Accessibility essentials for government communicators

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points: 2


To address legal requirements, meet government standards and avoid reputational risk it is crucial that digital media, offline content, and communication strategies are fully accessible. Making sure your content is accessible not only ensures that everyone can access it, but that it is as inclusive, representative, and innovative as it can be.

Delivered by: Guerman Cope, Senior Accessibility Consultant, Accessibility Assurance Team Home Office, Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT)

[Guerman] Hello all and thank you for joining me today for a talk on accessibility essentials for government communicators.

So, I’m going to be building upon some existing understanding of accessibility. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to ask questions at the end of each section.

In fact, I’m hoping that there’ll be a fair few questions. So I’ve left quite a lot of time for that.

I’ve been informed that the slides will be shared with you after completion of the feedback survey,

through the slides independently.

The session is also being recorded, so let’s make it a good one. if you require captions, these can be enabled from within the Microsoft Teams interface on the three dots more menu.

So, before we begin a little bit about me. My name is Guerman Cope and I’m a Senior Accessibility Consultant in the Accessibility Assurance Team working at the Home Office. So, I’ve been working in the field of diversity, inclusion, disability, assistive technology and accessibility for around eight years now. And the things that we’ll be discussing today are based in the whole wide range of experiences from all of those roles.

The team that I work with helps others in the Home Office to deliver fully accessible and inclusive services, implementing accessibility throughout development and procurement processes, and ensuring that is treated as business as usual at every stage.

So today we’re going to focus on three objectives. Number one, understand the importance of implementing accessibility throughout digital and media communications.

Number two, learn how to create accessible content, and number three be able to apply accessibility best practice across different channels of communication. I want you to think about how these things fit together as we go through the session.

To get us warmed up I would like you to think about a couple of things.

So, number one, when have you found it hard to use a digital service, consume digital content, and why? And what could have been better? What could have been done to make it better? So, please feel free to post something in the chat or put your hand up and share it with the group.

Now, whilst you think of your example, I’ll give you an example of something I encountered recently, and that was when I was looking through a department’s digital strategy which had two versions and inaccessible PDF and an accessible HTML version.

Now, while some of the information was included in the HTML format, the parity of information wasn’t there. So the layout graphics as well as the positioning and placement of the text, sent an important message. When I looked through the HTML version, I missed those crucial details.

The thing there that could have been done to make it better was the plan to create a single accessible document with all the necessary information. So, does anybody else have any similar examples?

Again, feel free to raise your hand or put something in the chat. Don’t be shy that we got lots of questions and talking as we go through the session. Yes, perfect.

We have a hand up, if you wouldn’t mind.

[Speaker 1] I guess, so for me, an example of one I find it hard to use a digital service is when there’s like interactive content over the page that you’re looking at and it’s not optimised for mobile phone, for example. So, the button to click is off the screen and you are really fighting very hard, you’re turning your screen left, sideways and upwards to try and find the button to click, to interact with whatever the thing, you know, the thing is, or maybe even the exit click away from the popup. Yeah, that’s very annoying.

[Guerman] Yeah. No, that’s a great example. I mean, and what could have been done to make it better in that instance, do you think?

[Speaker 1] I think in the design to know, you know, customer insights, to know that not everybody is going to access that website on a laptop or a PC, for example, some people are going to use their phone or tablet, which is smaller and, you know, just have that in mind when designing the content.

[Guerman] Fantastic. Really, really kind of leads me on to answer that in terms of the problems and the solution actually just involving thinking about who’s going to be consuming this content.

So in a similar, similar vein, kind of a real frustration, what I think most people, if they’re also playing videos, you have to have a video taking up to a third of the screen, whether you like it or not, which isn’t great.

I see couple comments coming in the chat as well. Really good. Thank you all for posting, posting those. Digital forms. Yep. So there’s an example here around PDF forms not being read out with Jaws and having to recreate files, not considering mobile viewing for pages, complicated entry systems for time reporting software.

Yes. And pop ups, cookies, advert makes the site really laggy and also, kind of, makes you lose your place on the site. So these are really good examples.

So, that should hopefully contextualise some of the things that we’re going to be talking about today in terms of the frustrations we all feel. And actually, that being quite simple to fix.

So, before we do any of that, let’s have a quick look at some of the requirements around accessibility, legal and otherwise. So we’re going to be looking at first objective, which is to understand the importance of implementing accessibility throughout digital and media communications.

