Digital accessibility for government communicators


Learn all about the new digital accessibility requirements, and how to make your digital communications accessible.


  • audience: all government communicators
  • level: introductory
  • presenters: Rianna Fry, Senior campaigns and communications manager at Government Digital Service (GDS) and Richard Morton, Head of Accessibility at GDS

Watch the webinar

This recording is simulated live, you will be asked for your name and email.

[Richard] Today, I’m here to talk to you about the digital accessibility regulations and how they impact your work as communicators.

Before we get started, I just want to give you a quick overview of what we’ll be covering this session. First, we’ll cover digital accessibility and why it’s important, then I’ll touch on the digital accessibility regulations, and finally we’ll go through some tips on how you can make communications more accessible. 

There should be time to answer some questions. Please raise any questions you have through the chat panel. Hopefully we’ll be able to answer some of these with the actual slides, but if there are others that occur to you as we go along, please do that and we’ll try and answer those later.

We also have been marking the minute’s silence in honor of NHS staff and key workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus, and that’s due at 11 o’clock. Hopefully you’ve seen the communications about that. So, if we’re still talking at that point, we will interrupt it to say we’ll have that minute silent.

So what is accessibility? Well, accessibility means ensuring your services and content can be used and understood by the widest possible audience. In the UK at least one in five people have a long-term illness, impairment or disability, and many more have a temporary or situational disability. The UK public has to use government services.

Although communications and campaigns have tailored audiences, everybody in the UK will at some point need to use a government service and your campaigns will help to sign post them to those services. This means it’s our responsibility as civil servants to make sure we remove as many barriers or obstacles to accessing our services as possible.

Everything we create must be accessible to everyone, regardless of whether or not they have impairments in any of these areas; the areas of vision, hearing, speech, motor or cognitive skills, or abilities or disabilities, or a combination of them. For example, this means we must make sure that you don’t need to rely on sight alone to understand Government Communications material. The text on the service should be accessible to a screen reader, which is a piece of software that is used to read out text on a website for someone who is visually impaired. Similarly, we shouldn’t rely on people being able to hear the audio of a film or animation and should also provide caption text. 

It’s also important to remember that impairments aren’t always permanent. There are people who temporarily do not have use of their senses due to illness or injury, such as having an ear infection, burst eardrum, or a cold. And we must consider people who don’t have full use of their senses because of the situation they’re in, such as being in a noisy environment that prevents you being able to hear as clearly. User needs should be considered whether an impairment or disability is permanent, temporary, or situational. 

Now accessibility isn’t something new for GDS, it’s built into our design standards and ways of working however making online services accessible to all isn’t just something we’re passionate about, it’s also the law. The equality act 2010, as it says on the slide, reads: “we have a legal obligation to provide equal access to people with disabilities, and for Northern Ireland, this is covered by the disability Discrimination Act 1995”. 

In the Equality Act 2010, it says that public authorities must comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty. This means that public organizations like central and local government, health care and education and others must think about the needs of people who are disadvantaged or suffer inequality, when they make decisions about how they provide their services and implement policies. While the 2010 and 1995 laws have been in place for some time, there are some newer online accessibility regulations that public organisations must follow. These do not replace or supersede the Equality Act or the Public Sector Equality Duty, but are in addition to them.

And these are the new Public Sector Bodies Website and Mobile Applications Accessibility Regulations 2018. They mean that public sector organisations have a legal obligation to make their websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities. The public sector obliged to do a number of things. They need to meet the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – that’s WCAG 2.1 to level AA, I’ll explain more on this in a moment; they need to make sure their websites and apps are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust; and, they need to publish an accessibility statement. This will make clear the level of accessibility across the site or app, and I’ll be speaking about this a bit more in the session later in session 2. 

WCAG, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a set of recognized guidelines that can follow to make components on a website accessible. The guidelines are broken down into three levels: Level A is for websites with the most basic web accessibility features, level AA for websites that tackle the most common barriers for disabled users, and level AAA for sites with the highest and most complex level of web accessibility.

There’s some important dates with these regulations and the timeline for the regulations are shown on the slide and I’ll just go through that. So websites published on or after 23rd of September 2018 already have to be compliant, and that’s as of September last year 2019. Existing websites have to be compliant by 23rd of September this year 2020, and mobile applications or apps have to be compliant by 23rd of June 2021.

