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


Talking accessibility at ustwo

Back in May of this year I tweeted about how impressed I was that London-based agency ustwo had released an update to their “Pixel Perfect Precision” handbook, which included a new section on accessibility.

The handbook, written so that new members of their team can quickly get up to speed on how they’re expected to work, was notable in that it pushed accessibility as a skill designers and developers should be giving consideration to. That it does so in such an open and inviting way is a great thing.

As the Accessibility Lead for the GDS I spend my time sharing that view; across the GDS, and across wider government, and the web community. I was contacted by ustwo and invited to go and speak to their designers and front-end developers about my role in the GDS, how we work, and the kinds of things that accessibility here encompasses.


Empowering everyday readers

Recently, we asked the Centre for Information Design Research (CIDR) at the University of Reading to review the GOV.UK Style Guide to ensure it meets the needs of users online. They’ve completed their review, and we asked them to write about how it worked.

Information design research

At CIDR, we extend the influence of design research into projects that make a difference to people’s lives. Examples of these kinds of projects include work with the National Offender Management Service to develop a structured communication tool for reducing conflict between staff and prisoners, and with the NHS to improve communication between carers of people with dementia and clinicians.

We use research-based knowledge of how people seek out and respond to information, how they read on paper and on screen, and how text can be written and organised visually so that it helps them understand and use information effectively.

Our work involves multi-disciplinary teams – much like GDS – typically bringing together insights from human-computer interaction, psychology, information science, linguistics and graphic design. We test different solutions to problems, often working in partnership with companies or organisations to help us get feedback from their members or users.


It is vital that the Government’s live web sites are as accessible as possible for everyone. There can be no argument about that – their audience is everyone.

With a short, agile, project like (we’ve had just over 10 weeks build-time with the full team in place) it’s all about setting direction, sketching out the product – even if all the bits don’t get coloured in – and about trying to make the right compromises.

Read more about our approach to accessibility in the prototype