How well have the public sector accessibility regulations been applied?

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (PSBAR 2018) require public sector organisations to make their websites and mobile apps accessible.

Moreover, an accessibility statement, detailing any outstanding accessibility issues (and who to contact if there is a problem) must also be published for each website and app.

Pile of old, formal books laid on a desk with a notebook and pen

Make sure that your knowledge is up to date. 

Learn more about digital accessibility legislation on our training course. The course has a particular focus on UK public and private sector organisations, looking at specific laws and legal cases, such as the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations.


Get training in accessibility legislation


Of course, it’s been the law to make websites accessible for well over a decade – and yet the vast majority don’t meet even the minimum level of accessibility (single-A compliance), whereas AA is actually the legal requirement (find out more about web accessibility guidelines and their three compliance levels of A, AA and AAA).

The reason for such an historically low level of compliance has almost certainly been due to the lack of enforcement of the law (the Equality Act 2010) to date. 

As a disabled individual, it’s complicated taking a company to court over the inaccessibility of its website. It’s also risky as, here in the UK at least, if your legal fees amount to more than the awarded damages (assuming you are successful), then you have to pay those fees.

Remember that the damages awarded represent the level of discrimination experienced by the claimant as an individual user – and not the overall impact of an inaccessible website on every disabled visitor as a whole (so we’re not talking big bucks here). This means that you could end up out of pocket, even if you won. Class action (where a group of claimants get together) have been successful in the past, but we’re just not a largely litigious lot on the whole.

PSBAR and the Central Digital Data Office  

This all changed with PSBAR. For the first time the legislation came with a clear remit and responsibility given to specific government bodies to report on – and potentially fine – organisations with non-compliant websites and apps.

The Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) is the body charged with monitoring public sector websites and mobile apps for compliance with accessibility regulations. It recently published a report on the state of website accessibility in the public sector. It details how CDDO monitored websites and apps in 2020 and 2021, and the findings from that monitoring.

The CDDO states; “We have focussed on larger public sector organisations for our monitoring, especially central government (including agencies and arm’s length bodies), larger local government and central health organisations. This is a proportionate approach because of the higher impact of such sites and recognises the burden of extra coronavirus-related work across the public sector. We also found that generally smaller organisations did not have the capability or capacity to easily make fixes to their websites for accessibility issues.”

The government’s report card on the state of public sector accessibility

CDDO states; “Accessibility issues were found on nearly all tested websites. After sending a report to the website owner, and giving them some time to fix (normally 12 weeks), 59% had fixed the issues found or had short-term timelines for when the website would be fixed.”

This is quite a disturbing finding. After many, many years of legislation requiring organisations to make their websites accessible, almost all of the most important and highly visited sites of central and local government, for example, have basic accessibility issues that will be excluding disabled visitors.

The main issues found were:

  • Lack of visible focus - as you use the Tab key instead of the mouse to access links on a web page - affecting keyboard users
  • Poor colour contrast - affecting visually impaired users
  • ‘Parsing’ issues – where code hasn’t been written in a way that assistive technologies can access it (such as the ability for a blind user’s screen reading software to understand some uses of JavaScript, for example). 
  • Wide use of PDFs – which are generally less accessible than web pages, and often do not contain information that helps assistive technology interpret the content.

These are all very basic requirements and it is clear that site owners needed an additional incentive to address them.

Spread the knowledge of the need for accessible content and disability inclusion to all staff with our eLearning options. For Higher and Further Education institutions, explore our cost-effective eLearning solution to train your staff in accessibility dos and don'ts.

People at a desk working on a range of devices, view from above

Accessibility statements

Accessibility statements are a new requirement for public sector websites that were introduced with the accessibility regulations. These pages (that should be clearly linked to) should contain a summary of what is and isn’t accessible on the site, along with an easy way for disabled visitors to get support or provide feedback.

90% of websites monitored had an accessibility statement of some form, but only 7% of statements contained all required information. After the monitoring process, 80% had fully compliant accessibility statements, and only 0.5% had no statement at all.

“Accessibility statements contain contact information for the organisation. We use this to contact organisations when monitored. 20% of organisations did not respond to our contact, and we are concerned that users with accessibility issues will also get no response. Organisations must make sure that reports of inaccessibility are received by the right team, taken seriously and responded to within a reasonable timeframe.”

Many statements were written at the time the regulations were implemented (September 2018 for new websites and September 2019 for all remaining sites), but many are now out of date.

