The Importance of Accessible Online Public Services

Accessible digital services during the Coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

With social distancing measures now in place across the UK, the need for equal accessibility of digital or online public services has never been greater. It is vital that everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in society, is able to access public services online. 

By September 23rd 2020, all Public Sector websites must comply with The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. However, by reviewing the accessibility of your organisation’s digital estate now, it could lead to positive changes, ensuring no one feels abandoned during a time of uncertainty.

Accessible public services.

By definition, public services are intended to serve society, but reaching the public at large means creating digital services that work for everyone. Web accessibility is key to creating inclusive digital services by eliminating barriers users with disabilities face when trying to use the web.

Accessibility is about making sure that digital platforms don’t exclude people based on disability, skill level or experience; creating an inclusive experience where everyone can participate.

As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, once said,

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”. 

In the UK alone, there are 13.9 million people living with a disability or a long-term condition. That’s 1 in 5 people. And as the average age increases, that figure is set to rise with progressive impairments and age-related disabilities. However, we often fail to comprehend the diversity and complexity of disabled communities. Disability is contextual. By considering the user experience (UX) of people with disabilities you will increase the overall usability of your digital service and will see benefits for everyone. 

It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also the law.

Building on existing obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites & Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 mandates public sector websites and mobile applications comply with recognised accessibility standards. The goal is to ensure digital public services are clear and simple to use, by making them ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’. But, the regulations should not be seen as a box-checking exercise, rather as an opportunity to improve digital service offerings.

Increased efficiency and cost reductions.

Designing and building with the UX of people with disabilities in mind opens digital services up to a wider audience and ensures compliance standards are met. But, the benefits of accessibility are not limited to its impact on people with disabilities or legal compliance. 

It’s no secret that organisations across the public sector are feeling the pressure from budget cuts with no decrease in demands for their services. Working towards accessibility can be an opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. 

Accessible digital services allow users to self-serve. Not only does this make users feel empowered because they are able to independently resolve their questions, but it can also reduce call levels and office visits, thereby increasing employee efficiency and productivity; reducing associated costs. 

Everyone has a role to play.

Accessibility is not just one person’s responsibility, everyone has a role to play. From the executive level to delivery teams through to procurement departments; accessibility must be a cultural adoption to see consistent rewards.

When accessibility is part of the standard design and development process and not a separate workflow, it reduces the burden on delivery teams. Instead of focusing efforts on retrospectively fixing issues, it creates space to introduce new knowledge, knowledge that can be shared throughout the organisation, changing the way teams think and work.

Being able to draw upon an understanding of accessibility across delivery teams and within management structures, means that roadmapping future digital products will meet and exceed accessibility standards without having to consider it a separate workflow. The result of this will be the dual benefit of lower costs and higher user satisfaction. 

The accessibility advantage.

Accessibility is a driver for digital service improvement, not only improving the user experience for people with disabilities and improving the services wider usability, but it can also play a major role in alleviating the pressures organisations face in terms of costs. This combined with impending regulatory deadlines presents an opportunity for the public sector to take stock of their current state of digital accessibility and make plans for positive change.

At Zoonou, we help our clients to understand the barriers that people with disabilities face when using digital platforms and how they can put quality assurance processes in place that will allow them to build robust and accessible products. 

We have a team of accessibility experts working remotely in the UK, available to support organisations while they navigate this unprecedented global event.

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