Raising accessibility awareness

Our aim is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility and inclusion. We have put together a list of activities you can try at any time, as well as a few video playlists. We are also grateful to everyone who has provided us with their stories of facing accessibility barriers.

Educational resources

Following on from the success of the online Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 2020 lunch and learn sessions, we have some outputs that you will find very helpful.

Make your documents accessible

Activities you can try

To gain an insight into the challenges of users with access needs try these activities. You can do them at home, at your desk.

Watch and listen to some videos

We have compiled a few YouTube playlists to give you easy access to videos where you can find out more about why accessibility matters, demonstrations of assistive technologies and guidance and best practises to follow.

User stories

Story 1

Using Microsoft Teams – during the current home working period, our team has been having a twice weekly catch up via Teams. As an autistic person I find Teams difficult for a couple of reasons.

I can’t use a headset, as my brain interprets the sounds as pain, so had to obtain a wireless handset. This improved my experience from a purely sensory perspective, but there are other barriers to overcome.

We don’t use cameras. I can understand people’s reluctance, however for me, it’s a nightmare. If you are just listening, it’s difficult to work out when someone has finished saying their bit – autistic people struggle with conversation and knowing when it’s our turn to speak. This is exacerbated when all you are looking at is a grey circle! There are no visual clues to pick up on, and what’s more my colleagues don’t know from looking at me, whether I have something to say. With the result that sometimes two or more of us end up speaking at the same time!

Think I’m going to have to persuade my colleagues to use cameras, lockdown hair or not…

Story 2

My boys do karate twice a week, and until lockdown this was in a local high school. The night of lockdown they did their purple belt grading in a local hotel, as the school had closed. The staff were literally locking up the hotel as they left!

We were unsure how the club was going to continue, as much for the people who run it and is their livelihood, as for our boys. They are both autistic and our eldest has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well. Karate has improved their self-esteem, social skills and in the case of our eldest, his focus and concentration.

So how did we overcome this? Zoom!

It's been both amazing and at times hilarious, especially at the start with people trying to connect and failing – there was a lot of “Rosie, are you there?” “No, she’s gone…oh wait, she’s back!”, but it’s been a lifeline for our boys. It’s a continuation of their normal life, and although they haven’t physically seen their friends, they all see and talk to each other over Zoom twice a week.

We even managed to connect our laptop to the TV so they are working from a large screen instead of Dad’s mobile phone! That was something of a challenge…. Their next grading is in the first week of July and given that our youngest has done more classes as he is at home, both of them should be ready to go for their next belt…it might even be over Zoom!

I know we grumble about technology and how it can present barriers, but in this case, it has enabled the club owners to keep their business alive and our boys to retain some semblance of a normal life.

Story 3

About 5 years ago I developed inflammatory arthritis and I take regular meds and have reduced my working hours to 30 per week to help my body to rest.

I have a Plantronics headset, small keyboard and a Roller Mouse Classic 2. I also use Dragon but only when the pain in my hands is bad, so it is hard to remember everything from the last time I used it as the gaps between use can be quite long. I am also lift reliant on anything over two floors which worries me in the current climate even though I have got a mask.

Since my diagnosis I’ve been lucky with the managers that I’ve had. They’ve all been understanding and helped me get the right kit.

The arthritis is worse in my fingers and wrists so on some days I find surfing either the web or Intranet hard if my joints are aching. Also, jumping from one site to another is hard along with typing one thing after another to try and find an answer to a question.

It can be hard speaking to someone in IT if you’ve got an issue with your specific kit as your query has to be answered by someone else and then there’s more delay. I know this happens to a lot of people but to me it can exaggerate what could be a simple problem.

It becomes frustrating being in constant pain when you’re looking for something that was easy to find the other day. Depending on the pain level will dictate what painkillers I use and this can affect my vision along with making me tired.

Asking how your team could support you depends on how much you want to divulge and for me personally it’s all about independence and being self-reliant.

Search engines being better would help as this would lessen keying time. Also having an A-Z for dragon so you could use it as a refresher would be good.

Story 4

I started to notice a deterioration in my eyesight and was diagnosed with a permanent and progressive eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and was registered severely sight impaired in 2012. I am unable to see at night, in poor lighting conditions and I experience difficulties in bright daylight too. I have limited central vision such that I am unable to recognise people, see detail, read print and differentiate colours.

My role involves mainly working on the computer and I have a desktop PC in the office which has a magnification software called ZoomText and screen reader software called JAWS, speech software which talks back to me from my computer into my headset, both assist me to do my work effectively. For remote working I have a Surface Pro tablet which has the same software and enables me to work from home and other locations.

Additionally, I use an iPad as my personal device with VoiceOver, which is an accessibility screen reading feature built into the device, which allows me to access my emails, browse the internet, connect with people using Facebook and Zoom and watch Netflix.

Online shopping

One thing I’ve never had to do, up to now is online shopping because I enjoy going out to the shops. I just love shopping, exploring different things and talking to staff about new offers and latest trends. Since my sight loss began deteriorating I’ve started to get help, from shop assistants, finding items, reading labels, ingredients and prices which worked really well as I could maintain my independence.

Then my lifestyle suddenly changed with the COVID-19 outbreak and the lock down pressured me into online shopping for the first time. I was reluctant to try online grocery shopping in the past because I never had to use it.

