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New research reveals barriers and solutions to accessibility across government

Sifting through an “overwhelming” amount of information and difficulties in finding out who is tasked with accessibility are two of the challenges facing teams in UK Government departments when building accessible digital services, according to research carried out by the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Speaking in London at an event titled ‘Accessibility in the digital space’, Alistair Duggin, Head of Accessibility at GDS, gave delegates (including e-Access Bulletin) a preview of the research results. The event was organised by the Business Disability Forum (BDF), inviting speakers to discuss digital accessibility challenges for organisations and end-users, and the solutions available. In keeping with the theme, Duggin highlighted key issues that government teams were facing in this area, but also explained solutions and ideas to help resolve these issues – both based on the GDS research.

The aim of the research was to find out how different teams across government are approaching accessibility. The study involved face-to-face interviews with people in a range of roles across eight government departments, as well as analysis of existing information.

Findings suggested that teams often do not know who is tasked with making services accessible for users with disabilities. “The thought is often that it’s up to a developer,” said Duggin. “Developers do have a huge responsibility to make things accessible, but they aren’t responsible for content or design.”

Project managers need to takes on this responsibility, said Duggin: “[People in these roles] can’t just say, ‘Don’t worry about accessibility until the end, we’ll get to that bit later.’ That’s going to cause problems.”

Another issue uncovered in the research was that people become “overwhelmed’ by the amount of information available. “If you search for accessibility on the internet, you find lots of information, but a lot of it is contradictory, so people don’t know where to start,” said Duggin. He added: “If you look at something like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [WCAG], they are really quite impenetrable and take a huge amount of time to get your head around.”

Other key findings from the research included that people often begin thinking about accessibility far too late into the lifecycle of a project – frequently when the project is about to be assessed and tested. “I guarantee that if that’s the first time you’ve thought about accessibility, you will find lots of issues … and that’s how accessibility becomes seen as a burden,” Duggin said.

What is needed is for teams to consider accessibility throughout the lifecycle of a project, said Duggin: “It makes [accessibility] much easier, it makes things more efficient, and you’re much more likely to design something good.”

As well as highlighting problems, the research was also used as a mechanism for finding solutions to the barriers faced by government teams. One solution was to provide clarity on what teams are expected to do. “Most people don’t know what it means to make something accessible,” said Duggin, “so you need to help people understand what the goal is.”

‘Building empathy’ was another proposed solution. “You can give people a checklist, but if they haven’t bought-in to why they’re doing something, they’re not going to embrace it,” said Duggin.

Other solutions included: helping teams to identify accessibility barriers as early as possible; building accessibility into the templates and patterns that people regularly use, and; educating, encouraging and supporting people throughout the process, while avoiding being too critical or judging people when accessibility problems do arise.

Findings and results from the research will be published soon on the GDS blog.

Find out more about the Government Digital Service’s accessibility work at the GDS blog:
http://eab.li/35 .

Read more about the Business Disability Forum and the BDF Technology Taskforce at the following link:
http://eab.li/36 .

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