So let’s begin by thinking about the importance of communication. As is noted the on the Government Communication Service About this page. Communication is one of the four main levers of government alongside legislation, regulation and taxation.

Communication is obviously important and there’s usually no alternative to using government services consuming government content. So it has to work for everyone. Making a digital content inclusive, make sure that everyone can use it as easily as possible. But it’s also about projecting a positive message and creative, innovative and well thought out campaigns.

To set the scene, let’s look at some statistics. The Family Resources survey found that in 2021 to 2022, 16 million people in the UK or 24% reported a disability. To put that another way, almost one in four people have a disability. There is a wide range of different disabilities in visual, motor, auditory and cognitive categories alongside health conditions such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, which are explicitly mentioned in the Equality Act.

It’s important to know that a significant proportion of the population has a disability and these varient intersect. Many people will have multiple disabilities. It’s pretty much guaranteed that someone with a disability will be using your service or consuming your content.

It’s also worth noting that these statistics are probably going to be under representative of the actual number of people because people may not consider themselves to have a disability, may not be aware of their disability, or may fall into one of the many categories of disability that aren’t covered in the statistics.

More holistic way to think about accessibility is to think about removing barriers. Everyone experiences hitting barriers, not just disabled people. And by removing barriers we can improve services for everybody.

This is an image from Microsoft Inclusive Design Manual that shows a variety of permanent, temporary and situational barriers across a number of categories referred to here as touch, hear, see and speak. It’s important to consider that in addition to any permanent disabilities, there are many more people who experience temporary or situational barriers like an arm injury, or simply having their hands full.

Many people have a combination of different disabilities, as well as encountering other factors affecting how they interact with technology. It’s worth remembering that we will all, at some point in our lives experience barriers, whether permanent, temporary or situational.

Often teams inform us that they don’t have users with particular disabilities using their systems or consuming their content. The fact of the matter is that is simply not true, as there’s no way of really knowing. You have to take into account that some disabilities are not visible and not everyone will have reported their disability. A typical way of thinking about situational barriers, thinking about the user, looking at things in bright sunlight or in a noisy place where they can’t hear the audio.

Making sure that content is accessible is a legal requirement. So, under The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations you must make your website or mobile app accessible by making it perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust meeting requirements set out by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG. You also need to include and keep updated accessibility statement on your website.  Any content that you plan to include on public sector body websites will therefore need to be accessible.

The accessibility regulations build on your existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.

The associated Public Sector Equality Duty also requires that public bodies eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities. If you want to declare that making particular things accessible is the disproportionate burden, you’re legally required to carry out an assessment.

In your assessment you weigh up, roughly speaking, the burden that making those things accessible places in your organisations, and the benefit of making those things accessible. By making your assessment, you need to think about your organisation’s size and resource, the nature of your organisation, how much making things accessible would cost, and the impact that would have on your organisation, and how much disabled users would benefit from making things accessible.

It’s also worth noting that government communications come under increased scrutiny. There’s increased focus because of the associated legal requirement, how much people rely on government communications and the prominent and sensitivity of the things that government talks about.

A common question is around whether legislation covers social media content. The answer to that is yes. Social media posts are covered under the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty. As we’ll see a little later on, ensuring a social media is accessible can help you better understand, respond to and attract the attention of specific audiences.

Okay, so are there any other questions on the requirements around accessibility before we move onto the next section? Again, please put your hand up, speak up or put your question in the chat.

Okay, so there’s a good question here in the chat. Does social media extend to any and all YouTube video content?

So, if it’s embedded within a page, for example, it’s going to fall more closely under the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations. If you’re presenting YouTube content on its own, on YouTube, for example, that may not be covered under the Public Sector Equality Duty because it’s not a website or app, but it will still needs to meet our obligations under the Equality Act 2010, as I noted here on the slide.

You also have to take into account any additional legislation, like the need to provide BSL interpreters on your videos when formulating those. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t apply all the good accessibility best practice, such as the provision of captions, provision of audio description, the provision of a transcript underneath the YouTube video. Of course, don’t rely on automatic captions when doing those, as they’re likely to be inaccurate.

That was a good question. Thank you. Anybody else? Alt text? Yeah, we’ll move on to alt text in just a moment. It’s not a problem if not. If, as we go through something comes to mind, save your questions. There’s going to be an opportunity to ask them at the end. Okay.

