Access Needs Team, Home Office

Finalist category: Inclusive Design Award

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Finalist, Inclusive Design Award, 2019

Improving design for accessibility is part of a campaign to raise awareness and build skills in Inclusive Design within digital delivery teams at the Home Office. As part of this, the Access Needs team was formed by a group of staff dedicated to enabling the creation of digital services which work for all Home Office users – staff and public.

One of their first actions was to create a set of posters based on general guidelines and best design practices for making services accessible in government. Currently, there are seven different posters in the series that cater to users from these areas: anxiety, low vision, D/deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia, motor disabilities, users on the autistic spectrum and users of screen readers. The posters were an initiative created by the Access Needs team, a group consisting of 14 user researchers and designers who specialise in one of the conditions set out in the posters, learning as much as possible in order to share their specialist knowledge within and outside the team. The posters were made available on Github – an open source platform – so that other designers in the department, across government and beyond could learn from the guidance within and find them useful in the process.

The team initially discussed the posters in-house and across government through talks. Through wider and open sharing via GitHub and social media, they received rich feedback from users and community and support groups, which allowed them to continually improve the posters. Since, they have reviewed the accessibility of the PDFs created to help screen readers, and created a website to move these posters to an online format. This makes them easier to access and scale, more responsive to viewing across different devices and enables them to provide context. Feedback also led them to adapt the posters where they were unclear. For example, on the ‘Designing for users who are D/deaf or hard of hearing’ poster, the guidance advised not to use complicated words or figures of speech. Many people wanted to understand why this was, so they iterated the posters in an HTML version to highlight that sign language does not follow the conventions of spoken language and as such, needs to be regarded differently. Also making it clear that this is not about the ability to comprehend complex words but how it may need to be conveyed through sign language.

This inclusive design and open source approach has led to collaboration with designers all over the world as the team facilitated the development of variations of the posters. There are now 17 translations and at least nine complementary posters covering additional conditions and situations – such as how to design for people who have suffered domestic abuse. The posters also go beyond best design practice for designing interfaces but also impact thinking in other ways such as affecting the realm of physical space. For example, the Canadian government are using them as part of updating their workplace design standards in one of their largest federal departments.

The approach has inspired a positive global and viral response and set a blueprint which the civil service can adopt: focus on delivering high quality, well designed services, and work in the open. It draws talented people to be part of their work and it allows others to participate in the creation of something really good for all of us.

The posters are continually iterated and improved by the team. They have been featured externally in blogs and articles, and the team has given talks at key conferences, as well as a podcast interview with seminal figures in the design industry.

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