Posted on February 28, 2020 by staff

NHS Digital to launch first Accessibility Lab


UX design and development agency Sigma has been appointed to help the NHS launch its first NHS Digital Accessibility Lab.

The collaboration aims to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of the NHS’ online health products and services, with the dedicated lab allowing developers to test the technology they create, with the usability of people with disabilities in mind.

Sigma will provide its expertise and practical support to the NHS’ Digital development team through a series of in-depth training sessions on inclusive design testing and accessibility.

The UX experts will guide staff through the lab’s software and tools, and the considerations they must make when ensuring their websites and apps are inclusive to those with disabilities.

The Accessibility Lab, based in Bridgewater Place, Leeds, will help the NHS’ digital team, identify and fix the most common accessibility barriers facing its apps and websites, before they are released to the general public.

The inclusive design testing lab will contain screen readers, to convert text into speech, voice recognition, screen magnification and speech-to-text software for user testing purposes. It will also feature multiple iOS and Android devices for testing specific versions of applications, with VoiceOver, Talkback and Voice Assist software.

The new facility will also give developers access to Government Digital Service (GDS) ‘empathy’ personas, glasses that simulate visual impairments, and gloves that simulate motor impairments – plus a range of automated testing and accessibility tools – so that they can get an accurate understanding of the issues people with disabilities may face when using their technology.

Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma UK, said: “It is great to work with NHS Digital and assist its developers with accessibility, and the experience of visitors to its websites and apps. Considering its products are some of the most widely used in the UK, the Accessibility Lab is vital to ensuring as many people as possible can use the technology it develops, seamlessly.

“Not only are the websites and apps used frequently but they are important to maintaining and improving the health and wellbeing of millions.

“The public sector is undergoing a major digital transformation and it is important to ensure that no demographic or single service user is left behind, and that all platforms are fully optimised to maximise accessibility.”

Matt Edgar, director of design and user research at NHS Digital, said: “NHS services are for everyone, so it is important to make sure they can be accessed by all users, regardless of their level of ability. Accessibility and inclusion must be at the heart of all our design and development.

“That goes for the services we deliver for health and social care staff, patients and the public. The new facility at Bridgewater Place will allow us to create products that meet and exceed the accessibility standards for website and apps.

“We’re looking forward to making full use of the equipment in the lab and guidance from Sigma in order to make sure our online products and services are compatible with assistive technology, and can be accessed by as many members of the public as possible.”

Almost 1 in 5 people in the UK have a disability of some kind, and many more have temporary or situational disabilities, as a result of an illness or injury. Therefore, millions of Britons may struggle to access public sector websites and apps every day through poor product and service design.