February 19, 2023
When it comes to designing and developing digital products for the UK government, adherence to accessibility standards is not just a best practice, it's a legal requirement. In fact, the UK government has put in place strict guidelines to ensure that all digital products and services are accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities.
Having worked on digital products that directly serve the UK Gov for a majority of the passed five years, I've been fortunate enough to gain a fantastic insight into some of the key accessibility standards that designers and developers should keep in mind when working on gov projects.
WCAG 2.1 Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 are a globally recognised set of guidelines for creating accessible web content. The UK government requires that all digital products and services meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards, which means that they must be designed and developed in a way that makes them perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users. This includes providing alternative text for images, using colour contrast that is easy to read, and ensuring that navigation is consistent and intuitive.
The Government Digital Service (GDS) Design System
The GDS Design System is a comprehensive set of guidelines and resources for designing and building digital products for the UK government. It includes guidance on accessibility, design patterns, and user experience, as well as code snippets and templates for developers to use. By following the GDS Design System, designers and developers can ensure that their products meet the accessibility standards required by the UK government.
User testing is a crucial part of ensuring that digital products are accessible to all users. The UK government requires that designers and developers conduct regular user testing with people who have a range of physical and cognitive abilities. This helps to identify any barriers to accessibility and provides valuable feedback on how to improve the design and functionality of the product.
Accessibility statements are an important part of demonstrating compliance with accessibility standards. The UK government requires that all digital products and services include an accessibility statement that explains how the product meets the WCAG 2.1 AA standards, what assistive technologies are supported, and how to provide feedback on accessibility issues.
Ongoing Accessibility Testing and Maintenance
Accessibility is not a one-time fix. To ensure ongoing compliance with accessibility standards, it is important to conduct regular testing and maintenance on digital products and services. This includes testing for accessibility issues when new features or updates are added, as well as monitoring user feedback and addressing any reported issues.
In conclusion, designing and developing digital products for the UK government requires strict adherence to accessibility standards. By following the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, using the GDS Design System, conducting regular user testing, including accessibility statements, and ensuring ongoing accessibility testing and maintenance, designers and developers can ensure that their products are accessible to all users, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities.