Almost a year ago I started a new role as a Business Designer at Essex County Council, working on Digital Accessibility.
At the time, I knew what each word meant, but not much more than that. If you'd asked me in the first month or so what it was I was doing, I'd have probably told you I was working on website standards. Because that's what it is, right?
Well, yes. Public sector websites do have to meet a certain legal standard. But there is quite a bit more to it than that.
Making things work for everyone
Digital Accessibility is about making sure that as many people as possible can use the service you provide or understand the information you make available. In short, it's about making things work for everyone.
What underlined that for me was when I started taking advantage of assistive technology outside of work. This is the name used to describe technology that disabled people use to help them perform tasks that the rest of us take for granted.
For instance, I showed a relative how to use the subtitles feature on YouTube. Then I introduced a Facebook group I'm in to the idea of 'alt text'. This means adding a written description to an image so that people with visual impairments can know what it is.
Then I had a load of fun with the Google 'Look Out' app, which describes objects that you point your phone camera at. Impressive when it works, hilarious when it mistakes your friend for a pot plant.
More recently, I've started using a screen reader. This tool reads out what's written on your computer. I use it to play back things that I've written to help check that they make sense. It's particularly good at finding typos.
We’re all involved in accessibility
It's often said that good Digital Accessibility benefits everyone. But until you start benefiting from it yourself, it can be difficult to recognise. Which is a pity, because there's a lot of useful technology out there that we're not always aware of.
There's a lot that we can all do to improve accessibility, whether we work with websites or not. This can be as simple as:
- writing clear and concise text
- using of section titles
- avoiding colourful backgrounds that clash with the text
- helping people out if they do encounter difficulties
'Making things work for everyone'
means improving all the ways that we communicate and provide services. It means meeting legal requirements and following best practice guidelines. It's about creating an inclusive workplace for all our employees. It's also thinking about how we communicate every day.
Questions to consider
- Are we using the right technology?
- Are we using the right language?
- Are we trying new things?
- Does that 'Look Out' app think my laptop is a calculator?
- All questions I expect we'll be asking for years to come.