So just going through the actions again, there are four actions you need to do to make sure you’re compliant. 

One, understand how the regulations will impact you. You’re likely to be impacted if you manage campaign websites or mobile apps or publish content to GOV.UK. 

Two, you need to check the accessibility of your website and or app and publish documents by carrying out an accessibility audit. It’s important to engage with your digital team or accessibility champions for support on conducting an accessibility audits. Alternatively, you can commission professional advice and audits through the digital marketplace.

Three, you need to make a plan to fix any problems that come out of the accessibility audit. 

And four, you need to publish an accessibility statement. Websites hosted on the central campaigns platform follow strict guidelines that meet the WCAG guidelines and have up-to-date accessibility statements.

Accessibility statements are one of the key requirements of the new regulations. The statement must include the following: how accessibility was evaluated, the level of compliance, known issues, how users can get accessible alternatives, a feedback mechanism and how to contact the enforcement body. And, importantly, it must be regularly updated as and when you make changes to your website. We would advise you revisit the statement at least once a year. There’s a sample statement on GOV.UK that can be used as a template to help website owners write their own.

And there are lots of resources out there to help you to be compliant, from GDS and from others. GDS has published guidance and resources on GOV.UK. So visit GOV.UK/accessibility-regulations to see what you need to do in order to be compliant.

Separately, GDS also has a role in making sure compliance with the regulations happens. We monitor public sector websites and mobile apps for accessibility, and GDS has been chosen to do this as we are a leader in online accessibility. We’re also responsible for enforcing the requirement to publish an accessibility statement.

What does this mean? Well, it’s a big job to undertake. We have identified tens of thousands of public sector websites so far. We have to test a sample of websites based on the population size. We enforce the requirement to publish accessibility statements and our findings are reported to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, shared with enforcement bodies, and published online.

While GDS is the reporting and monitoring body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland will actually enforce the law.

This means, they can use their existing legal powers under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to launch investigations, issue unlawful act notices, and take court action against offending organisations.

All of this work, both past and present, means that our work is accessible, it makes sure it is for everyone. That’s all of our users including the most vulnerable.

And again, you can find out more in various places including the accessible channel on slack. That’s On the accessibility Google Group, which is for the public sector. That is GOV.UK/service-manual/communities/accessibility-community. On the accessibility and government blog, which is for everyone, and that’s And a reminder as well that it’s on GOV.UK/accessibility-regulations. That’s for everyone and gives the sort of overall links to all these areas of guidance.

So, before we move onto covering tips around accessibility communications specifically, has anybody got any questions about accessibility in regulations in general? I have not looked at the chat, but I’ll have a look now to see what’s appeared in there.

So one question was: “is an audit compulsory?” Technically, no. An audit is probably the best way of establishing whether a service or a document or an application is accessible, but the regulations don’t say you have to have an audit. But practically speaking, it’s probably the only way of doing it. 

And there’s a question “if you have PDFs in the thousands, is it retroactive?” There are some specific rules around PDFs in the guidance. I don’t want to go into too much detail into that but no, you don’t have to make all existing PDFs accessible – there are some restrictions on that. All new PDFs will need to be. Older ones, it depends on whether they’re needed for a service. So if they’re essential PDFs for services, then yes. If they’re things like annual reports, maybe no, or older communication documents that are no longer relevant. No, you don’t need to focus on those.

Will you be able to share the slides after the session? Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m hoping that will be okay. 

Will the deadline of September 2020 be pushed back due to the current circumstances? No, the plan of the moment is to continue with the existing deadlines. We will provide support to organisations if they get complaints or receive requests for things that they can’t deal with or if they have particular issues, but the deadlines are still in place and organisations are still expected to meet that deadline in terms of existing services for September 2020 and it’ll be apps for June 2021. The webinar is being recorded. I’m not sure what’s happening in terms of sharing that. I guess that would be discussed at the end.

Okay, so if we carry on then, I’d like to hand over to my colleague  Fry, who is senior campaigns and communications manager. I just need to switch.

[Rianna] Thanks, Richard. Hi everyone. As Richard mentioned, I’m  Fry and I’m senior campaigns and communications manager here at GDS.

