As the NHS, we aim to help everybody regardless of age, gender, ability and access – so why should our websites and applications be any different?

If you were to build a shop, surely you’d want to make the goods for sale inside available to 100% of customers? But without taking accessibility into account, you’re limiting those numbers to those who can enter the building – because you have; complex jargon on the windows, a flight of stairs at the front door and a requirement to read a lengthy statement before entering…

Typically web accessibility includes those users auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual. But having good accessibility can benefit users of all types – those with new smart technologies, older users, temporary or situational disabilities (such as a broken arm or an office environment that doesn’t allow audio).

Making our content accessible should start at the very beginning of the process – with the words we chose to use on the page, the colours, the size and the layout. Too often accessibility is something that is shoe-horned into the development of our applications as a last minute checkpoint to pass. Going back to the shop analogy – we’ll quickly install a ramp on opening day and that’ll solve everything.

We’ve recently worked with the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) to better understand how blind users use the web and our applications, in particular. We had a couple of days training with one of their staff – Mike, who is totally blind and ran what was described in a rather cringeworthy way at the end – a really eye-opening experience… (luckily Mike found this funny and took it in good humour). Mike didn’t want things done for him – he wanted to be able to do his own online shopping, read his favourite newspaper, etc.

We’ll be continuing to work with DAC in the future and they’ll be auditing our new Maternity Exemption and Prescription Prepayment Certificate applications with a range of assistive technologies to ensure we’re reaching the highest possible standards. The guys from DAC mentioned that they have a few exemplar services and websites that they recommend other organisations to look at – I’d love to think we’d make their list in the near future.

With the development of our new digital applications, we benefit hugely from the work that GDS do and a lot of the design patterns you’ll see in use are taken from hours/days/weeks/months of research and are constantly worked on to ensure they meet the highest standards for users of all backgrounds.

But this isn’t just how a checkbox appears on a screen from a UX designer, this covers a range of other areas within digital delivery; from front end development of mobile responsive interfaces, back end development of accessible forms and error screens that allow users to fix problems for themselves, to content design of easy to understand and concise instructions, hints and messages.

We can all play a part in making our applications accessible by thinking about the broadest range of users from the very start – if we can make it work for a user with a screenreader or a user with high contrast colours; we can make it work for those without those needs. We want everyone to feel welcome in our shop, not shut outside because they don’t meet finite entrance criteria…

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