GOV.UK accessibility: beyond box-ticking
Last year we decided to drop the accessibility statement from GOV.UK. This week I was asked whether this decision sent out the wrong message to organisations wanting to make a public commitment to becoming accessible. So now seems like a good time to share our thoughts on the subject.
When we began working on the GOV.UK beta in August 2011, Tom Loosemore wrote:
“We want to make the most easy to use, accessible government website there has ever been. Merely ticking a box marked ‘accessible’ isn’t enough.”
The more we thought about this, the more we realised that we needed to take a different approach to accessibility.
We didn’t want accessibility to be an annual accreditation or statement of intention. We didn’t think it should be a box to tick before we moved on to something else. We didn’t want it to be an afterthought, and most of all we didn’t want it to be something we had to commit to becoming at some time in the future.
We just wanted GOV.UK to be as accessible as possible, which is why inclusive design is one of our design principles. It’s also the reason why we consider accessibility to be everyone’s responsibility, why we follow accessibility guidelines, and why we test everything we do with older and disabled people.
So to return to that question about accessibility statements: we realised that if we wanted accessibility to be a basic part of GOV.UK, we had to treat it like all the other basic parts. We didn’t have statements for creative design, technical merit, or user friendliness, so why single out accessibility?
Research from 2006 found that most accessibility statements were out of date, or contained inaccurate information. We didn’t want to publish an accessibility statement when GOV.UK was launched and then realise that we couldn’t keep it in step with the updates happening almost daily on GOV.UK.
In the end, the decision was simple. We didn’t think anyone should have to look at a statement to find out whether GOV.UK was accessible. Accessibility means different things to different people, and it either works for you or it doesn’t (and if it doesn’t, let us know so we can make it better).