So, although you may not be responsible for building and maintaining the technical aspects of your campaigns website or app, it’s important to understand how the regulations will impact you so that you can better commission these products and allow extra time to make sure that your campaign is accessible. This is because even if your campaign websites and apps are outsourced, your department will be responsible for making sure they’re compliant. 

However, it’s also not just about the technical architecture of the website. As communicators, you should make sure that the content you create and publish to online platforms is accessible too. So making campaign assets accessible doesn’t mean compromising on design. 

Creating accessible visuals and communications strengthens your campaign, because after all there’s no point in having a really beautiful, attractive Facebook campaign if your audience aren’t able to actually understand your key message. So I wanted to share with you some simple practices that you can introduce to your teams to make sure content can be understood by your audiences and is more accessible. 

So firstly, let’s talk about how language and the structure of content can be made accessible. So when writing content, it’s important to consider the different reading levels of the public. So long sentences can be really complicated and confusing, so try to stick to around 25 words per sentence and someone can say this in one breath. What was the text are also very tricky to read especially on mobile and they can be quite off-putting, so we would recommend that you use no more than five lines per paragraph. 

Now for just a quick exercise, on the screen you’ll see there’s a piece of text. Does anyone have any ideas what this sentence is trying to say, if you do then if you can just add your comments to the chat. So people with a low reading age can understand this sentence, but it’s long and it’s complicated and it makes them do quite a lot of work to understand what it means. So let’s have a look. This is the sentence simplified.

So it really doesn’t need to be that complicated. So now onto headings and subheadings. When structuring content, many of us are guilty of using font size and making things bold to create headers. But these things aren’t understood by screen readers. So using the correct page structures to format your content will help those who do use screen readers to understand the layout of the document. Each document or page should have one heading and subheadings can be used to provide a structure to the page or document. You can find and edit the pre-formatted headings and subheadings within the format tab of most programs like Word or Google Docs.

It’s also important you use a sensible font size. So you need to use your judgment when it comes to determining which font size to use, taking into account the style of font you’re using and the type of content that you were producing. So for example, 12-point text might be large enough for a web page. However on an Instagram or Facebook story, it’s difficult to read, so creative teams and designers should be able to advise you on this, but it’s important for you to sense check the size of font being used and challenge any content that you think is looking a bit too small. So as a guide at GDS, we use a minimum point size of 12 for a document and 32 for presentations. 

So now onto link text which is ultimately a hyperlink. There are some simple things that you can do to make them more accessible. To meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards, which Richard spoke about just now, you must make sure that links stand out from other text by underlining them and making the color significantly different. So in terms of the color selection, you need to make sure that there’s a three to one color contrast ratio between the link text and the rest of the content. So I’ll touch on color ratios a little bit more in the session. Link text should also be meaningful. So this means it should make sense without the context of surrounding content.

The reason for this is to make sure that it’s accessible to users navigating content with a keyboard instead of a mouse and also those using screen readers because screen readers will often pull together a list of different links that are within a web page.

So, as a general rule, start with the verb if you’re asking people to do something as you can see in these examples and if you’re linking to information, as you can see in the second example, link directly over the text that describes the information that you’re linking to. Here are some examples of good, bad and ugly link text which I’m sure you’ve all seen and we’ve probably all used at some point. 

So now the exciting time has come for us to discuss the three letter acronym that your website manager will have warned you about. It’s the notorious PDF, which is a common issue for most of us. But first, I do want to touch on document formats generally.

Any content being published to websites should be published in HTML by default. So if you’re publishing to GOV.UK, you will need the help of a content designer. If you’re not familiar with the role of content designers, they’re specialist writers that work closely with researchers and designers to produce content based on user needs. So they take into account the whole user experience. They don’t just look at the words but also the way that content is displayed to users and in this respect GOV.UK content designers are trained on accessible content writing. So we did advise that you engage content designers in your project as early as possible if you are going to be publishing content to GOV.UK, so that you can get a clear idea on their capacity and therefore how much time you need to allow for their work to be carried out. 

When sharing an attachment document, Open Document Format is often the best option as this format is compatible with most applications. As you’re probably aware, even within government, different programs like Google or Microsoft are used by different teams. Open document formats can be opened by all of these programs. And PDFs themselves should really only be used for printed documents.