Living with sight loss brings its own challenges but trying something I’ve never had to do in my life was worrying. I was feeling anxious being in lock down and on top of that how will online shopping work for me. I was concerned about the accessibility of the website and if it would work with VoiceOver, and having no sighted help at home also added to the pressure. So I treated this as my biggest challenge during lock down and got the ball rolling.

I began the process by accessing the Sainsbury’s website, only to find I couldn’t register because they were only accepting existing customers. Then I tried the Tesco website and couldn’t register again for the same reason. After all that I was really disappointed but didn’t give up. My friend then told me about Asda customer helpline so I gave them a call. After figuring out the different telephone options I finally got through to the right person who was able to help with my query. The adviser was very helpful and patient as she talked me through how to register online which I completed successfully and thank goodness for VoiceOver which worked and helped me achieve this.

I found that most supermarkets were only offering priority delivery slots to people who were registered as a vulnerable person on GOV.UK. This caused some confusion for people like me who have a sight impairment because I didn’t meet the criteria listed. However the Asda adviser acknowledged my health condition and manually added me to their priority customer list and was given a priority pass to access a regular delivery slot. I now have set up a recurring slot every 2 weeks till October. I was very relieved to have this in place and it gave me peace of mind.

My overall user experience online was good, it was simple and easy to follow, quick to search for items and the checkout process was straightforward. The product descriptions were clear and accessible with VoiceOver. I’ve used the website again and have received a few deliveries. I’m really pleased with the outcome and will continue shopping online where possible.

This good experience gave me the confidence to try online banking for the first time. I’ve never had to use online banking before, I always used telephone banking or visited the bank. With COVID-19 the telephone lines were extremely busy so it pushed me to try.

Online banking

I managed to register but I couldn’t complete the security questions which were ambiguous and difficult to follow with VoiceOver. For example the information on the website wasn’t clear on what memorable information needed to be entered. I contacted the Internet Banking helpline where I was passed to a technical adviser who tried to help but didn’t fully understand my needs even though I told him I couldn’t see the screen and RELIED on Voiceover, nor did he provide clarity on the information required.

After a few trial and error attempts entering information I still couldn’t proceed so I gave up. I’d spent a lot of time on this which was frustrating. Reflecting later I figured out that the memorable information wasn’t actually asking for an answer to a question, but in fact required a word which I managed to enter without any guidance.

I feel the website NEEDS TO BE improved by making the information less ambiguous and more accessible so it’s EASIER to follow and complete the TASK. Unfortunately this experience didn’t end as well as my online shopping experience but I am hopeful that I can get SOME support to make this work for me going forward.

Story 5

I’ve lived with chronic migraine for over 30 years. “Chronic” means I suffer for over 15 days in every 30—way over. As well as the classic migraine attack, where I feel like there’s a white hot ice pick jammed into my temple, I also get vestibular migraine attacks where additionally I’m really dizzy and fall over a lot, and hemiplegic migraine attacks, which have too many symptoms in common with a stroke. As if I wasn’t already lucky enough to have won those prizes, I also get cluster headaches, which are said to be among the top five most painful experiences a human endures.

My assistive technology ranges from reactive lenses in my glasses, through to being able to control all of my home audio, lighting and heating from my phone; because some days are just far too bright for me, or I need a specific colour of light around the house (usually red).

Occasionally, I need to use VoiceOver to read out documents to me, just as an extra level of input checking. This is due to my brain being really foggy and coherence levels plummeting.

Because my condition is invisible, and most people think it’s “just a headache”, I’ve had a really tough time trying to sell it over the years. Mainly to HR departments and people who deal with timesheets. They don’t understand (or refuse to) that I can be fit for working at home, but not fit to leave the house to work in the office. Those conversations usually go like this:

Me: “I can’t make it into the office, but I’m capable of working from home.”

HR: “If you’re not well, you should be off sick.”

Me: “I’m chronically ill, which means I’m never well.”

HR: “Well you should manage your illness then.”

Me: “I do. By working from home when I’m not feeling up to being in the office.”

HR: “Yes, but if you’re not well, you should be off sick.”

Me: “Sigh…”

My system of managing my illness didn’t suit them. I was never given reasons, other than “We don’t allow that”; no goodwill, no compassion, or a discretionary workaround—just… no. In fact, I got written warnings and told off for it.

With the recent revelation that everyone can actually work from home without many changes at all (I know, right?), I’m hoping those conversations are now a thing of the past. Not just for me, but for people who can’t even get hired in the first place because of their health.

Remote work is going to open up avenues of employment for people who have been housebound for years, with no hope in sight. Now, thanks to a pesky virus, they get to listen to perfectly healthy people whining on and on about how they’ve had to stay indoors for a couple of weeks. They’ll have eye strain from rolling their eyes, I’m sure.

But the old “normal” was broken anyway, so let’s define the new one to include everyone—not just those who are privileged enough to complain about having to keep their fully working bodies indoors.

How you can make a difference

Here are some suggestions of things you can do where you can make a difference

Get involved

Be My Eyes - bringing sight to blind and low-vision people. Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a live video call. Read an article on how a Be MyEyes volunteer can help

Useful resources

a Accessibility Empathy Hub Changing People's Perceptions branded logo with five diverse arms reaching for a laptop

Visiting one of our HMRC accessibility empathy hubs to experience the barriers that disabled people can face will inspire you to think about the role you play in a new, more accessible way. Note: you will not be able to do this whilst COVID-19 restrictions are in place.

We have also compiled a list of resources you may find useful.

Please email us at accessibility.team@hmrc.gov.uk if you have any questions.