So there is a question, does the legislation cover literacy levels, learning disabilities, and neurodiverse audiences?

So, that’s a really good question. The legislation, The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations refer strictly to WCAG. So that’s the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2, which isn’t as good at taking those things into account. So it doesn’t focus on literacy levels, for example, learning disabilities, and neurodiverse audiences.

And that’s a common criticism levied at the guidelines. But we need to bear in mind is that there are baseline accessibility standards and what we should be doing across government is aiming for much more than that. So it is taking those kind of things into account and of course going to be more broadly covered under the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty.

So with all that covered, let’s move on to learning about creating accessible media. So we’re going to be looking into our second objective, which is learning how to create accessible content. When creating media and digital content, ensure accessibility is implemented throughout. Think about what you’re doing things and when you should be doing them.

First and foremost, you must consider the needs of users and how assistive technology is used. Screen readers are used by people who are blind or partially sighted to read our content on the screen. People may not be able to see an image well enough to understand what it is or may not be able to see it at all. People may use speech-to-text software to navigate the screen. This can range from dictation software and voice assistants like Siri and Alexa and all the way up to software like Dragon and Voice Control for Mac, where you can control the whole machine using just your voice. Magnification software or in-built browser zoom may be used to increase the size of the text and content on the screen.

And then there are literacy aids. The software reads the words out loud, also highlighting the current word and sentence to make it easy to follow along. Some also have helpful features for reading, like a visual dictionary.

Finally on this list are switches. So a switch is a device that replaces a computer, keyboard or mouse. Different forces or direction of push can be translated in standard keyboard controls. A user can operate an interface with just one switch combined with automatic scanning and highlights an interactive element on a page. Or they can have a customised setup of multiple switches adjusted to that needs.

There is also digital inclusion and even technical considerations when you create digital content. For example, people might choose to turn off images to ensure the page loads faster or to conserve data.

One most effective ways to ensure that you’re thinking of accessibility throughout is to have disabled people on your team. You can and should also familiarise yourself with how disabled people use assistive technology to navigate the web and learn how to use assistive technology to check your content.

You should make your images as accessible as possible, as well as providing appropriate alternatives to ensure that everyone has a comparable experience. Alt text allows assistive technology such as a screen reader to read out loud, present it visually, or convert it to braille. When using images, ensure that informative images have alt text that describes the image. Provide alt text to describe the functionality of images used as links or buttons, and ensure that decorative images have empty alt text.

Whether to treat an image as informative or decorative is a judgment that the authors make based on the reasons for including image on the page. Alt text should be written by the creator of the image or the person who has decided to use it in the content you are sharing, as these people have clearest of idea of the intention of the image.

Do not use images alone to provide information. Even with alt the text this may exclude users who cannot see or access the image. And avoid images with text and write it out in the body of the page instead.

It’s worth bearing in mind that writing alt text will make you a better designer and when writing you might realise this is not the right image to use to best illustrate your point.

So enough talking. Time for a quick exercise. Here are some images I pulled off of the Government Digital Service blog and another from the Apple Store. Take a moment to think about what alt text you would give to these examples, if any. Think about the surrounding context and the reason for the inclusion of these images. Once you’ve thought of your answer, feel free to pop it into the chator raise your hand.

Anybody wants to volunteer? Anyone brave enough to speak about what they think? Most people. Yes. Perfect. Go ahead. Go ahead, Michael.

[Speaker 2] So this is just a suggested alt text we’d use for these images. So for the first one on the left, I’d say something like an image of, an image of several members of a team of varied, of varied ethnic backgrounds and genders. For the open notes one I would say an image of a person at a laptop with a board full of notes behind them.

And the iPhone, the iPhone one I would say an image of five different varieties of, sorry, an image showing the four different finishes of iPhone 14 pro.

[Guerman] Okay, yeah, it’s really good. It’s really good. And what was your thinking behind kind of formulating your alt text if you don’t mind me asking?

[Speaker 2] I’m just trying to get the core, the sort of the core meaning of each image across, as far as like what purpose they serve on the on the page. So the first one, because it’s it’s a blog about or a post about, you know, building of, realigning the team and inventions, you know, being more focused, inclusive, happy place to work. You want to talk about it being, you know, an image of team members but also just, you know, summarising sort of key visual points.

Open Notes. The Open Notes  one just want to show that someone, because it’s someone, you know, doing it, someone at a compute with a load of notes in the background. And we’re talking about, you know, open notes and just describing the main visual elements of that image, because that’s sort of the info that you want them to have.