However, we do know that there are situations when you have to upload a PDF or there’s a request to. If that’s the case, then you should publish them as an additional document. So you should still make sure that the content is uploaded in HTML by default.

So, there’s a lot of discussion around PDFs and their accessibility. I’m not going to go into this in too much detail but ultimately the reason why they’re not accessible – or it’s very difficult to make them accessible – is that these documents are created to be printed. They’re not built to be read on screens. So this means they’re not responsive, which can make them challenging to open on mobile and means that they’re not compatible with screen magnification.

They’re also not usually structured so as I mentioned before using heading format so that people can tap through the content. So this can be difficult for screen readers to navigate. So I’m just going to put a link to a blog post that we have on the GDS blog that’s really helpful and kind of guides through this in a bit more detail.

Okay, so now let’s talk about color. I’m keeping a close eye on the time. Okay, so color can be used in communication and campaign assets to add emphasis and to engage, but it shouldn’t be used to convey a key message. So this is why you should avoid using pie charts for example, because they often use a color key and that’s not accessible, if you’re color blind for example.

So just another quick exercise, if you can tell me in the chat whether you think these buttons are accessible. Okay, interesting. Great. Thank you. So the answer is that they are accessible and as they aren’t relying on color to convey a message. The color here is used to add emphasis. If you take away the color, as we’ll see on the next slide, the message can still be understood. However, if the text is taken away the buttons are not accessible. So if you had this option that you can see on screen that wouldn’t be accessible, because you’re relying on people to understand the color to convey the message. 

Okay, so color contrast, which I mentioned earlier on, is another WCAG requirement. So you must make sure that there’s sufficient color contrast between the color of the text and the background that it’s on. WCAG guidelines state that you should have a minimum ratio of 4.5 to 1. There are free tools that you can use and designers often will use their own and have a preference. The link that we have included in this slide is the one that we use at GDS, which is called contrast checker.

So just to give you an example, this is a color contrast that fails WCAG’s standards. So the origin white combinations have a really low color contrast making it difficult to read the content. In fact, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between each of the columns. And then here’s the example of good color contrast. So the green background with the white text has a color contrast ratio slightly above the recommended minimum of 4.5 to 1.

So now we’re going to talk about making images, video, and podcasts more accessible. So alt text, let’s cover that first. Alt text is used to describe an image. So it’s read by software for visually impaired users, but it also displays when an image doesn’t load. In the chat, can you tell me what you think would make a good alt text description for this image? I’ll give you a couple of seconds. 

Amazing, Stephanie, that was very quick. Okay, let’s have a look at this. So an example of alt text description for this image is ‘pancakes’. So unless there’s a need to provide a detailed description of the image, it’s not always necessary to include lengthy alt descriptions. That said, it is also important to remember that images can also convey feelings, including trust and authority. For example, if the piece that this image was illustrating was about the balance of school meals, then the blueberries would hold greater significance. So again, it’s important that you use your judgment to determine what information is necessary to provide users with the same experience of the content.

So to summarize, it’s important that you keep alt text short and simple and include only information the users need to know about the message the image is conveying. This means you need not include things like ‘picture of’ or ‘image of’ and it’s also important that you add alt text to design elements like buttons when creating marketing emails, for example. 

So now, let us move on to subtitles and captions. So the majority of video content is now viewed without audio as most of you are probably aware. So creators are already including subtitles and closed captions. When you’re creating yours, it’s important to use an accessible font, like Arial – that’s a pretty safe choice. And also to check that the text is large enough to be legible. 

You must also make sure there is sufficient color contrast as we mentioned before, between the text and the subtitle background – that’s the banner that sits around the text. And so as tempting as it might be to change the colors up, so they’re a nice jazzy combination that fits with your campaign, actually what’s more important is that you can read the text clearly.

So usually it’s best to stick with the default color pairing, which is usually white text on black or gray. To improve the readability of subtitles you should also make sure that there’s sufficient padding. So padding is the space between the text and the background edge, as you can see in this image on the side. Most of you will probably not interfere with the padding on preset subtitles, which is really great. But if you do like to tailor it or you’re working with a producer or creative agency, we advise aiming for at least a third color padding all the way around your subtitle.

