid that, I’ve become good at reading the first three-quarters of each line and guessing the rest, only swiping across when necessary.

“I’ll often give up reading rather than excessively scrolling my zoomed view back and forth. Text that poorly contrasts with the background is also a big hindrance.

“Also, ‘mega-menus’ can be a nightmare. I’m constantly moving my mouse to the edge of the screen to move the area I’m zoomed into. I frequently open menus by accident as the cursor passes over the area that activates them.

“All that said, I far prefer electronic to paper in most situations. I’d much rather write or fill in a well-designed online form with a keyboard and monitor, rather than paper and pen.”

- (e-Access Bulletin Editor’s note: the following two questions and answers are from separate material sent by James to e-Access Bulletin, and are not included in the original GOV.UK blog post republished above)

- Tell us a bit more about your role at Home Office Digital and the wider accessibility team:

“I’m now dedicated to leading on access needs full-time, and other staff are coming on board to assist. The focus on accessibility within the Home Office Digital team has been driven by Katy Arnold, Head of User Research and Design. Everyone on her team received training on how to discover and meet the access needs of colleagues and service users. We then found 12 enthusiastic people from among the researchers, writers and designers, and paired them up to specialise on a disability.

“They are tasked with growing our knowledge of how different disabilities may affect use of our online services and what can be done to help. This can then be fed into the design. The results of this are epitomised in the ‘Do and Don’t’ series of ‘designing for accessibility’ posters we produced (link below to GDS blog about the posters: ).

“Three developers have also been given responsibility for improving how we address technical aspects.

“Before we even start planning a project, let alone coding it, user-researchers interview relevant people with access needs. We learn how to make the service meet their needs. Then throughout development, we run usability testing sessions, often visiting their home or workplace to observe them using our system with their assistive technology, in their normal environment.”

- How has this approach changed ways of working?

“Here are two examples of how online forms have changed:

“1: When asking for a phone number, enabling users (especially D/deaf users) to specify that we should only text them instead of calling [over the phone].

2: When uploading a photograph for a passport, providing a way for users (such as, people with facial disfigurements) to override the automated checks for compliance with the rules, and explain why to the human examiner.

“I’m supporting all this work by giving advice, delivering training and conducting site audits. Together with the fantastic accessibility team at Government Digital Service and colleagues across government, we are continuing to grow our capacity for understanding and meeting access needs. I am thrilled to be part of the movement that’s creating exceptional services for everyone.”

– This article is a republished, adapted version of James Buller’s post on the GOV.UK accessibility blog, which can be found at the following link: .

Licensing attribution: this article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.


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