And again, the iPhone, the iPhone one, it’s a product. It’s showing a product. You just want to describe what the image is showing off to anyone who can’t see it or can’t see it clearly.

[Guerman] Yes, pretty good. Very good. Really good justification as well for those. Thank you. We have another hand. Ola?

[Speaker 3] Yes, I completely agree with what Michael just said. I think I would just add maybe like smiling team, all smiling man behind the laptop. I think it’s quite important to put some of the emotions that people are showing in the picture. I think it really helps people kind of, you know, like on the item and get a real feel for what it is, especially with the first one when it is an article around what’s going well with that team. So I think if we just had some of the descriptive words around what the expressions on people’s faces are, I think that would be a suggestion as well.

[Guerman] Yeah. Yeah. Really good. Really good point. Anas, you’ve got a hand up?

[Speaker 4] Hello? Can you hear me? Yeah, I was going to say for the second one, he’s got some really open body language and a smile on his face and it’s a sign up. So it’s almost as I he’s saying like, come to me kind of thing, come join with us. And that alongside his body language, compliments it.

[Guerman] Yeah. Yeah. Really good. So that’s a really good point. So let me just check the chat before I, kind of, do the grand reveal. But so far, the answers have been really much spot on. GDS team, smiling man with a laptop in the classroom, images showing a variety of colours available for iPhone 14. Yeah, Image includes five iPhone 14 Pros in different colours of black, white, ivory and purple. Yeah.

So that’s a really good one. GDS team working together to create a more focused, inclusive and happier place to work. Yeah. Three colleagues pictured laughing in team meeting.

Yeah. Diverse colleagues, a person at their laptop signing up, looking happy. iPhone split. It’s very descriptive. What’s what images showing in terms of the actual pictures of the iPhones.

Yeah. So really good, okay so really good. I think I don’t need to elaborate on that much further.

So what you’re doing with your alt text is you’re describing the image in a way that supports and adds to the surrounding content. You’re capturing the reason why this image was included within the body of the article, whilst also describing the image, kind of, as clearly and objectively as you can.

All those examples that we had now are really good, really kind of textbook examples because it’s highlighting this aspect that you’re showcasing with by including those images around diversity, around the welcoming attitude in a team, around collaboration and teamwork.

That’s really good. And if it was that you used any of them it’d be completely find to use for this image because it illustrates that team spirit. So that’s really good.

If the people in the image perhaps are specific people that are mentioned within the article, it’s important that they’re mentioned. So this article is about the people in the image, then feel free to also put in some names to explain who is in the image. And the second one. Really good again. You you’ve really understood kind of where it was going with this. The fact that the man is smiling that he’s got notes behind him. It kind of paints this picture that if you sign up to this or to Open Notes too, you’re going to be, you’re going to be this happy person behind the laptop having a good time.

And then the last one, it’s all about the purpose of this image is to illustrate exactly what’s available in terms of the iPhone range. That’s the sole purpose of this image. It’s not doing anything to illustrate the concept idea or it’s not being used for any of those things. It’s simply to illustrate a very factual point of the five different varieties of iPhone.

And again, everybody really picked up on that and they kind of went into a lot of detail describing the product. So that was really good. Well done, everybody. So looks like my work here is done. Maybe I’ll finish off early.

So we have a comment on the back of that. Could you argue that the first two are decorative as they don’t really serve any purpose to the content? So we have seven thumbs up. Charlotte, do you want to come off of mute and tell us about your thinking about that? Or are you happy to leave your comment as a text comment.

[Speaker 5] Hi. No, that’s fine. I think it’s in the context of web content. So I mean, on social media, I understand adding alt text to images. Sorry, I am full of cold today. On a website, if they are stock images, are they really adding anything to the content, I guess?  So it was just a thought, really.

[Guerman] So that’s a really good question and a really good challenge. And you would have headed this question off because it always comes up. Why, if you include a stock image, why do you include a stock image? Kind of for what purpose is a stock image included usually within the wider piece.

[Speaker 5] I mean, presumably because you haven’t you don’t have your own images to use or they’re free.

[Guerman] Yeah. No, those are some of the reasons.nBut you would have pickedna specific stock image for a reason.

[Speaker 5] Yeah, I guess the emotion, isn’t it?