So here’s an example of closed captions, in case you’ve not seen before. I’m sure you have. And now onto video animations and gifs. So a video description should be available for all videos without audio. It doesn’t need to be complex. So this body of text should use plain English to describe the key visual elements in a video, so that users who cannot watch the videos content can have the same information as someone who can. 

If you’re using a backing track on your video, there needs to be a clear distinction between this and any other audio, so work to a minimum of 20 decibels difference between the background music and the voice overs. 

It’s also important to leave enough transition time between scenes in videos and gifs so the audience can easily follow your content. The transition speed will largely be dictated by the type of content you’re creating and whether there’s text that needs to be read. If there is, as a guide, the average person reads about 200 to 250 words a minute. 

An important thing though is that flashing images should be avoided as they can cause seizures. So WCAG requirements outline that web pages shouldn’t contain anything that flashes more than three times a second.

If your team creates podcasts, this is a nice easy one. Just remember to publish a transcript with the content and don’t forget to publish the transcript in HTML or embedded within the website content.

Now although real time real time content doesn’t fall under the accessibility regulations themselves, it’s obviously important that all government communications are accessible, and this includes social media content. So, many of the tips we’ve already shared will inform the content for your social media accounts however there are a few additional things we wanted to share.

The first is to limit your hashtag use to two posts to improve the flow of text. It’s also helpful to capitalize the first letter of individual words to improve the readability and to enable screen readers to understand the content. People who navigate by keyboard shortcuts often find it frustrating to navigate multiple links. So we recommend you limit your links to one per social media post.

I’m just going to hold off there because I’m conscious that the minute silence will soon start so I’m going to mute myself and turn off my video and I’ll see you in a minute or so. So we’re ready to get started again.

So, alt text is a feature that’s now available on my social media platforms, so use this as you would images elsewhere. Do not rely on images that are lined to convey your campaigns key messages. Make sure the messages are included in post copy as well so that they’re accessible to those using screen readers.

If you can, it is best to avoid quote images or PDF uploads to social media, and this is because they’re not accessible to those issues in this assistive technologies. Also, PDFs of letters, for example, are normally really difficult to read on Twitter feeds. However, we do appreciate that there may be occasions when you need to include them to demonstrate trust and reassurance in these situations. It’s important that you provide a text alternative ideally within the post itself, but if not in an immediate reply to the post or on a linked to page. 

Most social media networks have different built-in accessibility features in addition to alt text. So make sure you switch these on and familiarize yourself with the features. I’ve got another quick scenario exercise for you. So, you’ve been asked to tweet a PDF of a letter that the prime minister’s issued about a key policy. So how will you make sure that this is accessible?

Ideally, you’d use a different visual and you would not upload a PDF of the letter although sometimes, obviously, it would be decided that the letter itself should be used to illustrate the Tweet to provide additional trust and reassurance. In that case, an image of it would be better than a PDF, so that you can add alt text. But you’d also want to publish the letter to a GOV.UK page in HTML, and you would then want to link to this page from your Twitter post or in an immediate reply to it.

So I’m conscious that we’ve rattled through and we’ve covered a lot of content here. One of the key things that I would like you to take away is that I think it’s really important to remember that this isn’t just about PDFs and social media post visuals and videos. As communicators, we are constantly speaking with audiences via a range of different tools, including surveys, email marketing, like MailChimp, job adverts. How many job adverts are posted with PDFs, for example. 

So I really encourage you to take the time to review the different channels and software that you and your teams use and the small steps that you can take to make them more accessible. After all, the success of all the communications and campaigns that we produce really lays in engaging an audience and the first step of that is making sure that they can access and understand your key messages in order to take action. 

So, in addition, some of these were covered in Richard slide, but these are some helpful resources that you might like to take a look at.

We have got a bit of time for some questions. I think some have come through in the chat. Richard, did you want to go through some of the questions? 

[Richard] Yeah. Thanks, . Just looking through the questions then going back. The first one after the last lot was, “sorry, where can I find the color ratio?” The color ratio is a sort of mathematical formula that works out the difference between colors. That’s why we need to use tools to actually establish what that color ratio is, so that tool  listed as a link, that gives you that figure of whether it’s four point five to one or not. And if it’s less than that, then that indicates a problem. There are other tools available to do the same thing, but essentially it’s a mathematical formula so if you know the colors you can find it out. But yeah, you have to use a tool to work it out.

