A partnership of Kent County Council and the University of Kent is planning to share the work it has done to support digital accessibility for their service users.
The move comes with the approach of the Government’s requirement for all public sector bodies to publish an accessibility statement on their new websites – created since September of last year – by September of this year and for older sites by 2020.
George Rhodes, digital accessibility compliance lead for the council, outlined the effort at last week’s conference of the UK Association of Accessible Formats, which sets standards and promotes best practice for access to documents in the UK.
He said the work, which has been carried out for the Kent Connects public sector partnership, has been aimed at providing consistent levels of accessibility and providing a joined up approach across the county.
“We’re going to release a lot of it publicly, not just to our partners but anyone who wants to use it,” he said. “I don’t see the point in doing all of this work then saying ‘No you can’t have it because we wrote it’.
“I’m not competing with other councils on this. It’s about making our services better for end users, so why shouldn’t we be sharing our learning on this, and why shouldn’t we be helping anyone to improve their services?”
Auditing and statements
He highlighted the development of an auditing framework for the council’s websites, and the production of accessibility statements with an emphasis on plain language to make them widely useful. This was done partly in cooperation with the Government Digital Service (GDS), with Kent making some refinements to make it as useful as possible.
The council has also produced e-learning modules and guidance for staff on the issue, and support for the wider community.
Another step has been the incorporation of accessibility guidelines into procurements of digital products and services. Suppliers have to be tested to provide they comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations, ISO standards on interoperability and the Equality Act.
“That way, from now on everything that’s procured for us as a council will be, hopefully, accessibility compliant,” Rhodes said.
“I don’t have to worry about in five or 10 years once all of our contracts have gone through a renewal cycle, because it’s now part of our requirements that all services are accessible.”
He said there has been a mixed response from suppliers, but that the council is taking a strong stance in not giving business to any that do not want to comply. Those that have been more willing to work on the issue have often seen it as a way of giving themselves an advantage in the public sector market.
Place on curriculum
In addition, the School of Computing at the University of Kent is placing accessibility onto the curriculum in a number of areas, beginning with the People and Computing module, and the school’s Kent IT Consultancy Group can now begin to use it with local government customers.
Rhodes said this will also equip the next generation of developers and project managers with valuable skills.
He added that there has been a good response to the work from GDS, which wants to see best practice shared, and that the next move for the partnership is to work with the NHS on shared responsibilities in health and social care.
“It’s about improving digital skills in users who are now starting to make use of the ability to book their own appointments online and things like that,” said Rhodes.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0