Organisations should regularly review the information on their accessibility pages and keep them updated.

PSBAR enforcement for website and software accessibility 

Over the years I’ve often called for government to be proactive in enforcing the law when it comes to website and software accessibility – legislation that is so crucial to the millions of people with disabilities in the UK who, everyone would agree, have the same rights as everyone else when it comes to accessing digital information services. 

Finally, with PSBAR, the legislation has been given teeth. The CDDO monitors websites and liaises with organisations to put right all outstanding issues.

More than that, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is another named government body in the process of enforcement; it is tasked with issuing fines where the process of retrofitting accessibility breaks down. Hooray!

PSBAR began its life as a directive of the EU and was enshrined in UK law before the advent of Brexit.

It’s a shame that the equivalent legislation covering all other sectors (the European Accessibility Act) will now almost certainly not make it’s way to the UK - a shame for the circa 14m people in the UK with disabilities wanting to do all those things online that everyone takes for granted.

But it's also a shame for the rest of the UK population who would benefit from the fact that accessible apps and websites are, unsurprisingly, easier to use for everyone.

Article updated on May 2023 and first published in January 2022.

Further resources:

Disability Inclusion: Advice and tips from AbilityNet’s Director of HR

By prioritising disability inclusion in the workplace, organisations can tap into the unique skills, perspectives, and talents of disabled people, fostering a more diverse, innovative, and inclusive work environment. 

At AbilityNet, we believe in a digital world accessible to all so inclusivity and accessibility are at the heart of what we do. In 2022, AbilityNet was awarded 14th in the top 50 Inspiring Workplace in EMEA. We’re proud to be recognised for our efforts in culture, inclusion and diversity in the workplace. 

We asked our Director of Human Resources (HR), Mairéad Comerford for her advice and tips for disability inclusion in the workplace.  

Mairead smiling at the cameraMairéad has been working within HR since 1987. Fresh out of university she began working at BT as a generalist HR administrator through to manager on its graduate recruitment programme. Mairéad joined AbilityNet in 2011 as Head of HR, covering all aspects of HR: engagement, change, employee relations, employment law, and performance and has recently become Director of HR at the charity.  


Why is it important to employ disabled people?  

According to the Department for Work & Pensions (2022), over 7.7 million people of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition, so why would you exclude potential employees from your recruitment?  Graphic displaying text: 7.7 million people of working age in the UK are disable or have a health condition - Department for Work & Pensions 2022

I think it is often the fear of the unknown – what if the person needs adjustments? What would be the additional costs to the organisation? They think of the negatives because they do not have the facts to hand. Research from Indeed, UK Government and Forbes, shows the benefits of recruiting someone with a disability:  

  • insight in how to serve customers with a disability  
  • greater diversity at work so that a wide variety of perspectives are utilised when solving problems 
  • higher productivity  
  • higher retention.  


What is AbilityNet doing to actively employ disabled people? 

AbilityNet ensures that recruitment is inclusive. We continuously take feedback from applicants on how we can improve our recruitment process and from this we have learned not to ask for unnecessary requirements such as:  

  • qualifications (when experience will suffice)  
  • don’t ask for cover letters or to complete an application form 
  • allow flexibility in the interview 
  • send a video of the presentation  
  • offer the interview questions beforehand.  

We also use the Clear Talents Recruitment Tool, inviting applicants to complete in confidence any disability they may have and what we can do to improve the recruitment process for them so they can perform at their best. 

We are a Disability Confident Leader which is a government scheme that demonstrates an employer's commitment to employing disabled people. This disability badge demonstrates to disabled people that we recognise the value they bring to our business. 


How important a role has the principle of disability inclusion played in the growth of the company we know today?  Group of professionals smiling and laughing

This has been huge at AbilityNet. Over the last 3 years we have seen a 10% increase in disability employees (now at 26% across the workforce) and I believe this is due to us continuously improving our inclusive recruitment and onboarding processes by taking feedback from applicants and joiners. 


How was that progress achieved and do you have any advice for those wishing to make an impact in their organisation?   

Try not to start your thinking with the what ifs and cost, etc.  

There is a great government scheme, Access to Work, that employees with a disability can use that will pay for most of the required adjustments that may be required.  

Does the UK Gov Access to Work scheme fund assistive technology? Find out in our interview with the UK's Department for Work and Pension.