Next question is “what about word clouds?” I asked if there was any sort of clarification on what was meant by the question, but word clouds in general do have a number of accessibility considerations if you like. 

One of the things is, it needs to be readable in a format that screen reader users can access, so they need to be able to access the information in a suitable order, however that is ordered on the page, whether that’s a document or in a web page. 

But also word clouds, you know, the size of words is affected by the importance of the word or the number of results, things like that. You need to stick to a sort of minimum. So don’t go beyond the minimum recommendations in terms of text size, but you can have different sizes. But if you’re indicating something through size, a screen reader user wouldn’t necessarily know that, so ideally you’d order them in a list, you know a numbered list and that would give an idea of what’s the highest, the most important results. 

There are also things about color as well, of course. You know, if you do use different colors, you need to make sure all those colors work with the background. So hopefully that answers the question about work clouds. They are complex, but they can be useful, yeah. 

“Should we justify text?” ‘No’ is the answer to that. Do stick with aligning text to the left if it’s left to right language. If you’re writing things in other languages that are right to left, then obviously align the other direction. But generally it’s better if text isn’t justified. Now the reason for that is that if you get variable spacing between words, that can create what’s called rivers of blank space that run through it, and that’s much more difficult for a lot of people who are dyslexic to be able to read the content. It’s also much easier if they scan, that they can see the left side is justified, so don’t centre a text either. That’s another thing to think about. That’s pretty difficult to read, particularly if it is body text rather than just a heading.

“All of our Freedom of Information responses are sent in PDF format, should we be using another format?” Ideally, yes. Ideally in one of the Open Document Formats. But it is technically possible to make a PDF meet the web content accessibility guidelines, so it can be done, but there’s a significant amount of work to do with that. What you obviously should not do is just scan a letter or something like that that’s used or documents that are used in PDFs. If they are images or old documents or things like that, they need to be translated into text and there are tools that can do that automatically, with some additional work, but you need to ensure that that text is available. But also just, yeah, avoid PDF format where possible but, you know, we recognize that sometimes that is necessary. 

“How would you use alt text for images of graphs?” A graph can be quite a complex bit of information. Ideally, you provide a summary of the graph in alternative text. But if there’s a lot more information that you can get inside a summary then usually providing information in something like a data table is appropriate. That can be helpful for people just visually and understanding cognitively; but also for someone using a screen reader, that enables them to read through the data table. They can access the cells. They can understand the relationships between the columns and rows, providing that data tables are created correctly with the appropriate HTML.

“We use tables within Word to arrange some of our content. Can stream readers access the content in this table?” Sorry, yeah, I think I have just answered that. 

“In Word, .PDF and HTML, is it best to avoid tables?” No, it isn’t best. It’s best to use tables in some circumstances. It’s kind of a sort of data and content design question, really. It depends on the complexity of the information but tables can be more accessible than long paragraphs of text. Yes, screen readers can access it. That is more difficult in PDFs. I wouldn’t recommend using data tables too much in PDFs. Although you know, there are lots of examples of that in communications that go out from Government generally. 

Can you confirm that saving PowerPoint to certain formats is not enough to make it accessible? People still need to have alt text and slide titles. Yes, I can confirm that. When you create a PowerPoint or a Google Slides or a key note – whatever format you create your presentations in – there are tools and settings within that to do things like ensure slides are titled, alternative text is in place for images, and that you have correct reading order because things can change. 

There are tools within PowerPoint. For example, there’s an accessibility checker that will identify specific technical issues. So that’s a useful thing to do and that can be used if you’re creating things in other tools like Google Slides, you know, you can transfer it in and check accessibility without. But it isn’t a guarantee but it is a good start to do that sort of thing.

“Is there guidance on when to use open and closed captions by platform?” I don’t know if there’s specific guidance around that. Closed captions are generally better because they’re more flexible, they can be adjusted through things like style sheets and things like that by the end user, or plugins, or whichever media player they are using, so they are definitely more flexible. However, there are often needs for open captions. An example I’ve seen on a number of occasions is where members of executive teams have been giving us an update. The question will often appear in text on screen in an open caption and then they will answer the question. And that’s okay, you know, if it’s not over used as that’s fine, but also in that case the question needs to be described audibly as well, that is a separate issue from the question, if you like, about open and closed captions. But, yeah, closed captions are generally better.

