Gravesham and their accessibility journey

Sep 3, 2020 | Assist, Public Sector

Councils are hard at work making their digital touch points accessible, partly due to impending deadline on September 23rd 2020 imposed by the EU Directive 2018. Web accessibility is a wide spectrum of many different types of media and information sources. It includes both websites, documents, apps – covering all touch points can be challenging without proper planning and understanding of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

We sat down with Darren Everden, Assistant Director (IT and Transformation), Gravesham Borough Council, to learn how their Digital Team are making waves to include every citizen in the council’s online activities. 

The first steps to accessibility

There are many ways to go about becoming accessible. For Darren and his Digital Team, simply following the guidelines and not asking questions is not the way to go. For the team at Gravesham, the trick is to look beyond the EU directive and to understand why the directive was written in the first place.

By acknowledging and understanding that WCAG 2.1 stems from people living with disabilities, Gravesham Borough Council enables themselves to go beyond conformance. By choosing to understand the background for the EU Directive, you enable your organisation to implement the WCAG 2.1 guidelines in a way that is not only conformant, but also far more effective.

In Gravesham they split up their journey to conformance in stages, prioritising areas that would provide the greatest benefit for the citizens. A part of their work ethic was making sure to understand both how to become accessible and why, and then implementing their new knowledge in the best possible way.

The logical first step, in their accessibility journey, was their website – both content and structure. By employing the use of website auditing software, they were swiftly able to determine where their website required changes to conform.

Updating the website showed Gravesham’s Digital Team the focal points of accessibility and the depths that becoming compliant could lead to. It was a lightbulb experience that led them to the next stage in the process.

Making digital communication accessible

The process of updating and optimising the website made it apparent, that both digital media and outbound communication posed a whole separate issue that they needed to address. Although their aim is to reduce the number of documents on their website, Darren and his team concluded that there will always be a need for documents on a public sector website.  

“You don’t know what assistive technology the person at the other end of the document is going to be using to try and understand that document. That was a bit of a lightbulb moment for us, it made us think.”

– Darren Everden, Assistant Director (IT and Transformation), Gravesham Borough Council

Making every document accessible would become an overwhelming task, if controlled centrally.

Realising the sheer size of the task made for a new goal; finding a solution that could make future documents from all departments accessible. A solution that would help them decentralize the work and enable every employee to handle accessibility on their own when creating documents.

Darren and his team started out testing the obvious route, by taking a look at the built-in “Check Accessibility” tool in Microsoft Office. Although the checker did surface some of the issues that the WCAG 2.1 guidelines require for document creation, it did not provide sufficient information or assistance for the user to fix those issues on their own.

The Digital Team at Gravesham Borough Council gauged that the accessibility checker in Microsoft Office simply did not provide a strong enough tool for their council to use, without training super-users to assist with every single document created in the entire organisation.

Consequently, Darren and his team decided, that to avoid gatekeeping, they would have to find and implement a proper accessibility tool directly into Microsoft Office. A solution that would provide the most efficient and cost-effective workflow.

“What we didn’t want to do was have gatekeepers on outbound communication, in the same way as we ended up with on website content. It was at this stage we came across Assist from Dania Software.”

– Darren Everden, Assistant Director (IT and Transformation), Gravesham Borough Council

Solving the document headache

With Assist Gravesham Borough Council enables every single worker to tag up their documents in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel without needing specialist training.

“Assist empowers users to work independently.”

– Darren Everden, Assistant Director (IT and Transformation), Gravesham Borough Council

The solution provides a simple and intuitive guidance, enabling the user to comply with the WCAG 2.1 requirements. Furthermore, due to the easily navigable interface, it eliminates the need for documents to be double checked by someone else. Assist provides the user with an easy method of applying and verifying accessibility features directly in Microsoft Office.

“At Gravesham, we make an effort to include every single citizen. We believe Assist is an important tool in giving everyone the same opportunities no matter their circumstance.”

– Darren Everden, Assistant Director (IT and Transformation), Gravesham Borough Council

Learning from Gravesham’s digital team

No matter how an organisation chooses to achieve accessibility, it is important to focus on digital inclusion. Digital Inclusion is about giving everyone the ability to live their life and be part of society without requiring constant assistance with ordinary tasks. The Gravesham approach of using incremental steps, activating the Digital Team as part of the process and empowering users to work independently, is key to include every citizen.  

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