I find it beneficial to also ask what other organisations are doing, reach out and ask for help and share the knowledge. I also recommend signing up for the governments Disability Confident employer scheme.  


Are there any organisations that you believe are progressing with disability inclusion in the workplace?  

I think Google and Microsoft have disability at the forefront with the work they are doing with accessibility and seeing this as the norm for us all to be able to access technology. I know they are large companies and have the money behind them but by leading the way others will follow. 


What initiatives do you have in place that facilitate inclusive and accessible working environments for all employees?   

All AbilityNet employees are encouraged to complete a Clear Talents at Work questionnaire which is shared with line manager’s stating how they work, and what adjustments they may need so we can ensure they can perform at their best.  


What impact has the pandemic had on your ways of working? Are things very different today to, say, three years ago?  

The real impact has been hybrid working as a norm.  

We did have about 20% of our staff working remotely but now up to 90% of our employees are hybrid or remote workers. The COVID-19 lockdown proved to us that work can be done remotely. So be flexible with what works best for individuals whether it be down to disability, caring responsibilities, cost of living and travel costs.  

You want employees to perform at their best, be happy and work so being flexible (if you can) goes a long way. 


Have you faced any barriers when planning and implementing change and improvements in disaWoman in a wheelchair using a laptop, smiling at camera bility inclusion? If so, what have the barriers been and how have you/the organisation overcome them? 

Yes of course. In previous roles, for example, it is the matter of changing the mindset, I would often get managers asking, “why are you giving out the interview questions? This helps the candidate prepare”. We are not trying to catch people out at the interview but to get the best person for the job – if they all have the questions beforehand then they all start from the same starting position.  

Senior managers can often be the biggest challenge but when you start to show your retention stats and your employee engagement scores and feedback this is the way to change things – by the data. 


When it comes to your employees, are there any areas that you still want to make improvements to further inclusion and reach every candidate?  

We are a small charity and sometimes our biggest challenge is time. We would love to set up a disability forum run by employees, something we are very keen to do, and we will, it is on our list of things to do. But we are realistic and proud of the things we do, and always look at what we can do, and do well so not rush something through as part of a tick list.   


Using no more than 10 words, can you summarise one piece of advice/tip on what have you learned since creating a disability inclusive workplace?  

Have an open mind, think of the possibilities not barriers.  


How can AbilityNet help with your disability inclusion journey?  

By providing training, support, and resources, we want to help address the disability employment gap and support workplaces to become more accessible and inclusive for all. 

We offer a range of services to help you build a thriving, disability inclusive workplace, from employee needs assessments to consultancy and training options. Contact our friendly and knowledgeable team to find out how we can help you with disability inclusion at your organisation. 

If you need help identifying what steps you can take to achieve meaningful change and growth, AbilityNet's Disability Inclusion Gap Analysis is a great place to start.  

Our expert workplace consultants will gather your employees' feedback to understand your organisation’s current culture. Then they'll work with you to evaluate improvements that would have the most impact and help you build a roadmap plan to implement improvements. 

You can book a free 15-minute consultation now. 

Book a consultation

 

Two steps to ensure usability for your website or mobile app

This blog has been updated! Originally published 27/11/18. Amended 18/05/23


Making sure your websites and mobile apps are usable by the broadest possible audience is essential to ensure that your product is truly competitive. Real-life usability for users regardless of impairment or environment takes two distinct steps.

Step 1: Ensure your website is compliant with Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 

The first step to ensuring that your products and projects are as inclusive as possible is to use the appropriate handy accessibility checklist and start ticking off those issues you find.

For websites, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website will be useful for resources and techniques to test for compliance. Similar guidelines exist for mobile platforms such as iOS and Android.

Three people sitting at a desk with laptops in front of them

Testing your app or website for compliance isn’t necessarily a quick and simple process – but it’s well worth the effort.  

An accessible product is easier to use by everyone. This makes eminent sense if you think about it for a second; improving an app or website so that it is easier to use by those with difficulties will make it better for all users (particularly when you consider that most of us are now ‘extreme users’ on a daily basis – using our phone one-handed, squinting at our screens on a sunny day, quickly sending a WhatsApp before we rush out the door or order an Uber a little worse for wear).  

Oh, and it’s also the law.

Want some help? Check out AbilityNet's range of Digital Accessibility Services.

Step 2: Conduct user testing for usability assurance  

Once your website, app, e-marketing campaign and customer comms are compliant, what should you do next to ensure usability for every user? 

