How we are improving accessibility in our practice

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When I started at Scottish Enterprise in May 2019, my team had a whole day of Accessibility training with Hassell Inclusion. This was all the User Researchers, UX/UI designers and Service Designers being trained.

The developers and QA testers also got their own training and the content authors had a full day of training as well.

We were not starting from scratch. A lot of people in the team are really into accessibility. But it should be everyone’s responsibility. We should not rely on just a few people with a keen interest to make sure we deliver on Accessibility.

Keeping the interest and focus

The services we deliver for the public are assessed by the Scottish Government. We have to comply with the Digital First Service Standard.

“Create a service that is usable, accessible and intuitive enough that users succeed first time.”

– Point 2: Usable and Accessible

This means that at every step while working on a service, we need to make sure it will work for everyone, whatever their abilities.

In order to achieve that, we have to test our ideas, content, design, prototypes with people with a wide range of diverse needs. We always learn a lot this way.

We also need to educate ourselves and learn from other organisations. Accessibility Scotland is one of the conference some of us attended in 2019.

Stéphanie, Helen, Darren and Martin standing together in the auditorium with their conference lanyard. Stéphanie has a yellow tee-shirt with the Accessibility Scotland logo on it.
Stéphanie Krus, Helen McKnight, Darren McMillan and Martin Kerr at the Accessibility Scotland Conference in Oct 2019

We are also starting to share knowledge with other organisations with one event planned this month and contact made with another organisation to give them some pointers and offering help to train their staff.

Building the Accessibility in our Design System

A lot of researching and testing went into our new Design System (See previous blog post about this). This includes making sure the components are accessible and providing guidance to make sure we follow best practices when we will use them.

We are writing this guidance a the moment. This will cover:

  • Accessibility guidelines for our sites and services
  • Language and disabilities
  • Accessibility on social media
  • Creating accessible documents
  • Accessible presentations, meetings, webinars
  • Advice for specific accessibility needs

We are also thinking of providing some specific guidance per role (for a User Researcher, Content designer, UX/UI designer, developer, QA tester) like in this Accessibility manual from the DWP (work in progress, shared early to invite feedback)

Accessibility testing

The Quality Assurance testing team is key to delivering on Accessibility. Darren McMillan is leading this team and making sure that every feature we deliver get tested for accessibility for each iteration.

desk with a lot of devices to test a website on various devices and browsers - same website page is seen on mobiles, tablets and bigger screens
Testing a website on multiple devices and browsers (Photo from Darren)

And this is not just for the code we deliver in house. Sometime, we have third parties delivering some code for us. The QA testers will check this too. If they find accessibility issues, they will suggest fixes to make sure it’s done the way we would have coded it in house.

Accessibility Audit

We also use private organisations to do in depth accessibility audits for us. But this can be frustrating. We often need to book these well in advance and when the project to be tested get delayed, we cannot change the audit test date. Which means quite often, some of the findings highlighted during the audit are things Darren’s team would have picked up if they had been given a bit more time.

We are trying to find a better way to use these audits so that they only highlight the more technical and complex problems once we’ve dealt with the ‘simpler’ issues internally.

Taking the team along with us

When doing an audit, we test with users with a wide range of disabilities: Dyslexia, visual stress, screen reader users, or autistic people for example. Some team members will come and observe these sessions. When they are recorded, we can sign post the rest of the team to watch them and see for themselves.

Seeing someone struggling with your service and telling you why it’s not working for them is the best way to understand and motivate you to do better. And some times, you will even hear them tell you why they like how simple it is to use!

Outside the Digital team

We are starting to be in a good place in the digital team. But we don’t design services in isolation. We need to take the wider business with us. So we are trying to communicate and educate more widely about accessibility.

We could also do much better internally. The documents and presentations we share are quite often not very accessible. Not even to colour blind colleagues for example. Our online events, workshops and meetings could be improved. Even the way we collaborate could be better.

We have lots of ideas to try to achieve that in 2021. We hope to tell you more soon!

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