Sounding out the web: UK cross-government accessibility meetup

Posted on Monday, 26 June 2017 by David Swallow

Close-up of a sheet of stickers produced by the Government Digital Service that read "If it's not accessible, it's not done, #a11y"The UK cross-government accessibility community exists for people working in government to further their knowledge of accessibility. It currently boasts over 500 members, made up of researchers, designers, developers, testers and service managers from across all areas of the British government.

The community hold regular meetups for members to share best practice and experiences, discuss problems, and improve skills. Their most recent meetup took place in May at The Core in Newcastle. I was given the opportunity to speak at the meetup along with Ruth MacMullen, with whom I recently wrote a two-part blog post on accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Ruth’s talk was something of a fusion: the personal experience of being deaf; how deafness affects interaction with physical and online spaces; systems; disability theory; accessible information; digital literacy. It looked at the importance of language and understanding the needs of your users, but maintained that common sense, goodwill, and flexibility go a long way when it comes to serving customers with sensory impairments.

My talk elaborated on the practical guidance we shared in the blog posts. This included providing subtitles/captions; checking the accuracy of captions; making sure that captions are synchronised with the audio; providing a summary of audio and video content; making sure that audio doesn’t play automatically; structuring your content; and keeping your content flexible. The talk emphasised how the guidance is useful for deaf and hard of hearing people but, like many aspects of web accessibility, ultimately benefits everyone.

Ruth and I were honoured to have been invited to the meetup, which provided a fascinating insight into how large organisations tackle accessibility. The cross-government accessibility community is playing a significant role in supporting and enabling the permeation of accessibility across all areas of the UK government. A roundup of the day’s events (including a number of photos) can be found on the GOV.UK Accessibility Blog.

About David Swallow

David is an accessibility engineer at The Paciello Group. He joined the company in 2016, and before that, he was an academic researcher in human-computer interaction at the University of York in the UK, where he specialised in designing, developing, and evaluating usable and accessible interfaces. There he gained a PhD in computer science by investigating how to integrate accessible web development into the existing workflows of professional web developers.

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