Well, just as you wouldn’t design a product on paper and then unleash it on the world without a significant bit of user testing, you shouldn’t do the same for your digital products either.  

I know what you’re saying; “We always do user testing before we launch any product or update” and I’m sure that’s true, but you aren’t testing it with the right users if you want to ensure true usability by the broadest audience possible.  

Testing with users that have a range of disabilities and impairments is vital.

Raphael Clegg-Vinell, an AbilityNet consultant, conducting user testingThe adjacent image is taken from a video by Barclays about user testing on their online banking services to explain the on-going impact that crucial second step is having across their range of products. You really should check it out.

Want to know more about user testing? I’d thoroughly recommend reading Ethan Marcotte’s excellent 'Accessibility is not a feature' article, in which, at one end of the scale you have the conviction that accessibility can be delegated to the tools you’re using alone (“We don’t have to worry about accessibility. The framework we’re using takes care of it for us”), with conscientious checking for compliance being sufficient somewhere in the middle, and at the other end of the success-spectrum you get the likes of Barclays. 

Award-winning extreme user testing

So strongly do Barclays believe in extreme user testing, that no new website or mobile app is released without first being tested (and then badged for customer confidence) by AbilityNet.

Two people looking at the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum

With a reputation for providing a reliable and thorough accessibility testing service, AbilityNet was also chosen by the British Museum to conduct user testing sessions to identify how disabled users navigate and use its website. 

“AbilityNet offers a wide choice of services to suit our needs, such as design and face-to-face user testing,” says the Museum’s Digital Project Manager, Harry Potia.  

Read more about how Barclays and The British Museum have benefitted from our accessibility services and meet many more of our clients - including Heathrow, British Telecom and Skyscanner in our selection of case studies.

Frequently asked questions about usability  

How to do user testing yourself  

Learn how to begin your own accessibility testing in our training course or speak to our experts about AbiltyNet’s user research and testing services. 

How often do organisations conduct usability testing or user research? 

In September 2022 AbilityNet surveyed more than 400 professionals worldwide about attitudes to digital accessibility in their organisation. Our Attitudes to Digital Accessibility 2022 report focuses on five key areas which includes accessibility processes such as user testing and research.

Download the free report 

What’s it like to be a usability consultant?

Read our interview with Rina, an AbilityNet Accessibility and Usability Consultant. 

AbilityNet Factsheet - May 2023

An introduction to screen readers

A screen reader allows people who are blind or visually impaired to use their computer. This factsheet provides an overview of the main screen readers available for people to use with their computer or mobile devices. It has been written to help people determine which is the most appropriate for their needs and includes summary information about the screen readers built into the operating system alongside other free or commercial products. As with all assistive technologies, no one size fits all, and people may find it useful to try more than one before settling on their preferred tool.
Find out how technology can support those with cognitive differences: Removing neurodiversity barriers - lived experience digital disability awareness training



In the UK there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss. According to the RNIB only one in four people registered blind or partially sighted is in employment, and this number is falling. As such, the promotion of awareness about screen reader technology plays a vital part in the continued welfare, education, and employability of people with visual impairments.

Do you want to know more about screen reading software, and what it can highlight about accessibility for blind and visually impaired visitors to your website?

Check out our training course 'How to use a screen reader for accessibility testing'.

Last updated: May 2023

A screen reader allows people who are blind or visually impaired to use their computer. This factsheet provides an overview of the main screen readers available for people to use with their computer or mobile devices. It has been written to help people determine which is the most appropriate for their needs and includes summary information about the screen readers built into the operating system alongside other free or commercial products. As with all assistive technologies, no one size fits all, and people may find it useful to try more than one before settling on their preferred tool.
Find out how technology can support those with cognitive differences: Removing neurodiversity barriers - lived experience digital disability awareness training
In the UK there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss. According to the RNIB only one in four people registered blind or partially sighted is in employment, and this number is falling. As such, the promotion of awareness about screen reader technology plays a vital part in the continued welfare, education, and employability of people with visual impairments.
Do you want to know more about screen reading software, and what it can highlight about accessibility for blind and visually impaired visitors to your website? Check out our training course 'How to use a screen reader for accessibility testing'.
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AbilityNet Factsheet - May 2023

Keyboard and mouse alternatives and adaptations

Standard keyboards and mice are functional ways of interacting with your computer and increasingly other devices like tablets. However, these standard devices can pose difficulties for many people – especially users with physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges – and there are lots of other options available.

