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GDS looks to improve accessibility empathy lab



Head of accessibility outlines development of facility to test accessibility and calls for input on changes

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is using an ‘empathy lab’ to test the accessibility of systems and assistive technologies, and is asking what potential users would like to see included.

Its head of accessibility, Alistair Duggin, has reported that the lab was first set up when GDS moved to its Aldgate headquarters last year, and has since grown to take in a range of equipment.

He says in a blogpost that it was created to give public sector teams the ability to test for accessibility without having to buy their own equipment.

“We realised that while most people have some awareness of accessibility, most people are not familiar with the different technologies and software that people use to interact with online services,” he says. “It is really easy for people to introduce accessibility barriers without realising.

“People often design for the fictional average user, which is usually based on their specific frame of reference.”

The equipment includes goggles to simulate different visual impairments, sound defender headphones to simulate loss of hearing, a television screen playing a visual impairments film, laptops running on Windows 7 and 10, iOS and Android phones and tablets and software for voice recognition and activation and screen magnification.

Duggin says the next steps in the development of the lab are to add specific personas as log-ins that highlight common barriers faced by users of the technology, and to improve its look.

He has asked for input from teams from around government on how it could be improved and said GDS would like to hear of other accessibility empathy labs. The only one of which it is currently aware is run by HM Revenue & Customs in Newcastle.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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