Accessibility is a really important topic. It is also the right thing to do, to make sure nobody is excluded from accessing services. The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations are now coming into effect and this new piece of legislation sits on top of the Equality Act 2010, which has been around for nearly a decade now.
Making sure people are included in things is something I really care about. Before joining the MoJ, I lived in Oxford, and I was very involved in diversity in the ‘tech scene’ there. I founded and co-ran codebar Oxford (free coding workshops for under-represented groups in technology), and also taught on Code First: Girls courses. As a front-end developer, I’ve always been really interested in accessibility, and regularly travelled to London to attend the London Accessibility Meetup. So when I joined MoJ in December last year, I was keen to keep a strong focus on this topic.
In January, I started doing one day a week on accessibility, as a ‘profession project’. These are opportunities to expand upon a topic you’re interested in, within the Learning and Development time. After a couple of months, we realised that there were a lot of bigger pieces of work that would be useful to do that wouldn’t fit inside one day a week. So the Head of Design and I created a proposal for a six month accessibility specialist position, which I was placed on.
What I’ve done
It’s been a busy six months but here are some of the key things I have worked on over this time period:
- Planning and setting up Accessibility Bars across the different MoJ offices in the UK (these are similar to the GDS Accessibility Empathy Lab).
- Creating, iterating on and running an ‘Introduction to Accessibility Testing Workshop’.
- Visiting all of the different MoJ offices in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow, to run presentations on the legislation and the ‘Introduction to Accessibility Testing Workshop’.
- Collaborating with the Accessibility Working Group on a ‘Staff Accessibility Awareness Survey’ to identify knowledge gaps.
- Working on an ‘MoJ Accessibility Wiki’, based on the results of this survey.
- Collaborative accessibility reviews, to help people understand basic issues on their services.
What I’ve learnt
There’s been a lot of work to do in this time and I have learnt a lot! Some of the key things I’ve learnt are:
1. You don’t know what you don’t know
One of the biggest challenges to this whole project was navigating different knowledge levels. Some people understand the differences between the different screen readers, but some people don’t know what a screen reader is. People need to understand why something is an issue, in order to understand why they need to address it. A lot of communication is required to understand where people’s knowledge levels are and to then avoid overwhelming them. Kindness is also important when pointing out issues people hadn’t realised existed in their work.
2. Accessibility is not a binary
Accessibility is a process rather than a checkbox exercise. You need to think about who your users are, what they’ll commonly use, and what their needs are. The Ministry of Justice consists of several very different business areas. We work with prisons, courts, lasting power of attorney and victims of crime. Each of these groups have users that are very different, with different needs. This meant that each department needed tailored guidance and this was fascinating, but quite challenging, and meant a lot of discussions.
3. Accessibility is a team sport
Accessibility is also multi-disciplinary. My specialism is front-end development, but that’s only one part of accessibility. Product owners need to set accessibility as a priority, and delivery managers need to factor in time for accessibility work and fixes. Developers need to build accessible codes based on accessible designs, which require user testing by people with access needs. Content writers then make sure the content is understandable and if any one of those things gets missed, accessibility issues start to creep in.
Wrapping up the project
It has been a very challenging, busy and rewarding six months! I’m really grateful that I was given the opportunity to work in this space. I’m now returning to being a front-end developer and I look forward to taking this knowledge into my future work.
Have you been working on accessibility in your department? I’m keen to hear what others do in the accessibility space.