This factsheet provides details of some of the alternative keyboard, mouse and other pointing devices available. It also gives information on adaptations you can make to standard keyboards and mice. There are so many choices and variations, we cannot cover every single piece of equipment in this factsheet.

Please call our helpline on 0300 180 0028 or email us at enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk if you require more detailed information.

Last updated: May 2023

Standard keyboards and mice are functional ways of interacting with your computer and increasingly other devices like tablets. However, these standard devices can pose difficulties for many people – especially users with physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges – and there are lots of other options available. This factsheet provides details of some of the alternative keyboard, mouse and other pointing devices available. It also gives information on adaptations you can make to standard keyboards and mice. There are so many choices and variations, we cannot cover every single piece of equipment in this factsheet. Please call our helpline on 0300 180 0028 or email us at enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk if you require more detailed information.
Was this content helpful?
AbilityNet Factsheet - May 2023

Windows Keyboard Shortcuts

This factsheet highlights some of the actions you can carry out quickly on your computer by using key combinations rather than using the mouse to navigate menus and options. These key combinations are referred to as shortcuts as they are often a much quicker way of carrying out tasks. They can also be particularly useful for repetitive actions.

Last updated: May 2023

This factsheet highlights some of the actions you can carry out quickly on your computer by using key combinations rather than using the mouse to navigate menus and options. These key combinations are referred to as shortcuts as they are often a much quicker way of carrying out tasks. They can also be particularly useful for repetitive actions.
Was this content helpful?
AbilityNet Factsheet - May 2023

RSI in the Workplace inc Work Related Upper Limb Disorder and Computing

This factsheet looks at repetitive strain injury (RSI) – the term most often used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repeated movement and overuse. It looks at the symptoms and causes of RSI (also known as Upper limb disorders (ULDs)), cumulative trauma disorder or occupational overuse syndrome, Work Related Upper Limb Disorders, and the steps that individuals or employers can take to protect themselves and their staff.

It is important that employers understand their legal responsibility to provide any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to protect their staff from injury and prevent discrimination.

Computer use is one significant cause of RSI, and this factsheet includes practical information on both reducing the risk and responding effectively to any cases that may arise in an office environment.



Learn more on how to make sure that your working environment does not unintentionally exclude people living with physical impairments or differences.

Removing physical barriers - lived experience digital disability awareness training

Last updated: May 2023

This factsheet looks at repetitive strain injury (RSI) – the term most often used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repeated movement and overuse. It looks at the symptoms and causes of RSI (also known as Upper limb disorders (ULDs)), cumulative trauma disorder or occupational overuse syndrome, Work Related Upper Limb Disorders, and the steps that individuals or employers can take to protect themselves and their staff. It is important that employers understand their legal responsibility to provide any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to protect their staff from injury and prevent discrimination. Computer use is one significant cause of RSI, and this factsheet includes practical information on both reducing the risk and responding effectively to any cases that may arise in an office environment.
Learn more on how to make sure that your working environment does not unintentionally exclude people living with physical impairments or differences. Removing physical barriers - lived experience digital disability awareness training
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Six ways tech can support your mental health and aid anxiety

Woman wearing tshirt that reads Mental Health MattersWe've gathered a collection of useful resources together that may help you yourself, or you may wish to share them to support individuals and organisations to address mental health issues or concerns.

6 ways tech can support your mental health

1. Read our free factsheet about Mental Health and Computing

One in 4 people experience mental health issues in England each year, and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.

Our AbilityNet factsheet covers how assistive technology (AT) and apps can help people with their mental health, and how tech can form part of a holistic approach to gaining support. 

Access the free mental Health and Computing factsheet 

2. Promote positive mental health attitudes in the workplace

Do you need a cost-effective way to teach your staff about accessibility and inclusion? Employees can complete AbilityNet's learning modules online at their own pace, including a section focused on mental health. Topics covered: 

  • mental health
  • hearing
  • vision
  • cognitive
  • physical/motor

Find out how eLearning can teach your staff to help become a digitally disability inclusive workplace.

Talk to our experts about how AbilityNet can help with your workplace inclusion needs.

Woman holding hands to head and seeming stressed
3. Learn how computers can help manage stress

The ‘always on’ culture and pressures around work, family life and study can be significant causes of stress. Stress can lead to long-term sickness, anxiety and depression.