[Guerman] That’s it, right? So I think it’s the fact that you have purposely chosen a specific stock image is the reason for its inclusion. You’re supporting the overall writing within the article with some kind of emotion, with some kind of the, the thing that’s happening in the image is in some way related to the content, in some way expanding or contributing to the content and the way that it’s meant to be consumed or read. So that’s, that’s the distinction.

Decorative images, as people rightly point out, is is something that you could probably not going to end up doing when you’re writing content because when you include an image, it’s always with a certain purpose or a certain goal in mind. So that alt text is there to describe the image and supplement the wider message of the why, the meaning. But that’s a really good challenge. Thank you for that.

Yeah, and a really good summary here from Susanna. I was told to describe the images in alt text as you would to someone on the phone. So you’re describing what you can see to someone who can’t see. So that’s a really good, elegant way of thinking about that. And again, to back up the, the points around the inclusion of images, this comment here, I think they do add value for someone who can’t see, is it to enhance what you’re saying in the content and convey your message.

Perfect. Thank you all so much. That’s all, Anna, you have your hand up.

[Speaker 6] Yeah, I just wanted to as well with the stock image question that Charlotte raised, I sort of agree with her on some, for some photos that people use, but are they also helpful for people who are neurodiverse to, kind of, break up the text and make a bit more kind of image assumptions of the picture so that they can engage with it, because it can be, you know,make it easier to engage with it? I just wondered if that was something that it could be used for as well.

[Guerman] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So yeah, well, structured content is a key, kind of a tenet, of making things accessible and more readable for everybody. So the inclusion of the right image in the content to help support the writing is really important. And actually, this goes back to the point I mentioned at the beginning, that by thinking about accessibility and thinking about the alt text, you begin to think, well, why did I pick this image? What is it actually doing? Is it contributing anything to this particular article, to this piece of writing that I’m doing? How is it helping people to understand my message? And if that doesn’t tally, then, you know, potentially that there’s actually opportunity to use something that’s something else, something better. Thank you for that.

Okay, that’s very good. Thank you.

So, when it comes to graphs, diagrams and infographics, do not use colour alone to convey information.

Some visually impaired users will not be able to see colour differences. Ensure there is a high enough colour contrast ratio between segments, lines, text and background colour.

Charts should be followed by at least one of the following a description of the chart directly under it, the table of the raw data or a link to the raw data and accessible file.

Diagrams need to be clear and easy to understand. Include a detailed explanation of the processes and relationships explained in a diagram in the body text. And you can use scalable vector graphic or SVG format to publish images that contain useful information.

For example, diagrams, charts, infographics. The SVG format scales well without pixelating for people who zoom in using magnification software.

Here we have a good example of implementing graphs in a blog post around the growth of GOV.UK Notify with alt text showing on the side. You may note that the alt text is quite long, and this is fine.

If a screen reader user encounters an image with long alt text, they can continue listening to it over if it’s of interest, or they can easily skip over to the next bit of content.

There is no character limit for alt text, so make it a succinct as possible, but also as detailed as it needs to be.

Let’s have a further look at what makes this a good example.

There’s a great description and a data table is provided at the end of the blog post.

Colour alone isn’t used to convey information, and data is clearly labelled on the graph itself. There is a sufficiently high level of colour contrast too. So I’m just going to skip back and read out the alt text. So the alt text is a graph showing the number of services and organisations using GOV.UK Notify growing each year from 2016 onwards, with a number of services growing especially quickly in early 2020. Exact numbers are available in a table in the body of the blog post.

Now, here is an example with some accessibility issues taken from the United Nations Environment Programme Interactive article on plastic pollution. Here are some things wrong with this way of presenting information.

There is a lack of alt text or descriptions. There is a use of colour to assign meaning. That’s colour alone. There is a lack of keyboard accessibility. Hovering is required to bring up detailed information, but if you can’t use the mouse, that’s not going to be available to you and there is no link to the available data.

The second example here notes that the data used is from a scientific journal but doesn’t provide a link, and even if it did, it may not be free to access.

Now, I just want to stress that accessibility doesn’t mean that you can’t present information in interesting ways, just that you need to think about how everyone is able to access that information, which should lead to more innovative solutions anyway. There are way too many different technologies in play to go into specifics, and these changed frequently to leverage the considerations outlined in the training to make the best decisions.

When using social media and publishing platforms, it’s important to understand how accessible the output can be made and what things you can do to make it more accessible. Tweeting, for example, you could easily add alt text for an image when selecting which image to share.

