Everyone has a part to play in ensuring that the content and digital services we provide to our customers and colleagues are accessible.

What is an Accessibility Empathy Hub

HMRC has set up Accessibility Empathy Hubs to demonstrate the barriers that disabled people can face.

We want to inspire you to think about the role you play in a new, more accessible way. Even if you are not involved in the development of digital services or websites, you can still help improve the accessibility of documents that we create and share.

You can use the Accessibility Empathy Hub to gain an insight into the experiences of users with access needs.

Why accessibility is important

a photograph of customers waiting inside a Citizen's Advice branch

A fully inclusive government service is one that can be accessed and successfully completed by all its users. They will be able to interact however they need to, regardless of their personal characteristics, situations, capabilities or access needs.

There are many benefits to designing and building inclusive services.

  • Providing an accessible service will result in a better experience for everyone, not just our disabled customers
  • We will be meeting our legal requirements
  • It’s more cost-effective if all users can use a single digital service rather than developing multiple, costlier services catering for specific needs
  • By thinking about accessibility and inclusion from the start you can avoid costly rework at the end of a project

Visit our Accessibility Empathy Hub in London or Newcastle

a photograph of the Accessibility Empathy Hub in London

To demonstrate the barriers that disabled people can encounter we have created an Accessibility Empathy Hub in Stratford, 14 Westfield Ave, London E20 1HZ, on the 1st floor and in Newcastle, Benton Park View, BP9001.

You can come along to the Accessibility Empathy Hub at any time, you do not need to book it. However if you would like to request a facilitated session, please use the HMRC Accessibility Empathy Hub enquiry form (opens in new tab or window). If you are part of HMRC we will then get in touch to arrange a date and time. If you are part of another government department we will acknowledge your enquiry and let you know when we are arranging our next open day.

We have different areas set up. Each one has a set of tasks you can carry out that will show various barriers that exist for someone with a disability.

  • The Chromebooks are installed with the 7 Government Digital Service (GDS) accessibility personas. Each persona simulates at least one disability or impairment which can cause difficulty when trying to use a digital service
  • Try the glasses that simulate different visual impairments. For example, common conditions such as Glaucoma; age-related Macular Degeneration; patchy vision which can be a complication of Diabetes
  • Put on the ear defenders to experience the effects of severe hearing loss and the difficulties this can cause

We’ve had lots of great feedback from visitors.

“It was a real reality check to help us understand how some people hear, see and read. It helped us put ourselves in their shoes and made us appreciate more the difficulty it can cause when using our services”
“Very informative. Good to understand the issues people face - the whole centre would benefit from this”
“The team really enjoyed the hands-on simulators and it will certainly inform our designs going forward”

Resources used to create our HMRC Accessibility Empathy Hub

To set up our Chromebooks we followed the guidance from Government Digital Service (GDS) accessibility team to create the seven accessibility personas.

Examples of the printed material we created can be found at posters and banners in the HMRC Accessibility Empathy Hub. If you are creating your own accessibility empathy hub in your Department and want to know more about what we did, email us at accessibility.team@hmrc.gov.uk.

Within HMRC we have an accessibility empathy hub in London and Newcastle and are in the process of creating more across our CDIO locations. If you are in HMRC and want to find out more about what we are doing email us at accessibility.team@hmrc.gov.uk.

Accessibility in numbers

To show how important it is for us to think about accessibility from the start we have collated a few statistics for you.

  • 70+% of conditions relating to disabilities aren’t visible (from Microsoft Office 365 YouTube)
  • 7 in 10 disabled customers with access needs will click away from a website they find difficult to use. Only 1 in 10 will make a complaint about it (from Barclays Corporate Banking YouTube)
  • It is estimated that 6.4 million people in the UK (10% of the population) have dyslexia (from NHS website)
  • 700,000 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum (from National Autistic Society)
  • Over 2 million people in the UK live with sight loss. 350,000 are registered blind or partially sighted (from RNIB website)
  • 10 million people in the UK have arthritis (from NHS website)
  • 145,000 people have Parkinson’s (from Parkinson’s UK)
  • 11 million people in the UK have some kind of hearing loss. 900,000 of these have severe or profound hearing loss (from Hearing link)
  • 10% of civil servants have declared they have a disability. In HMRC 9% of staff (5721 people) have declared they have a disability (from Institute for Government, as of 31 December 2019 and HMRC's HR as of March 2020)

Where the barriers and issues exist

The design for everyone poster details the following barriers that people face as a result of their disabilities and how we can address them:

  • who find it hard to understand
  • who need custom design
  • who aren’t online
  • in distracting situations
  • using screen readers
  • who find it hard to read
  • who can’t talk
  • who can’t see colour
  • who struggle with computers (due to inexperience or medical conditions)
  • who find it hard to see
  • who can’t hear

Disabilities may be permanent, temporary or situational and to be inclusive we need to deal with all circumstances.

Activities you can try at your desk

As well as visiting our Accessibility Empathy Hub in London or Newcastle we have put together a few are things that you can do at your desk to gain an insight into the experiences of users with access needs.

Try these activities

  • Not everyone uses a mouse so unplug your mouse or disable your trackpad and try using your keyboard only for an hour
  • The dyslexia simulator rearranges the letters within words on a page to give you a feel for what reading with dyslexia may be like
  • Colour blindness experience allows you to find out what it is like to live in a colour-blind world and get access to simulators to find out what your content looks like to someone who is colour blind
  • The hearing loss simulator demonstrates how different levels of hearing loss are perceived
  • The Funkify simulators mimic cognitive; dyslexia; motor and vision conditions. You can experience the web through the eyes of users with these disabilities. Note: you will probably not be able to run this on your HMRC Stride machine.

Watch and listen to some videos

Please email us at accessibility.team@hmrc.gov.uk if you have any questions or want to know more.