Making small changes to how your computer, laptop or smartphone are set up, and to the software you use, can make significant differences, and can help you become better organised and more productive – and hopefully therefore less stressed. 

Access the free factsheet: How computers can help manage stress 

4. Address mental health barriers at work

What can help your employees with mental health conditions?

Meet Adam. He has experienced periods of mental health challenges and has had a recent diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Adam uses his experiences to discuss and challenge the stigmas around the impact and taboos of mental health conditions.

In this video, Adam talks about electronic to-do lists and how they help him in the workplace.  

This video is a taster of what you can expect from our Don't Disable Me: Removing mental health barriers training course - book now.

5. Read about anxiety and the pros and cons of technology

Adam Tweed also outlines in a blog how technology has become an inseparable part of our lives. But while technology has brought many benefits, it also has negative effects that can contribute to anxiety. 

Blog: Anxiety and Technology: The Positives and Negative effects

6. Access a free webinar recording about mental health at home

During Covid-19 lockdowns many people needed support to help manage their mental health while at home.

This webinar recording explores how to use tech to help maintain good mental health while living, studying and working at home. 

(Download the webinar transcript.) 

AbilityNet supported more people than ever during 2022, and as our impact report shows technology has helped reduce social isolation, improve confidence and manage day to day tasks. Help us make an impact in 2023 and beyond, and improve your wellbeing at the same time - volunteer with us!

Support for Mental Health Issues

You can talk to your GP or contact the NHS for help with any mental health questions you may have (call 999 or go to A&E in an emergency, and call 111 for less urgent help).

There are also a number of charities where you can talk to someone:

C.A.L.M. – Campaign Against Living Miserably – for men

0800 58 58 58

www.thecalmzone.net or webchat

Samaritans

116 123

jo@samaritans.org 

www.samaritans.org

Papyrus – for people under 35

0800 068 41 41 

Text 07786 209697

pat@papyrus-uk.org

https://www.papyrus-uk.org/help-advice/about-hopelineuk

Childline – for children and young people under 19

0800 1111 – free and the number will not show up on your phone bill

Further resources for mental health

Anxiety and Technology: The Positive and Negative Effects

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 15 - 21 May and the theme for 2023 is anxiety.

Technology has become an inseparable part of our lives. From socialising to paying bills, online shopping to online gaming, work, and education, we use technology for almost everything.

While technology has brought many benefits when it comes to helping us manage our mental health, it has also brought some negative impacts. So, let's run through some of the pros and cons.

Good: Access to Information

The internet has provided us with a practically unlimited amount of information. Anyone experiencing anxiety can access this huge repository of information to learn more about their condition or find ways to manage their symptoms. Online resources like medical journals, blogs, and forums can provide reliable information and support and can be accessed anonymously without needing any formal diagnosis. Quality sources of information, such as the NHS or Mind, can provide reassurance and advice at our fingertips at any time of the day.

Bad: Information Overload

While access to information can be helpful, too much information can be overwhelming, and information overload can also cause decision paralysis, where too many choices prevent us from making any choice at all. The quality of information available can also vary, with 'fake news', misinformation, or sensationalist information rising to the top of our news feeds simply because we tend to click on sensationalist stories! People experiencing anxiety may also feel like they need to constantly stay updated on news and information, which can feed back in a negative loop.

The information available via the internet can also lead to anxiety-inducing behaviours such as an ache, pain, or other minor ailment being self-diagnosed by consulting "Dr. Google" and an insignificant issue being self-diagnosed as a far more significant condition. Something most of us have scared ourselves with at one time or another, and something that will inevitably lead to increases in our anxiety level.

Removing mental health barriers – Don't Disable Me digital disability awareness training

Find out from disabled people with lived experience how technology can support those with mental health conditions. Learn more about mental health barriers at work

Good: Online TherapyA person sits in a therapy space and is seen over the shoulder of a person taking notes

Technology has made it possible for people to receive therapy online. This can be beneficial for people who are unable to attend in-person therapy sessions or are uncomfortable with face-to-face therapy, and during lockdown it became the only method for many people to continue talking therapies.

Online therapy can be delivered in a way that provides a level of anonymity, which can be helpful for people who are self-conscious or feel judged. For mental health services, providing access to practitioners online has meant being able to see more people, providing services that can be more flexible and on-demand, and enabling the recruitment of practitioners in different time zones, which has meant access to out-of-hours support at times that might better suit people seeking support.

Online services can also enable practitioners to ‘triage’ those seeking help and make sure those who need in-person support the most are skipped to the front of the queue.

Bad: Less human contact

Online therapies can feel impersonal, and many therapists have highlighted that even on camera, there are lots of visual ‘cues’ that can go unnoticed online that would be far more obvious in person. There is also the worry that a bad internet connection could cut someone off from support at a significant or critical moment, for example, during a panic attack or a moment of significant disclosure.

An anxious-looking robot sitting in a chairGood: Apps

There are many apps available that can help reduce anxiety. These apps can be used to provide guided meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. Some popular apps for relaxation include Calm, Headspace, and the excellent free app MindShift from Anxiety Canada. We also wrote about some other anxiety-management apps in a previous blog, 'Apps to help stroke survivors with anxiety'. There are also chatbots, which are effectively just ‘chatty’ interfaces to apps but often provide a more engaging or friendly face to the self-help on offer.

Bad: Apps

Apps are largely unregulated, so the support they offer can vary in quality. App stores might provide some protection, but if you choose to install something on your phone and share personal data, you need to be confident that whoever created the app is trustworthy. Apps also cost money to build, support, and maintain, so ‘free’ rarely means free.

Many apps might charge a subscription for the really useful features or might allow you to use them for long enough to become a positive habit and then ask you for a subscription to continue to use them. People living with conditions such as anxiety might be particularly susceptible, as the thought of not having access to a support strategy can add stress and anxiety, effectively making them a 'soft target' to exploit in this way.

AbilityNet has produced a factsheet on how to avoid internet scams to help you to identify the risks.

It is also worth noting the 'rise of AI' here. Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT can seem uncannily human in their interactions. The way these LLMs work can lead to the perception that "this AI understands me!". This may provide hours of amusement for many of us, but for people who may be struggling with social connection, there is a very real danger of attachment to a thing that has (very openly) never been designed to offer any level of support.

Training: Accessible Social Media 

Learn techniques for producing inclusive social media content on major social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, as well as general principles that can applied regardless of platform.

Find out more about social media training

Smartphone showing social media icons on the home screenGood: Social Support

Social media platforms can provide a sense of community and support for people. They can connect with others who have similar experiences, enabling them to share their thoughts and feelings and receive encouragement and advice.

Joining anxiety support groups on social media can help reduce isolation and provide a sense of belonging, and it has given people a means to stay in touch with support networks, something we really learned during lockdown.

Bad: Social Media Comparison & Cyberbullying

Social media can be very detrimental to mental health. We have a habit of comparing ourselves with the perfect (albeit curated) lives of others on social media, which can lead to distorted self-image, unrealistic expectations, and increased anxiety.

BeReal is an interesting concept that aims to address the polished and curated view we present of ourselves on social media. The BeReal app will message you at a random point during the day, and you have two minutes to take a pair of pictures, one with your front-facing camera and one with your selfie camera. The idea is that this short window means that posts will be far more representative of our actual lived experience and therefore far less anxiety-inducing for all our connected friends.

The anonymity of the internet has given rise to cyberbullying, which can be extremely damaging to mental health and often preys on the most vulnerable as the easiest targets. Cyberbullying can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Being the target of negative comments, posts, or messages can be very distressing, leading to low self-esteem, social anxiety, and other significant mental health issues.

Conclusion: find a balance that works for you

While technology can provide many benefits and tools to help manage anxiety, it's important to find a balance that works for you and supports your mental health. Technology may be a useful tool, but remember that stepping away from a screen, taking a break, and ‘unplugging’ can be just as beneficial.

Support for Mental Health Issues

You can talk to your GP or contact the NHS for help with any mental health questions you may have (call 999 or go to A&E in an emergency. Call 111 for less urgent help).

There are also a number of charities where you can talk to someone:

C.A.L.M. – Campaign Against Living Miserably – for men

0800 58 58 58

www.thecalmzone.net or webchat

Samaritans

116 123

jo@samaritans.org 

www.samaritans.org

Papyrus – for people under 35

0800 068 41 41 

Text 07786 209697

pat@papyrus-uk.org

https://www.papyrus-uk.org/help-advice/about-hopelineuk

Childline – for children and young people under 19

0800 1111 – free and the number will not show up on your phone bill

Further resources for mental health

Resources and events for GAAD 2023!