You can leverage built-in tools such as Office 365 Accessibility checker to create accessible documents which translate into accessible PDFs.

If creating more complex PDFs, you will need to utilise specialist tools such as Adobe InDesign and Adobe Acrobat Pro. You need to use additional tools to check colour contrast, such as the Colour Contrast analyser or WebAIM’s contrast checker.

And different technologies and platforms will have different ways of inputting things such as alt text and captions, but all should have guidance on how to do so.

When it comes to video and audio, first of all, consider if you need video in the first place.

Videos about concepts or processes may duplicate written content so that adds to user’s cognitive load or make it harder for users to scan for the information they need. You will need to be mindful of digital inclusion too. Videos take longer to load than text on slower internet connections and use more data, which is especially an issue for users on mobile phones.

If you decide to have a video, you will need to think of accessibility when planning, scripting, storyboarding, recording and producing it. These are things you might want to think about doing.

Record high quality video and audio. Speak clearly and slowly, giving people time to process information and don’t refer to things by colour or positioning. When your video has mainly speech in the foreground, make sure you have either no or low background audio, consider speaker visibility, make overlay text visible and remember that text colour contrast applies to text and video too.

And if using sign language, plan for the video not to include important information that will be obstructed by sign language overlay. To make sure videos are accessible, add closed captions and transcript so users accessing the video without audio can read all of the content.

Do not rely on automated caption to get everything right. As well as dialog, captions should identify who is speaking and include nonspeech information conveyed through sound, including meaningful sound effects.

Not all users will be able to see the visuals in your video. If your video has visuals which are important to understand the context, you need to describe this verbally with an audio description. And you should not use flashing images in videos as they can trigger a seizure.

You may have limited control, but it’s also worth making sure that the media player itself is accessible and can be controlled using keyboard or voice input. Regardless of whether you have any control over it, it’s worth asking the question.

As with images, different technologies and platforms will have different ways of inputting captions, transcript and audio descriptions. But all should have guidance on how to do so.

When it comes to writing content, write clearly and simply, use acronyms sparingly and define the ones you do use. Good content uses short sentences and simple vocabulary. Avoid using bold, italicised or complex fonts, which can be difficult to read.

Never use emojis to communicate a cool message. The official meaning of an emoji may not match with what you’re trying to convey when read by a screen reader, and when writing out hashtags, use capital letters at the start of each word.

So I saw a question earlier around whether accessibility guidelines applied to documents such as PowerPoint. So the answer to that is yes. There are certain things that you can do to make your documents more accessible based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and despite them not directly targeting documents such as Word documents or PowerPoint.

A good place to start is the Microsoft Office Suite Accessibility checker that allows you to highlight common accessibility issues within your documents. So this is things such as the use of headings in your text, the provision of alt text for images that you can include and the use of tables and headings structure. So that’s a good place to start if trying to assess the accessibility of your documents.

I am going to have a quick look to see if there are anymore questions. So when we upload videos to MS Streams, there is an option to generate a transcript. Is this enough to meet accessibility needs or must we use subtitles and transcript?

So the short answer is no. The long answer is you may not be able to, for whatever reason, resource wise, dedicate the time necessary to transcribe the video. Usually the automated transcripts are a good starting point for you to then double check if there are improvements that you can make. And things like MS Streams, I think, allow you to easily make changes. So it’s definitely worthwhile to at least watch back to correct any incorrect implementation. The severity and the necessity to do so increases with the importance of the video.

So if you are trying to communicate something really important where misunderstanding might pose a significant barrier to somebody or cause a risk, then you will need to pay closer attention to that.

So there’s also a question around the inclusion of British Sign Language. So it is correct. There are certain, there is a certain support for British Sign Language available across government. I can’t remember that off the top of my head, but I’ll be sending the answers to some of these questions out after the session and I’ll try and include that in there.

Yeah, clear subtitles do not replace the need for BSL. People who have BSL as their first language may not necessarily be able to or want to read captions. So that’s why you provide both.

There’s a quick question there on how to make emojis and hashtags accessible. Emojis are announced to screen reader automatically based on the associated, you know, whatever the emoji meaning is, this is what you can have when you use Teams, for example. When you use Slack, you can you can see the underlying meaning of an emoji. And those are the kind of things that usually communicate to screen readers when they encounter them.

