Monday, 2 March 2015

Access and accessibility in digital: Issues in vogue for the UK

I started off looking up some present trends in digital accessibility but ended with some surprising stats on the UK’s lack of basic digital access that upstaged ‘accessibility’ somewhat.

So, I’ll try to blend the key points from both salient issues although it may involve a bit of leap-frogging on your part. But if you’re part of digital already, that’s par for the course, right?

I’m sure that many of us will do a double take at the focused, hard-nosed approach taken by none other than the Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills. They published their Report, Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future, on Feb 17th. It actually is easy to read, hard-hitting and sounds sensible. Yes, quite a shock. Suddenly what all of us in digital have all been saying for years has reached a crescendo of warning bells for the UK. Am-Az-Ing! If I just throw out a few tasters from the report, you’ll see what I mean.
  • A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in 2013, meanwhile, found that the size of the digital economy was almost double official estimates.... Digital technology is pervasive across all aspects of life, so much so that the ‘digital economy’ is becoming synonymous with the national economy.
  • Digital skills (the skills needed to interact with digital technologies) are now necessary life skills. ... It is not acceptable for any group to be excluded from access to digital technologies.
  • All of this will require universal access to the internet to engage with vital public and personal services. That is why we conclude that the Government should define the internet as a utility service, available for all to access and use.
  • The new digital age offers huge opportunities as well as significant risks; it can make the UK, or break it.
  • Access to digital technologies
    • 49. Objective 1: The population as a whole has unimpeded access to digital technology.
    • 50. This includes:
      • facilitation of universal internet access: the internet is viewed as a utility; and
      • removing ‘not-spots’ in urban areas
The BBC News, Digital skills should be core subjects, says the report (17 Feb 2015), highlights the following stats that are pretty shocking. In themselves, they relate to ‘access’ and motivation. No wonder the report is hard-hitting. The Select committee genuinely believe that the UK is at a tipping point that undermines the economic health of the country.
  • A digital divide persists in the UK, with some six million citizens never having used the internet and 9.5 million lacking adequate digital skills, partly because they have been "poorly served at school", the report warns.
Well, with such basics as hard infrastructure of access to superfast broadband and soft infrastructure of digital skills in the population under the microscope, you’ll see why I got a bit side-tracked.

So here’s the counterpart about ‘accessibility’ of sites. Once people are accessing sites, they need to be easy and straightforward to use. Again, some stats worth noting are:
  • the UK’s 12 million disabled people have a spending power of £120 billion
  • accessible sites are 35% more usable by everyone whether they have special access needs or not
Ability Net, Web Accessibility Resources, This site has many pointers to accessibility resources so it’s worth noting.

Better Connected’, is a report about the accessibility of council web sites that has been done annually for 17 years. There was a massive dip in performance in 2013 that the report’s originators, Soctim, put down to the poor testing of mobile sites. Soctim uses people with disabilities to test the sites. Many might not understand the range of disabilities that can cause problems with sites such as dyslexia, learning difficulties and poor vision. The Digital Accessibility Centre has a good resources page with some free testing that you might find useful.

This is a larger blog than usual but you can see why. I hope.