Accessible Future in the Public Sector

Last week I attended a Microsoft event about accessibility. It was aimed at public sector organisations who were using (or were going to implement) Office 365.

2 Kingdom street
View from above: Microsoft at 2 Kingdom Street

Inclusion (and exclusion)

The theme of the day was inclusion, both broadly speaking as well with a focus on digital inclusion. Many personal stories were shared. I particularly enjoyed Michael Vermeersh’s account of a new employee at Microsoft who was autistic, asking “but where are the people with disabilities?” Michael replied “well, I’m disabled, I’m autistic”, to which the boy said “but you don’t look autistic?” 70% of disabilities are invisible.

Our host, Stefanie Jacobs, was welcoming and calm. She explained that in order to help differentiate between sections of the day we would take a 20 second silent break to indicate we were moving onto something else – whether that be a new speaker or a video clip. I really enjoyed this calm and it helped me focus on the next thing. When I mentioned this to my husband who is a university lecturer, he thought it was a great idea, and is considering using it in his lectures. This brings me to the other theme of the day – inclusion can benefit all, not just those with a specific need.

Investing in culture enhances your product

The public sector is already the biggest employer of people with disabilities and often, our customers are those with additional needs. We need to be driving this change. We need to be doing more.

Microsoft were keen to highlight that more and more accessibility features were being inbuilt, and encouraged us to take the mantle and make people aware of these, to benefit us all. You don’t have to have a specific disability to benefit from these features. You don’t have to be dyslexic to benefit from spell checker.

By 2020, 70% of us will work remotely.  During break, my colleague Pauline described how many years ago she had broken her arm, and this had meant she was unable to work because she couldn’t drive to the office. If that happened now, she would be able to work from home without the need to drive, because our culture at work has now completely embraced flexible working.

Maria and Pauline at Microsoft
Pauline and me catching up during a break

New, inbuilt accessibility tools

I got really excited by the practical demo, with lots of great options in Office 365 including a live accessibility checker on all documents. Powerpoint 365 includes AI which scripts what the presenter is saying in real time above or below the slides (this worked much better when Stefanie was speaking as she didn’t speak too fast). In Outlook 365 there is an accessible content feature where you can let people know if you want accessible content. The latest windows 10 update will see new user options including text size, font type and colour filters. When I got back to work and realised I don’t have these yet (Office 365 is yet to be rolled out to BFC staff) it was a little disappointing…

What do we do now?

One of the statistics that was repeated several times was that only 10% of websites in the UK are accessible (and only 5% globally). I’m proud that our public website is fully accessible, and it is such because that has always been a priority. But what about the other sites that we have, and what about this blog and what about documents… As a team, we are really strict about documents. Not only have we culled a huge proportion of them, but we always ensure they are accessible before they go on the website.

Here’s where the culture needs to change, everyone should understand a document has to be accessible before it’s shared. So we need to raise awareness, and train people.

Hey, remember when everyone didn’t stop talking about data protection? That’s what we need to do.

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6 thoughts on “Accessible Future in the Public Sector

  1. Really informative. Just highlights, though we’re AA compliant, we still have a lot of catching up to do.

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  2. This is a great overview of a very interesting day – my favourite comment of the day was Michael Vermeersh’s response about how he didn’t ‘look’ autistic – “I have a lovely wife who buys my clothes for me”

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  3. When you say ‘fully accessible’; don’t just rely on passing W3C AG tests – pay some disabled people to step through completing tasks on your web site to see if it’s truly usable

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    1. Yes you are quite right, I don’t think I should have used the word ‘fully’. It’s a work in progress for sure.

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