Hashtags are read out if it’s just a long string of words, it’s read out as long string of words, which is why it’s important to capitalise each word within the hashtag so that the screen reader at least attempts to give it some more structure.

Okay, so finally we’ll talk about making sure that the way you communicate is also accessible and inclusive. We absorb a wide range of information everyday through different communication channels.

For example, radio, television, newspapers, advertising, internet and word of mouth. Some of these methods may be out of reach or inaccessible to some disabled people. Disabled people are likely to have a below average level of access to information, and this may be due to financial reasons, limited mobility, or because absorbing information can require extra effort. Use a variety of media channels in order to get the message across to the widest possible audience.

Making your communications available in accessible formats will also help your message reach disabled people. And including disabled people in advertising helps to show that disability is a normal part of life.

Good use of social media can help you to better understand, respond to and attract the attention of specific audiences. Portraying disability and disabled people positively is also crucial in changing and improving services.

A positive image of disability is a fair, creative and stimulating portrayal of one or more disabled people. It should be based on the social model of disability rather than the medical model of disability. The social model of disability says that disability is caused by barriers within society rather than by a person’s impairment.

The more positive representation of disabled people are produced, the easier the task of changing attitudes becomes. Every campaign, which includes positive disability messages will help achieve this. The presence of disabled people and the way which they portray communication will also influence how much attention disabled people and their families, friends and representatives will pay to your messages.

Try to represent a wide range of disabilities or impairment, including non-visible impairments and health conditions. Use hearing characters sparingly. They don’t reflect the everyday reality of all disabled people. Avoid presenting disabled people as victims or as being passive. Show carers and disabled family members as equals and always use disabled actors for disabled roles.

When thinking about inclusive language, it’s worth noting that not everyone will agree on everything, but there are some general rules. When in doubt, check style guides and talk to the target audience.

Here are some of the things to look out for. The word disabled is a description, not a group of people. Use disabled people, not the disabled as a collective term. Avoid medical labels. They say little about people as individuals and tend to reinforce stereotypes of disabled people as patients or unwell. Avoid phrases like suffers from which they suggest discomfort, constant pain and a sense of hopelessness.

Most disabled people are comfortable with the words and phrases used to describe daily living, although phrases that may associate impairments with negative things should be avoided. So nice to see you is okay, but blind drunk is not.

Alt text attributes provide an excellent opportunity to be more intersectional and reflect what society actually looks like.

We’ll finish off now on Accessible communication formats, otherwise known as alternative format, which will ensure you anticipate and provide for the needs of disabled people.

One way to do this effectively is to involve disabled people from your audience in developing and reviewing a strategy for producing information in accessible format. They will know their needs and can help you find the most effective ways of meeting them.

You can also approach disability organisations for advice. Involve relevant expert such as accessibility, marketing and communications from the earliest planning stages.

Consider the needs of your audience in advance. Assess which, if any, accessible format versions are likely to be required. Plan ahead. Make sure any accessible formats you provide are available at the same time as the standard print, and consider whether your communication or campaign is specifically targeted at people with particular impairments.

Do you know if there will be a higher proportion of people with a particular impairment in your audience? Some formats suit one type of impairment more than another. Consider visual impairments, learning disabilities and literacy difficulties, as well as hearing and coordination difficulties. It’s worth bearing in mind that making original documents more accessible will reduce the need for producing accessible formats.

A question that gets asked frequently is what is the guidance around using PDFs? Does everything have to be an HTML?

So the official response from GOV.UK on publishing accessible documents is that you should always consider publishing a document in HTML. If this is not possible and you are creating a document in Word or PDF, apply the same guidelines as when creating an HTML document.

Whilst PDFs certainly have limitations, they are only as inaccessible as the practices that lead to their creation. Putting what have you learned throughout the session into practice think about have I considered accessibility throughout? And the PDF file the best format in this particular situation?

For example, is the aim of it to be printed out and stuck up? Have I followed best practice when it comes to structuring written content, creating complex charts and diagrams and using images? And do I have the correct tools and knowledge to create an accessible PDF or remediate accessibility issues, including using Adobe InDesign and Adobe Acrobat Pro?

It’s also worth mentioning that making something in HTML won’t inherently make it any more accessible without the same considerations.

The image here is taken from the Digital Data and Technology Playbook, and it’s made accessible by the provision of one long figure description. This is okay, but could this information be presented in another way?

Thinking about how this information would be made accessible may have resulted in a different way to present these ideas. Here are a couple of good examples.

