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Accessible for all: The MOD’s journey

Blog posted by: Samantha Merrett, Government Digital Service (GDS), managing editor, 16 November 2020.

Accessibility has become an important part of digital communications and something that can no longer be ignored. All organisations no matter their size, shape or purpose have a responsibility to provide content to their users that is both accessible and user-friendly. At the Ministry of Defence (MOD), we have made it one of our primary objectives to embed best practice accessibility into everything that we do. Our social media and teams have been hard at work to ensure MOD content meets the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG), and while the journey is ongoing, these are the early steps we have taken to focus and improve.

A solider in British Army uniform at the Army Warfighting Experiment on Salisbury Plain holding a drone and standing next to different Army vehicles.

A solider in British Army uniform at the Army Warfighting Experiment on Salisbury Plain holding a drone and standing next to different Army vehicles.

Spreading the word

For the most part accessibility is a topic not widely understood or acknowledged. Our social media and web content on GOV.UK needed to change to meet the 23 September 2020 deadline but we already knew that asking our stakeholders to conform immediately and make the required changes would be impossible.

As the Managing Editor for the MOD’s GOV.UK content, my team and I knew that we needed to convince our stakeholders about the need and importance of web accessibility. Therefore, to embed best practice we produced and delivered more than 10 onsite workshops that explained what accessibility is, why it is so important and how we could work together to reach the goal of producing fully accessible content for our users.

We modelled the workshops on the GDS training sessions and used the best practice we had picked up elsewhere. The workshops were a roaring success and we saw a significant uplift in the quality of documents received from our stakeholders. This helped the GOV.UK team refocus their energy on other pieces of work and audit our content ready for the deadline.

Practical change

Similarly, our approach to social media accessibility required education on best practice and how to make practical changes every day. We started by amending the daily content call we host with various teams across the directorate to include accessibility as an agenda item.

This meeting was previously used to highlight items that were due to be published so we could deconflict and promote wider awareness. However, now we include the subject of accessibility by highlighting how we can make sure that each individual piece of content meets the necessary standard. We try to raise accessibility on every call and highlight where we have done well and where there might still be room for improvement.

We also used the GDS social media playbook and the guidance Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns to educate all communicators about the difference between content types and how they might deter certain groups of our audience from being able to engage with the content fully. We also added an overview of each of our main social channels and the nuances between each, for example; if you can directly incorporate closed captions or add alternative text.

We then presented this guide to the entire team, bringing it to life by including a case study of a veteran with disabilities who is still able to engage with our content because of the improvement work we are putting in. This helped engage the audience as we were talking about examples that they could relate to and therefore understand the significance of the work even more.

Continuous learning

Accessibility is an ever evolving topic and one that will inevitably see great advances in the coming years, so it is important that all teams across Whitehall, not just Defence, continue to follow best practice and discover new and more innovative ways of completing tasks.

Every member of the MOD GOV.UK Editorial team has at least one accessibility objective included as part of their in-year development plan. These objectives might be subject specific, for example a commitment to undertake training on PDF accessibility or HTML coding or it might be more job-specific such as working and training with a defence agency to ensure that all their content meets the required standards. By having these included in our yearly objectives, it re-affirms our commitment to the cause and guarantees that we continuously upskill and develop our knowledge year-on-year.

What’s next?

As I hope you have seen, we have already made great strides at the MOD to embed good accessibility practice into all areas of digital communications, but we are far from finished yet! On GOV.UK, there are more changes to be made to our content and we are continually educating and supporting our stakeholders to provide content that meets the required standards. So, where do we go from here?

I would suggest the following points for the future:

  • accessibility champions within the MOD and strengthened cross-government support network
  • automation and testing improvements to spot shortcomings at scale
  • consultation and expert reviews replacing workshops to coach and aid colleagues

I believe the saying ‘many hands make light work’ rings true when it comes to accessibility, and the Government needs more hands to be raised because this is not a simple job. Our journey at the MOD is continuous and I am excited to continue championing this cause now and in the future.


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