What are we doing about accessibility?

Joshua Marshall is Head of Accessibility at GDS. Just before Christmas, we sat him down for a short chat about his work.

In Joshua’s opinion, the single most important thing GDS has done to improve accessibility across government is “change how we write.”

Improving the quality of all the written content on GOV.UK has made more of a difference than anything else, he says. “It’s changed the perception of how government talks to its citizens.”

There are other important lessons Joshua has learned, including:

  • everything we build should be accessible by default – accessibility is never an afterthought
  • scaling knowledge between members of growing product teams all over the country was a hard problem to solve
  • we’ve put a lot of work into accessibility but there’s still more we can do, particularly for the deaf community

You can listen to the full interview (just under seven minutes) by clicking the play button in the embedded SoundCloud widget below. There’s also a full transcript just below that, if you’d prefer to read one.

An audio file for direct download is available from The Internet Archive.

(This audio interview is a new experiment for us – what do you think of it as a format for explaining what we do? As always, we’d love to hear your feedback.)

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @partiallyblind

Follow Giles on Twitter@gilest


Breaking barriers and opening doors

Today is the 2013 International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year’s theme, “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”, resonates deeply with me.

My work at the GDS since I became a Civil Servant has been almost entirely focussed on ensuring the work we do is as inclusive as we can make it. People don’t typically choose to interact with government, after all, so we owe it to our users to do as much as we can to ensure they aren’t excluded unnecessarily.

For example, we’ve gone to great lengths across the different projects we work on to ensure that our blind and partially-sighted users can access our services through assistive technologies such as screen readers and screen magnifiers. We’ve worked hard to simplify the language we use so that it’s simpler and clearer to understand. We’ve also tried to make GOV.UK a consistent, responsive platform that is accessible at its heart.

Recently I’ve been working to understand how we can better serve the very diverse needs of our deaf users.

To do this, I’ve been talking with organisations, with colleagues across government,  and with the many thousands of users in Facebook groups such as Pardon? and Spit the Dummy; we wanted to find out first-hand what our deaf users think of the services we provide.

Yesterday I met with Sir Malcolm Bruce in his role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness to discuss how we might improve access for deaf users, and I’m confident we’ll be able to make a start on meeting the needs of those users soon.

Inclusion is important to me, not just in my Accessibility role here, but as a guiding principle. When it comes to being inclusive, it’s not a matter of providing special access for the disabled; it’s about providing an equivalent experience where we don’t exclude anyone.

For me this work isn’t about disability, it’s about fairness.

We should all strive to make the products and services we build as inclusive as we can. Not simply because of a legal requirement, but as a mark of empathy and respect for our very diverse audience.

Here’s to what we can accomplish in 2014. Onwards!