The first is an HTML email page and website for the Transforming for a Digital Future campaign. This is a good example of selecting the appropriate communication channels and format. Thought has clearly gone into how this information will be presented and how the use of communication channels and file formats will be perceived. In addition to the HTML file, a website has also been created to present information in a different way and leverage interactivity.

What these illustrate is that by truly considering accessibility and usability throughout, you can create interesting, innovative ways to present information and to communicate an idea.

Here is another good example where the potential for accessibility is identified and alternatives are provided. This is latent TB testing in the UK leaflet, which is also provided in an accessible HTML format.

So that summarises the entirety of the content that I had for you today. So we’re going to use the last 8 minutes to answer any remaining questions that people might have had. Feel free to pop your questions into the chat or put your hand up. The question that remained, I think from the previous section. Apologies for not covering it back. That is, which of the guidelines assist dyslexia.

So again, as I mentioned before, the guidelines on which accessible practice is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2 AA. Now unfortunately, they don’t do a very good job of capturing the range of disabilities, especially on the neurotypical side of things, neurodivergent side of things, apologies. So things like reading, consuming information isn’t very well implemented, although efforts have been made to improve that with additional guidelines that build upon those guidelines.

So I should be able to put up a link for you fairly quickly. I will include this in the supplementary documents that goes out at the end of this, which kind of hopefully answers any remaining questions that I didn’t cover in the session.

So this is some resources created by a W3C. So the W3C are the people who publish and manage the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, attempting to fill in some of those gaps of the original guidelines in terms of missing criteria and guidance for cognitive disabilities.

This recording will be and presentation will be shared. So I think that’s something that you receive after completing the feedback survey, if I’m not mistaken.

Is there any benefit to using Open Documents, for example, .odt as opposed to Word documents .docs?

So I think the official guidance around the provision of ODTs and Open documents is that some people may not have access to a Word or a software that allows the reading of Word documents, as well as it being a more open and less proprietary format. I think don’t get hung up on the kind of distinction too much in terms of accessibility of the different formats. Each will have its own way of implementing accessibility. So just familiarise yourself with what those kind of ways are, what can be achieved in terms of accessible output and how that fits into your wider strategy for creating accessible content.

When picking which file format to use from an accessibility perspective, is it possible for you to provide links to the accessible HTML examples?

Yep. I’ll try and cover that with the kind of Q&A document I usually compile after the session, covering off any additional questions I haven’t covered and I’ll link to some of those resources.

The question here, is it appropriate to strongly advocate accessibility guidance for internal communications as well as external?

Absolutely. So the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations or PSBAR, which we touched on earlier, now that covers the accessibility of web pages and apps, both externally, the public facing and internally, which is for staff.

Now, in addition to that, you have the equality duty and Public Sector Equality Duty that applies regardless of whether it’s public facing or internal. So you have kind of a strong legislative backing to do so. But it’s also our duty as government to go above and beyond the guidance, the legislation, and really implement and project accessibility at the heart of everything that we do. So absolutely this is crucial when communicating internally as well. And things that I’ve mentioned today. Please, please, please do apply them to all your internal communications, because day to day, if we all make an effort to make some of the documents to produce more accessible, some of the emails that we send more accessible, that’s going to have a tremendous impact on the 1 in 4 people with a disability working in government and to reflect the wider trends.

Question. We are currently preparing some regulations for GOV.UK and the tables will contain multiple small pictorial symbols alongside the written text in some tables, symbols that are well understood by the military and civilian users. Will each symbol need alt text assigning.

There’s no harm in providing alt text for those pictorial symbols. The only reason why you might omit that is if the meaning of the symbol is present next to it in text. Say, for example, if you have a tick with the words confirmed next to it, you may choose to mock that image as decorative, say, not omitting alt text.

You do still include alt text, but that alt text is empty, which signifies that the image is decorative because the text will effectively replicate the meaning of the image next to it. Otherwise, if it’s just the image, then make sure you include the appropriate alt text and it shouldn’t take long. If the tick means correct, the alt text is simply going to be correct.

And I think that wraps us up quite nicely.

So thank you very much for attending today. Hopefully you found that useful.

Learning objectives

  • understand the importance of implementing accessibility throughout digital and media communications
  • learn about the different technologies that can be used to assist in creating accessible content
  • be able to apply accessibility best practice across different channels of communication

Further resources