How to be accessible in a digital world
We’re pleased to introduce you to Will Cooper, a junior front end developer in our digital team. He has spent the last few months developing the NHSBSA’s digital Maternity Exemption (MATEX) service.
MATEX is currently used by midwives and healthcare professionals who apply for a maternity exemption certificate on behalf of new and expectant mothers. The certificate entitles new mothers and their new-born babies to free prescriptions and dental treatment.
The NHSBSA digital team are always striving to ensure its services are digitally accessible, and here’s the reason why:
- Disability affects 1 in 5 in the UK – 12.9 million people*
- 97.1% of disabled adults aged 16 to 24 use the internet*
- Almost 30% of disabled people face dexterity problems*
- Just under 2 million people are living with sight loss*
- 70% of sites in the UK are inaccessible*
We asked Will to give us an overview of the service and what he learnt about the importance of digital accessibility. Over to him.
For those who don’t know, what is digital accessibility Will?
Digital accessibility is the practice of ensuring that any websites, web applications, and digital content can be used by our community who have a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight or cognitive abilities. It is something that is really important for us at the NHSBSA, to ensure all of our products and services are inclusive and can be used by all.
Why have you made MATEX digitally accessible?
To reach our objective of making as many new mothers as possible use this service, it has to be accessible to those with a variety of needs. For example, some people who have problems with their vision may require specific software such as screen readers, to access the internet. It’s important that no one is excluded from using the service so we have to ensure it functions correctly for them.
When developing a product or service, we should always meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) checklist, with a minimum ‘AA’ level. To ensure the digital MATEX service reached this, we sent it off to be tested by the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC).
DAC’s testing team work with us across our digital products and services to ensure they’re accessible to all members of a population, and meet best practice accessibility standards and legislation.
How did you feel when you were told your work was being sent to be DAC tested?
I was responsible for ensuring we were up to scratch, so initially, I had a mini panic attack and then made a plan of action!
I hadn’t been through this before so was unsure of the process only to quickly realise there was a DAC report of our front end toolkit (what the users of a product or service see when they use an application). This gave me a starting point and allowed me to check over some of the issues we’d had in the past.
What did you do next?
I talked to a colleague, another front end developer who’d recently worked on making his service digitally accessible. He walked me through his process of testing his pages using accessibility plugins that identify any issues people may face when using the service. I went on to nick his process (thanks Chris!) and did the same for every MATEX page.
The two plugins I used were Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) and the Google Chrome audit feature as they’re useful for alerting you to things that you may miss, such as headings being in an illogical order or images without alt text. I also went through MATEX using the NVDA screen reader, which was a great way to demonstrate how important descriptive links are to improving user experience.
We made the necessary changes and then sent it off to DAC.
I’m intrigued, what were the findings?
It only took a couple of days and was really insightful. It provided feedback on what we could improve, but also on things that users thought worked well.
An example was that analysts had very few issues with navigating their way through the service, as the layout and structure of our pages was very good.
I’m pleased to say that MATEX received a good score overall, but they highlighted several areas we had to change. Luckily they were relatively quick fixes, such as changing ‘aria-labelledby’ to ‘aria-label’ on change links in a ‘check your answers’ table. To the end user, making this change will give screen reader users a description of what will happen when they click the link.
And the results were…
DAC retested our service and came back with no fails, which meant we’d achieved a level of ‘AAA’ against the WCAG checklist. This is the best rating possible, we were chuffed!
It was so fulfilling to know that when delivered, MATEX could be used by as many users as it possibly could be.
Working on this service has taught me to be vigilant and the value of extra testing to look for possible accessibility issues is really worth it!
Contact NHSBSA.email@example.com if you have any questions or would like to learn more.
More information about:
WCAG checklist: https://a11yproject.com/checklist.html
WAVE plugin: https://wave.webaim.org/about
NVDA screen reader: https://www.nvaccess.org/download/