And then, “I understand we don’t need alt text for decorative images – what defines a decorative image?” It’s kind of subjective to a degree. I think it’s easy to understand that things like borders and information like that. just, that is true, in decorative, should be ignored and shouldn’t have alternative text. There’s some technical things you need to do in HTML to make sure it’s not read out by screen readers otherwise, they’ll read out the name of the file. But there’s more sort of a gray area in terms of images. 

So for example the image on the screen at the moment – which there’s questions – there’s a lot of people in the room. Do we need to describe that image? Probably not but it could be creating a feeling of a meeting with people asking questions. So it is very subjective and I always suggest to people think about how you describe it over the phone to someone. Do they need that information? 

It’s also very, you know, very context dependent. You got an image of someone operating a computer, that might be a stock image. Probably not necessary to describe it. But if it’s an article about how to fix, you know, Windows 10 or whatever issue got, then maybe it is relevant. So it’s very context dependent and you know, this is where content designers really come into their own in terms of thinking about these things and being able to describe them effectively.

“Does that include logos?” In terms of describing, if a logo includes text or you know something that’s important for people to understand then yes, you need to have alternative text for that logo that says what it is. So GDS, for example, the logo for GDS is just the letters GDS. But if it’s more than that, you may need to describe it, but you shouldn’t necessarily. It is more important that the people understand what the brand is that they’re dealing with. There is an exemption for color contrast for logos, in that the text in a logo doesn’t have to be the color contrast requirements. That’s something you shouldn’t try to, if you’re creating new logos, but it recognizes that brand image can’t always easily change. So that hopefully answers that question.

These are great. Lots of questions coming through. I think that’s answered all the ones currently. Has anybody else got any more questions.

As  said there’s a lot of information in here. It’s a lot to take in, but a lot of it is down to basic principles of understanding that people need to be able to understand all this content and be able to perceive it through their senses.

[Rianna] Great. Thank you. And yeah, just to sort of add to that, I think one of the things that we often talk about at GDS is that it’s not really as straightforward as there being a checklist and you being able to go through and having a hundred percent certainty that something is absolutely accessible because people’s needs are so different. So I think, as Richard said, it is about us understanding what small things we can do and sort of continuing to learn. And as Richard mentioned, content designers are really valuable assets to government and I definitely recommend that you touch base with content designers and within your departments as they will have lots of knowledge on this, and as part of their introduction to government work that they take part in, Richard’s introduction to accessibility. So they’ll have a good understanding of all of this stuff. And there’s lots of information within the service manual on GOV.UK, which he may not have come across before. There’s tons of information in there about accessibility so you can kind of have a look through that and find out more.

Richard, I think there’s one more question that’s just come in. Should we answer that and then we will call it an end and give everyone 15 minutes back? 

[Richard] Yeah, I’m just looking now. “If we are an ALB – an Arm’s Length Body – how do we go about finding content designers?” I don’t know the answer that to be honest other than that the content designers should be available through various organisations’ departments.

[Rianna] I think what may be a useful resource for you is one of the links that Richard includes and perhaps we can send some of these links across to the participants. We will have a chat with Ian about that after, but I think it will vary under department. But one of the things that’s really useful, is that there’s a Google community group that centers around accessibility.

So if you have got a particular question or would like some support, that community are really receptive. So I recommend that you join that and I’m sure that you’ll be able to find some support. Richard also dips in there and helps people out, but the community are really, really helpful.

[Richard] Yeah, I would echo that. It’s a very active community that has about 1,200 people in it. And it’s really good because it’s not just our own answers to questions, but there’s a lot of diverse experience and knowledge out there that really helps.

[Rianna] Great. I think that’s everything. Thank you all so much for taking the time to join this session, the first session on accessibility with GCS. Have a great day and thank you again for your time. 

[Richard] Yeah, thanks everyone.

End of transcript.

View presentation slide deck (Powerpoint, 66 pages, 14 MB)


Learning outcomes

In this webinar, you will learn:

  • the new accessibility requirements for all government digital communications
  • how to go about ensuring your digital communications meet those standards

Next steps

The full name of the accessibility regulations is the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

Learn more about accessibility: