Richard Morton of UK Government shares insights on digital strategy

"There just wasn't the capacity or ability to do it to scale" Richard Morton of the UK government's Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), which monitors and enforces UK legislation on web and app accessibility, discusses remote working and how it's only been possible to do this in the current technological climate, as opposed to 10 years ago. 

Watch the captioned webinar recording below and download the transcript:

Highlights from the webinar

"There has also been negatives to remote working" Richard then discusses, "such as mental health, meeting fatigue, meetings which never start on time, there's challenges as well as benefits"

Robin then commented the difference between hot keys on different tools making them less accessible and less user friendly, "some hot key consistency would be good. Hot keys are usually command shift A and V for audio and video in Zoom but they're M and O in Teams."

During the webinar, Richard and Robin also touched upon topics including:

  • accessibility policy changes over the past decade, 
  • the role of government in influencing accessibility developments,
  • the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, and
  • how the government’s digital strategy might impact platforms going forward. 

Richard is an experienced web and tech specialist and has also featured at AbilityNet's TechShare Pro events. Robin Christopherson MBE, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, hosts these free Accessibility Insights webinar series with individuals who are working to improve digital accessibility. 

Q&As from the webinar

The panellists were able to answer your questions during the webinar, and those they ran out of time to address are answered below. Richard and Robin will be providing further responses very soon.

Question: Is there any training out there for accessibility when designing for mobile apps specifically? 

Annie: Yes, AbilityNet runs a couple of courses that may be of interest: Accessible Mobile Development and Accessibility testing in mobile apps.

Q: Please can you share the training discount code you mentioned? 

Annie: Yes, you can use the code AbilityNetWebinar10 on all our upcoming training courses, available for many different roles in an organisation.

Q: As a web developer i'm finding it difficult to find any really useful resources which help with changes that need to be made "under the hood" when it comes to accessibility and the HTML/code. Tools such as wave.webaim help, but are there any tools you could recommend which explain the HTML which might need changing?

Richard: Design Systems have really helped organisations build components with good usability and accessibility and the government design system is a good example of this.

Q: Why has the UK gone for the absolute minimum 'rules' for PSBAR native mobile apps rather than have similar rules for mobile apps and web apps?

Richard: The set of guidelines is specified in the EN 301 549 standard which is the reference for the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations. This is more restricted for native mobile apps, but we would always encourage people to go beyond the minimum legal requirements.  

Q: When do you expect all Gov forms will be available online? eg. Access to Work.

Richard: It isn’t possible to make an estimate of when all government forms will be available online, due to the scale of the problem. There is work being done currently on Making all forms on GOV.UK accessible, easy to use and quick to process.

Q: How have you baked accessibility into the development process of new features/services? 

Richard: Accessibility is built into the government service standard, requiring teams to meet minimum accessibility standards, test with assistive technologies and test with disabled users, and as mentioned in a previous question the government design system builds in accessibility to design patterns and components like form controls.  

Q: As a software (web) developer working in the private sector, how would you go about affecting change on a large project where accessibility is very much an after thought rather than part of the lifecycle process?

Examine the costs of dealing with things later, consider the organisations reputation (if an organisation claims to be inclusive and focused on equality that has to include accessibility), look at things like the purple pound (organisations miss out on disabled peoples spending power).

Q: According to the annual WEBAIM survey of web home pages, it would appear that there are no significant improvement of web home pages. Any insights you would be valued.  

Richard: CDDO is continuing working on monitoring and reporting of public sector body websites by doing full reports. We review progress regularly and will publish information about monitoring findings later in 2021.

Q: Is the UK government looking at finding new ways to engage with voice (both speech to text & text to speech) based interface? Seems like this is the next space for accessibility?

Some work has already been done on looking at how GOV.UK can work better with voice “Hey, GOV.UK what are you doing about voice?” and it is clearly becoming a mainstream way of accessing information. 

Q: Is it likely that the accessibility regulations will be updated to reflect WCAG 2.2 and then 3.0 when they're introduced?

Yes, and we will make specific plans for how and when that will happen.

Q: How does legislation/policy affect companies selling Web-based services to government agencies, or even independent government funded institutions? Are there any changes in the pipeline for this? 

Richard: Public sector bodies have the legal responsibility to ensure their services are accessible, so it is down to their commercial relationship with suppliers. Suppliers are of course subject to the Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland. There are currently no changes planned in this area. 

Q: How do you mandate/enforce WCAG & other compliance standards on public sector bodies purchasing resources from private sector?

Richard: As indicated in the previous question the responsibility for compliance lies with the public sector body. CDDO will monitor and report on compliance and enforce the accessibility statement requirement, and general enforcement will be done by The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in England, Scotland and Wales and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) in Northern Ireland using their existing powers under the Equality Act and Disability Discrimination Act. 

Q: I would like to ask what is being done to support those with disabilities or those who have no access to digital tech or no desire to use in order to access support? This is something that is a daily challenge we face in our organisation. 

Richard: Government departments have policies on Digital Inclusion and the overall approach to this is within the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport.

Q: What is Richard Morton's department doing to make the NHS yellow card digital system for Covid 19 adverse reactions accessible to lay people, let alone those with disabilities. It is not fit for purpose, and seems aimed at medics not ordinary people, and designed such as to make it very hard to read for those with text based disabilities. I have also heard others say they had to search for the form online too and not been sent them. The data may therefore not be being collected properly - your stats are only as good as the data you feed into them.

The NHS is operated independently from central government. We can offer support and help if requested. The system should have an accessibility statement which will give details of how to get information in an accessible format or to complain.  

Q: PDFs - I'm in a local government arms length organisation. We will always publish essential content as web pages, but we have other content that is supplementary and contained in PDFs. If we make those PDFs as accessible as possible is it still OK to publish them, without HTML versions? 

Richard: PDFs can be made accessible to meet the legal requirements but they always have limitations on how accessible they can be made, and it very much depends on the complexity of the PDF. It can be difficult with legacy content to change things, but there are very few situations where new content needs to be contained in a PDF. For more information check out this guidance on publishing accessible documents

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Date of webinar: 
6 Jul 2021 - 13:00