Accessible content is often overlooked in the race for clicks and attention. It’s the law but it needn’t be daunting. Helen Crumley, a public sector communications and engagement manager, sets out some steps to make it easier.
I’ve spent the last 12-months helping our organisation make documents, social media posts and web pages accessible. Here’s some key thoughts, suggestions and links to inspire and encourage.
It’s the law
First things first, the legal requirements around accessibility. It’s the law in order to compel organisations to make what they produce accessible to people who may have a sight or hearing disability.
In the UK, there are 150,000 British Sign Language users, two million blind or visually impaired people and up to 11 million people who have hearing problems. That’s a big chunk of the population and they need to be able to hear or see what content you are posting about the services they may rely on.
These apply to web content but provide a great platform to base all your accessibility work on.
Public sector organisations are accountable to the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018. These built upon existing UK anti-discrimination law, like the Equality Act 2010.
To be compliant you need to make sure you:
- Meet WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 Level AA
- Publish an accessibility statement
There were some time frames built into these regulations, all of which have now passed, to allow public sector organisations to remediate, update and amend their sites. Which brings me nicely to my opening subject.
You’ll need time
Rome wasn’t built in a day. The same is true when tackling accessibility. You’re going to need time. You may find some days you move forward and make real breakthroughs. On others you may get people come up and think it’ll be sorted in three months or by the end of the year and the like. Manage expectations.
In my head, I’ve always viewed this work at around three years. Partly because it’s by far not the only thing I do in my role. However what this really boils down to is culture and behaviour change.
As an example, take headings in Word. Truth time here, do most of you just bold out and slightly increase the font size to make a heading? That’s what I used to do as I had picked up Word from the day I started my first job. So, I had to learn how to re-do something that I had been doing for nearly 20 years and change my behaviour. Now imagine doing that for dozens of steps in Word and PowerPoint, bringing everyone in an organisation with you, against a backdrop of ‘we need it yesterday’.
You’ll get incredibly frustrated, bored of saying ‘alt text is missing’ or ‘does it need to be in a table, or is it in there to look pretty?’, and even angry. The one phrase that sets me off is ‘but it’s just for staff’. I could wax lyrical here but let’s just say being accessible applies to everyone.
You’ll need support, allies and some resources
Don’t under-estimate the mountain you will be climbing. You can’t do this on your own. As I mention above it includes everyone and so it should involve everyone. Not just the communications team.
Do some outreach internally. You’ll find pockets of passionate teams, or people – target them, bring them into the fold and let them be your loudspeaker so it’s not just you shouting into the wind.
I call them my Accessibility Allies. Support them, share top tips and host Q&As, a Teams group works well as people can dip in and out. Those little wins, when seeing the light go on as someone gets it is incredibly rewarding.
This then creates a groundswell of support.
Find external sources of advice too. You’re going to suddenly find yourself being called an accessibility expert! You need to know where to go for those questions you’re not so expert on.
I highly recommend Alexa Heinrich and her Accessible Social site (for social media accessibility but a lot transfers across to documents and websites) and Dax Castro for his videos on pdf remediation. He can get a bit technical but bear with him. The W3C site is great too, and indeed so are the Microsoft Accessibility support pages.
Finally, but by no means least, ask for help from those you are looking to include. I’ve sought advice from local deaf, blind, and learning disability groups as well as national charities on best practice. They also use the screen readers, such as JAWS (no, not the shark) and NVDA so you can ask them to test your work for you.
You’ll need some budget… but not as much as you think
Money. You will need some but not necessarily large amounts. Use carrots and sticks to bring senior leadership with you. Starting with the risk of serious fines that impact the bottom line and reputational risk opens doors, but also link to values around openness and inclusion. For me this is the real reason for doing it so more people can access our work, in a way that works for them, and doesn’t exclude anyone.
Our hard-earned budget went on training, ensuring we got the recordings and transcripts to allow people to learn in a way they prefer. Open it to everyone, but target teams you know produce a lot of content.
We also used it to buy licences for the organisation to allow us (as in the organisation, not just the communications team) to remediate our own documents in Adobe Acrobat. As much as I would love to abolish the pdf that is not in my power. So, I worked within the constraints we had.
You’ll need governance and compliance
So, we know the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations came into law in 2018. We also know we need our digital platforms to be accessible, but the last couple of years have meant we’ve been pulled away from this.
If I’m honest we are still working through this and it’s the next phase of our work. It was a deliberate tactic to engage our staff, partners, and teams first. We exist after all to help our local population and providing employees with practical tools and techniques to take that first step was prioritised before tackling this area.
Having hearts and minds engaged now means we can step back, breathe, assess and work out where our gaps are. What is left to do to make us fully compliant and exceed the minimum requirements, how regularly do we need to audit, and how are we going to do this.
You’ll need to be open and share to learn
This isn’t a competition to see who gets to be the best at being accessible and win a trophy. Being open and inclusive with our documents and communication helps everyone understand the work we are trying to communicate.
Within our NHS system I have shared the training, both written and videos, with other NHS organisations, local government and our voluntary partners. I’ve also encouraged them to share further. I’ve spoken in internal team meetings and to senior leaders.
Seek out forums, blogs, webinars – go where people are sharing their knowledge to help you. Post your questions, be there to help if someone new asks a question you know the answer to.
I’ll leave you with this great quote and a challenge. “The accessibility problems of today are the main breakthroughs of tomorrow” If someone works out the technology to create an accessible flow/organisation chart give me a call, it’s a gap in the market!
Helen Crumley is communications and engagement manager at Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Integrated Care System.