Accessibility for the 100%: Delivering an Accessible Digital Workplace in Government

Written by Paul Zimmerman on 14 February 2017 in Sponsored Article
Sponsored Article

Invotra's Paul Zimmerman walks through the company's efforts to make its intranet software as accessible as possible

Invotra's Paul Zimmerman giving a keynote speech at Intranet Now - Photo credit: Intranet Now

It’s well-known that organisations need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make their physical workplace more accessible, but what does that mean when it comes to the online world of work?

At Invotra, we power the intranet for over 200,000 users across central government, including the Home Office, DWP, DfT and HMRC.

We want to make sure our intranet software meets the needs of all users, which means we’re committed to making our products and services as accessible as possible. But it hasn’t always been that way for us. 

Accessibility is not just about being “compliant” 

Compliance suggests a kind of box-ticking exercise. In fact, we thought we were doing pretty well with our accessibility compliance until one of our customers asked us to politely reconsider. 

They asked us to actually sit with users to observe how they use our intranet software. We ran a number of focus groups, meeting with users with a range of disabilities to understand what their day-to-day challenges are.

We were amazed, and not in a good way. We learned just how difficult it was to use our intranet software, despite being technically ‘compliant.’

Accessible services are not somebody else's problem

We tried it out for ourselves. We challenged ourselves to use our intranet whilst having our monitor turned off.  We learned how screen readers work and how to use them and the shortcuts they provide. We also tried using the site without a mouse.

When we went through this exercise, we had an epiphany. We realised that we were not serving all of our users with a great experience and we needed to do better. Consequently, we changed the attitude of everyone working in Invotra to recognise the challenge of delivering an intranet for all users.

The link between user experience and an accessible experience

We can define accessibility as:

“The quality or characteristic of something that makes it possible to approach, enter, or use.”

And this, of course, invites us to explore the definition of usability:

“The fact of something being easy to use, or the degree to which it is easy to use.”

So it would appear that accessibility and usability are linked. One could argue that if you’re not designing software to be accessible, then you’re not designing it to be usable. 

And making software more accessible makes it easier to use for everyone. At Invotra, we’ve spoken about this as designing an accessible experience (AX) for the 100%. 

Making the change to a more inclusive culture

First and foremost, our CEO, Fintan Galvin, completely understood and led the need for change. For any department or team, this is critical: the leadership must be engaged with and involved in the required change.

Secondly, we communicated across the whole company the need for this change in attitude, holding regular meetings to discuss what was required for Invotra to evolve.

Thirdly, we needed to learn and so we hired experts. We brought in accessibility consultants who work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). They helped us understand just how quickly visually impaired users ‘hear’ webpages using screen-readers.

Finally, we started the work to improve. We’ve worked hard over the last year, instilling in our company what needs to change, and embarking on and executing that change.

What’s next in Invotra’s accessibility roadmap?

At Invotra, we have much more to do to continue to deliver the best possible experience for everyone. 

From a product standpoint, we’ve incorporated accessibility into everything we do, and continue to improve the usability of all the intranet features we provide. 

Most importantly, we listen to our end users and make fortnightly enhancements to our product based on user feedback. 

We take service very seriously. We’re a young, British company, striving to do well and make sure our product meets the needs of all of our users. We’re keen to prove ourselves amongst a sea of much larger, more entrenched technology companies. 

What challenges do you find with your digital workplace? We had some great feedback when we blogged on one of our customers’ intranets and would love to continue that conversation within the context of the wider civil service. And to that end, if you have questions, comments or concerns about your digital workplace, drop us a line at www.invotra.com/accessibility or email us at accessibility@invotra.com

About the author

Paul Zimmerman is COO at Invotra. Invotra delivers a secure, flexible intranet to over 200,000 users in UK government.

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