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Building inclusive services is not about perfection

Accessibility has a reputation for being hard and sometimes even unobtainable. But building inclusive services that work better for everyone isn’t about perfection. It’s about making an effort and seeing progress. When we bring that type of effort every day, transformation happens. On the flip side, when we don’t, the people who may need our services most can’t access them.

Throughout my life, I have been exposed to disabilities, injuries, and temporary impairments. For example, I rarely use a mouse, and when I do, I use a vertical ergonomic mouse to cause the least amount of stress on my joints. To navigate and interact online, I use both a keyboard and voice recognition. They’re the driving force behind my passion to improve accessibility.

My experiences have taught me not to make assumptions about how people use services. Every individual uses varying approaches to best meet their own needs. There are no average or “normal” users.

The Canadian Digital Service (CDS) recently hosted an internal event to learn about accessibility. A panel of public servants with disabilities talked about the barriers and challenges they face using government services. Part of this panel included Kevin Shaw, who has a mobility-related disability. Kevin told us completing online surveys or forms is a long, frustrating process. When using a computer he uses a combination of low tech and high tech adaptive technology. To enter content or navigate a web page, he uses a head stick attached to a helmet to interact with an onscreen keyboard. Often, the survey times out before he’s had a chance finish, and he has to start all over again. Letting Kevin save his responses and come back to finish the survey later is an easy way to make the service more accessible.

A photo of Kevin Shaw smiling with a quote "I love that my job supports accessibility and inclusion. I am proud of my teams' efforts as we strive towards a barrier-free government and society."

Accessibility doesn’t have to be overwhelming

The key is people need to know what to consider, what to be aware of, and what to flag.

  1. Build accessibility into the beginning of a product. Not only will it save time, but also resources.
  2. Shorten update/release change process by clearing hurdles and lengthy approvals.
  3. Reach out and include persons with disabilities throughout product discovery, design, development, and delivery phases.
  4. Build awareness on the product teams in order to improve the service. Encourage delivery team members to engage within the community, being open to feedback and striving to make things better.
  5. Embed accessibility champions on product teams in different roles to improve reach, awareness, and understanding of accessibility issues.

At CDS, we design for accessibility early and often. As a result, we’re able to flag issues in our daily stand-ups, discuss approaches and requirements in our sprints, and track outcomes like lessons learned on what did and didn’t work in our retros. Champions are integrated into teams, and they navigate doing the right thing first as opposed to fixing the wrong thing later.

What do we plan to do to help improve the human experience of digital services?

Though we’ve made strides towards better accessibility practices at CDS, here are our plans for the future. We have a long way to go and we’ll iterate along the way.

Our route map for accessibility:

  • Do design research with people
  • Include persons with disabilities throughout the process
  • Be pragmatic, go forward with accessibility in mind, take corrective measures as needed
  • Build capacity in inclusive practices
  • Prioritize change, consider impact, reach, modernization, requests/analytics, and feasibility
  • Assign budget (it’s necessary, worthwhile, and the law)
  • Tap into expertise across government
  • Plan for continued progressive improvement

Goal: Make it better than it was yesterday.

Together we can build more inclusive and accessible services for everyone.