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A visit to London to talk about website accessibility

Angela Davies, Communications Officer at Tenfold and Aaron Wood, co-chair of the Leeds Learning Disability Partnership Board and Learning Disability Network Manager, NHS England share the story of a visit to London to discuss website accessibility for the redevelopment of the NHS Choices website.


On Tuesday 18 August me and Angela from Tenfold got the opportunity to go down to London for the NHS choices website Digital Accessibility Working Group. The aim of this group was to plan to make the NHS Choices website more accessible for people with a disability also to get different points of view how we could do this.

I had never been to London by train before even though it was a very early start for me to the day it was something I had been looking forward to all weekend and the week before. Me and Angela were happy to be working with two very inspirational blind professionals called Howard Leicester and Kevin Carey, both Howard and Kevin were very smart and spoke in jargon and used many technical terms and words.

In the morning we all got to know each other and explained what we all do for work also what our opinions were on what could be changed about the NHS choices website. At dinnertime we all got to socialise with each other and some of the team from upstairs came down to meet us and get to know a bit about us. All together the day was very inspirational and worth the earlier morning. I hope to join the NHS choice Committee who meet every 2 month I have now found a passion for helping to improve things for people with a disability at the NHS.


On 18 August 2015 Tenfold went to London for a meeting to discuss accessibility requirements for the new NHS Choices website. The digital team at NHS England are in the early stages of redesigning the website from the ground up. It was a fascinating day with some very interesting and thought provoking conversations debating the practicalities and realities of web accessibility.

Who was there
We were honoured to be invited to be part of a small working group being consulted with on accessibility requirements for the new website, in our case to provide a learning disability perspective. It was a small group that included the chairman of the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) Kevin Carey (who is blind), researcher and expert on web accessibility Dr Howard Leicester (who is deaf/blind), Vicki Nash Head of policy and campaigns at Mind mental health charity, Aaron Wood (who has a learning disability) is co-chair of the Leeds Learning Disability Partnership board and two weeks ago started a job with NHS England in Leeds and myself from Tenfold.

As well as the working group invited to give our views a number of NHS England colleagues were there to listen in and take notes, and upstairs listening in via a telephone link were members of the development team who also sent in questions via email.

Before we had even arrived Aaron was having a brilliant day, with lots of firsts. Although he had been to London before it had always been by car so this was the first time travelling down by train. On leaving Leeds he pointed out Elland Road stadium, but he is an Arsenal Fan. I knew the train may go past Emirates Stadium (home to Arsenal) on the way into London so made sure to tell Aaron who spent the journey looking out for it and sure enough we went right past and that made his day! The next first was going on the London Underground, a sensory overload at anytime so a lot to take in for the first time.

By the time we arrived at Waterloo about 11am, having been up since 5.30am we were ready for a rest, but the purpose of the trip was only just beginning! The aim of the day was to generate ideas for accessibility principles that the development team can try out and test on the new NHS Choices website and then eventually aim to apply to some of the 6,000 NHS domains that exist.

The morning was spent simply asking each of us to express our views on what we thought was important for web accessibility. The contributions from Kevin and Howard were at a very intellectual and demonstrated their high level of technical and practical experience. They are both very passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and also very articulate.

Before he spoke Aaron leaned over to tell me that he hadn’t a clue what either of them was talking about (there were some long words and technical terms being used) I knew what he meant but reassured him that the team would be just as interested in what he had to say. Whatever I said worked as Aaron made some very relevant contributions to meeting and felt confident to say what he thought at various points in the session.

Over lunch we met members of the development team who had been listening in and got to know the group a bit better. Also during the break the post-it notes that resulted from the conversations in the morning were sorted into categories, these were: Content, Technology, User Testing, Challenges, Access and Standards.

Developing Principles
The afternoon discussion was focussed on establishing some principles for the developers to take forward. There are many and varied challenges facing digital and online services and a clear point that came through is that the onus should be on the developers to build a solution that does not require the audience to develop new skills – to build better things. To be simple enough for all to use and allow people to what you want them to do. This brought us to the first principle ‘to have a clear proposition’. It should be explicitly stated what people will use the website with a focus on the audience need. Content and design needs to be focused on what the user needs to know not what someone in a suit it wants. It is important to avoid as Kevin put it “a homepage that is a map of corporate hubris”.

The second principle that came out was to make things easy ‘be simple first’. Starting simple but leaving the option for those that wish to delve deeper to layer on more detail. This idea resonates with the idea of “get it right for someone with a learning disability and you get it right for everyone” something that Tenfold have been saying for a while. Those that are most able are better placed to work things out and add to their experience, being simple first should avoid a situation where people who are less able are required to find the level of access that meets their needs.

With so little time and so much intellect in the room time ran out to discuss all the categories. It was an incredibly interesting day gaining an insight into the challenges facing the digital team at NHS England. The discussions are set to continue and we look forward to our continued involvement. The current NHS Choices website receives 43,000,000 visits every month so that’s a lot of people’s expectations to try and meet!


Aaron wood
25 August 2015

thank you for putting this on here tenfold I had such a brilliant experience and day

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