Accessibility blog 05.2022

Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2022 - Our four year accessibility rollercoaster ride

It’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2022, a day to shine a light on digital access and inclusion for the estimated one billion people worldwide with disabilities.

Here, Christopher Lockie, part of the Digital Delivery Team at NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), reflects on the rollercoaster ride of creating and testing an accessibility framework, in an ever-evolving environment.

The world of software development and testing is and has always been an ever changing and challenging environment. One of the biggest challenges we have faced in the last four years in the public sector is accessibility.

Our rollercoaster ride started on 23rd September 2018, when the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 came into force for all public sector bodies.

 Admission: free of charge

There is a myth, that creating and developing services is free, however, having to fix existing accessibility issues incurs costs.

We first boarded the ‘ride’ by learning about the legislation, guidelines, and standards, and how they would impact our work.

We then made our way up the first incline, by impact analysing which services and areas would need to meet legal compliance first. In this case, the digital directorate, who create and build new services for transformation, would need to meet legislation first by September 2019.

So, we formed a plan and framework and began trawling through proof of concepts on services we had under development to analyse if our plans were correct. These results were validated from user research, and our accessibility partners Digital Accessibility Centre audits. It helped us decide how we would present our evidence for any Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) audits.

Over the next 6 months, we researched, read, and trialled many different tools and technologies. We then formed our first accessibility framework, using a variety of checker tools and checklists encompassing best practices, audit issues, and design requirements. This was a collaboration from all design, development, and test professions. We reached the rollercoaster’s summit.

And down the tracks we went, rolling out our testing to all digital websites over the course of several months. We worked through some issues and designs were questioned more thoroughly. Flying round twists and turns before reaching a happy place after a substantial effort by all our delivery teams on 23rd September 2019. We had completed our first lap.

Loop number two!

Was it done and dusted? Did we all put our feet up?

Not a chance with accessibility. This momentum led us to drive forward, pushing accessibility into all our communities of practice and breaking the mould of how we research, design, develop and test.

We went on our second loop of the ride in September 2020. This was the ‘big one’.

The Accessibility 2020 Project was formed to involve the whole NHSBSA and to accessibility test all website services, but also to encourage the need for and importance of accessibility. The next year was very busy. It really put our framework and knowledge to the test. However, we are proud to be able to say that we reached our goal.

Can we get off now, please?

Accessibility has such a broad variety of needs behind the one word. What accessibility means to our users is very powerful and important. Therefore, it has become one of our highest priorities for any service we build, run, or manage. Accessibility is a core test framework which is performed on any new or existing development we do. Through framework champions, we are always testing, and improving our standards, practices, and processes to meet all our user needs. 

Accessibility has also become part of our culture and now all professions and service areas focus extensively on improving accessibility. This is no more evident than a recent redevelopment of the Single User View website, based solely on improving accessibility. This has helped everyone involved to learn and understand more about accessibility, its need, and its impact on our users.

The future of accessibility within the NHSBSA is exciting and we have plans for an Accessibility Community of Practice and Accessibility Network. We have experienced many ‘ups and downs’ along the way but the value and impact we are delivering for our users is immeasurable. Everyone is invited and we have plenty of seats available, it’s a great ride and one that everyone needs to be on.