GAAD logo in circle with keyboard icon. Text reads: Global Accessibility Awareness DayThe twelfth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) takes place on Thursday, 18 May 2023. 

GAAD is an opportunity to talk, think, and learn about digital accessibility and get people thinking about how tech can help transform the lives of disabled people.

A 2023 WebAim analysis of one million homepages* outlined some common accessibility failures, that make the digital world more difficult for disabled people to nativate. For example, 83.6% of pages had low contrast text, and 58.2% had images with missing Alt Text.

These findings are in line with results from the AbilityNet Attitudes to Digital Accessibility survey, which found that despite widespread senior endorsement of accessibility and inclusion, most organisations still need to adapt their project processes to embed accessibility.

AbilityNet has many resources to help you ensure you meet accessibility requirements:

1. Access our eLearning modules Three smartly dressed people in workplace using laptops on desk, one of whom is sat in a wheelchair

Our online learning modules provide a cost-effective, customisable way to teach your staff about accessibility and inclusion. We have a variety of topics to choose from, and the choice to customise your learning modules to your organisation.

In our Office 365 course, learn how to make your content accessible and avoid making common accessibility mistakes highlighted in the WebAim million project. 

In our Accessible Workplace modules, learn language dos and don'ts and common accessibility issues, and recieve practical advice to avoid creating unnecessary barriers across all of the digital content you produce.

Find out more about eLearning

2. Discover how accessibility removes barriers

In addition to GAAD, this week also brings Mental Health Awareness Week! Our range of lived experience courses offer an insight into the lives of disabled people, and the assistive technology that is beneficial to them in everyday life. 

Meet one of our trainers, Adam Tweed, who discusses what can help people with mental health conditions in the workplace: 

Access the recordings of our lived experience training courses

3. Learn from our free Accessible Procurement webinar

It's important to make your own products and services accessible, but have you also ensured that any third-party products you buy in to your organisation are also accessible? 

Join guests from AbilityNet, Google, University of Westminster and Funka for a free webinar 'How to improve accessibility in procurement' on Tuesday 27th June 2023 at 1pm BST. Profile images of George Rhodes and Susanna Laurin. Text: Free Webinar. How to improve accessibility in procurement. Tuesday 27th June 2023 at 1pm BST. George Rhodes, The University of Westminster. Susanna Laurin, Funka

In the webinar, you will:  

  • Learn how accessibility professionals from Google, University of Westminster and Funka are connecting with their procurement teams  
  • Discover how procurement impacts everyone, including your customers and employees   
  • Get information on how procurement impacts the public sector  
  • Have an opportunity to pose your questions about accessible procurement to the panel

Learn more about the webinar and panellists

Register for the webinar


4.  Join our accessibility training courses 

Enjoy affordable high-quality online training courses to help you build skills in accessibility and inclusive design.
Here are some upcoming training courses that you could attend: 

Discover more training courses

Get 10 training courses for the price of 8

To help you get even better value in the year ahead, we have a 10 for the price of 8 bundle on 2023 AbilityNet online training courses for you and your team to enjoy. 


5. Listen to our podcast with GAAD co-founders

Find out the GAAD co-founders' accessibility tips for the future - we spoke to GAAD co-founders, Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon, as part of our Accessibility Insights webinar series

Listen to the podcast where GAAD's co-founders discuss hybrid events and the #GAADPledge, and more:

(Download the transcript)

We have more great episodes featuring insights, interviews, and the latest updates from key movers and shakers in the world of accessibility and digital inclusion on the AbilityNet Podcast.


6. Book your free training sessions about disabilities 

Educate your charity or community group about disability and technology in AbilityNet's seven sessions to choose from. Attendees have the chance to learn more about mental health, online safety and scams, sight loss and hearing loss, and other topics, with lots of opportunity to ask questions!Alex Barker sitting on chair in training room with projector displaying on screen

"Well paced, informative. Learnt about technologies I didn't know existed eg: smartphones specifically for older people, which will have a real impact on clients I work with."
"Alex the presenter was very informative, he came across as friendly, funny and very knowledgeable and the slides were easy to follow and understand." 


7.  Choose from 100+ GAAD events and activities

Visit the GAAD website for a comprehensive list of all the GAAD events and activities taking place this year, around the world.

Join May's meeting of the International Ally Groups on 25 May, 3pm BST, to learn about innovative practice in course accessibility services and ask all the questions you ever wanted to ask about writing alternative text!

Further Resources

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