Exploring Hounslow’s Air Quality Data

Why Air Quality matters?

It is a known fact that poor air quality is unhealthy to all of us, especially for vulnerable groups such as people with medical conditions such as heart issues or asthma, as well as children or the elderly with breathing difficulties. Air quality is not the same everywhere. In other words: pollution can build up in pockets and we call them “hot spots” and potential reasons for these occurring are that they are close to a busy road or near a commercial or industrial zone. Prevailing weather conditions are another contributory factor that impacts air quality measures. So, it is important to us all to monitor air quality regularly, identify troublesome “hot spots”, and ensure that we are using this information to help guide actions and policies focused on ensuring cleaner air for us all.

What do we know about Air Quality in Hounslow?

London Borough of Hounslow partners with Ricardo Energy & Environment who maintain 6 Air Quality monitoring sites across the borough. As well as these sites, there are also third-party monitoring stations like Breathe London. Live stations provide hourly data which hold key measurements of specific pollutants within the air. The current list of live monitoring stations is as below:

  • Brentford
  • Chiswick
  • Feltham
  • Gunnersbury
  • Hatton Cross
  • Heston

Quick understanding of Air Quality measures (Pollutants)

Do you know that air is mostly gas? Air is actually comprised of a mixture of different gases like Nitrogen (approx. 78%), Oxygen (21%) and the remaining approx. 1% hold lots of other gases in the earth’s atmosphere (NASA). The UK Government has provided a national legislation and standards on air quality that identifies key pollutants in the air, like Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter up to 10 micrometres in size (PM10), Small Particulate Matter under 2.5 micrometre in size (PM2.5), Nitric Oxide (NO), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Ozone (O3).

How can data science support a ‘data-enabled decision making’ process?

The role of data science brings in a deep lens to interpret data with a new dimensions and opportunities. With the use of key data science technologies like Python and R, you can filter out answers in seconds. At the London Borough of Hounslow, the Data Science & Quality Team have been working on air quality data sets generated during the last 10 years, where we have learned and identified valuable insights such as, seasonal changes impacting the hot spots’ live feeds, last 10 years comparison between hot spots and its performance to gather data, correlating pollutants with each other, correlating data with 3rd party monitoring stations, engineering and deploying machine learning models for predictive insights and utilising cloud technologies for rapid outcomes for data-enabled decision making.

During our data science work, we have learned so many facts and picked up patterns based on air quality data insights, do you know that during winter season pollutants concentration within the air stays longer than summer because cold air is denser and moves slower than warm air. The image below explains last 10 years of seasonal recordings within Hounslow.

data visual for Air Quality and its pattern during seasonal changes.
Air Quality Pollutants / Visual covering yearly seasons

What can we do in future?

The Data Science & Quality Team regularly meets Environmental & Public Health colleagues and are working on future initiatives for the cleaner air in Hounslow. One of the future initiatives is to correlate past 10 years of air quality data against the public health’s respiratory datasets. This initiative will bring in new dimensions and thoughts to build on.

If you have an idea / suggestion to share or to correlate Hounslow’s Air Quality data against your datasets, then please do approach us.

Building the foundations for Digital Transformation

At Hounslow we are well on the way with all kinds of exciting work as part of the Digital Strategy. To deliver all these great services there is a lot of work that goes on often 7 days a week by the teams that report to me, and they are the unsung heroes of the work we are doing as the work done provides the foundation for all such work. 

The numbers in terms of transactions on the systems we look after on are huge for example our new online phone system has processed over 160,000 calls since it went live December and with the last phase planned today 13th May this figure will considerably increase after this. Other highlights that show the scale we work on over the last half year: 

  • 12.2 million emails  
  • 2.2 million activities in teams – up by 27% 
  • 5.2 million files in one drive – up by 6.5% 
  • Over 500,000 files on SharePoint – up by 12% 

This is in addition to the 200 plus virtual servers the teams support both on premise and in the cloud and all the work that is needed to allow our 2400 plus colleagues to operate 24/7 including our website. 

Elections 

Since January the team have been preparing for the Elections – this has involved all the planning for the polling day, the postal vote verification at Hounslow House and then the count itself. Then this week we have been ensuring the 22 new Councillors are up and running to make what is a busy time for time as smooth as possible for their Digital access. 

Team work  

There have been a lot of changes over the last 2 years with the Digital Strategy and for me, personally, doing a Digital wide show and tell every 2 weeks with the odd quiz thrown in has pushed me out of my comfort zone but I like to think I am a total natural now! 

In the final changeover today for our phone system, we moved to a new platform to ensure the resident experience can continue to improve and we have transferred over 2500 numbers – we have had 144 queries with no major issues to report. This work has involved teams across the Council collaborating virtually for most of the time but for go live day most of us have been in the building. It has been a reminder of how much (even though the tech works really well) we can get out of doing stuff with a purpose face to face.  And of course we could not have done all this without Brucie.

World Business Relationship Management (BRM) Week

Did you know it’s World BRM Week?

Within Digital and IT, as part of the Digital Transformation Team, you will find the Business Relationship Managers (BRM). There are five BRM’s who support the whole Council – each working alongside with specific directorates and partners.

The BRM’s are:

  • Ellie Lee, Strategic Relationship Lead
  • Liz Laporte, Environment, Culture & Customer Services and Finance & Resources
  • Louise Cotter, Housing, Planning & Communities and ACE
  • Parmjit Ghtoray, Children & Adults Services and Commissioning
  • Richard Holford, Lampton 360, Lampton Community Services and Lampton Leisure
Parmjit Ghtoray

We caught up with Parmjit Ghtoray, who recently joined the BRM Team, to hear more about the role:

“I’m not new to working for the council and therefore was generally familiar with other services but just within my first two weeks I’ve been exposed to so much more. I am amazed at how much I’ve learnt about the council in such a short space of time and the exciting work that is going on. It was a bit scary coming from a non-IT background into Digital and IT but everyone has been welcoming and patient in explaining what they do and the areas they look after.

“If I was asked to explain what a BRM does I would say that the BRM is the person that brings all the pieces of a puzzle together. It’s about supporting service areas with their ideas and issues, bringing the right people together, having the conversations, looking at solutions and ideas that benefit our customers and that are in line with the Council’s strategic direction.

Time to Talk day 2022

I did an article in August 2020 around mental health in Digital teams – Cognitive shade – Hounslow.Digital – at the time we were at the height of demand on our services, and we are now into 2022 with demand continuing to be high. We started this week with a major incident that affected all services and whilst we resolved very quickly, we had over 1000 phone calls in a couple of hours – on a Monday we would expect around 200 normally. 

Time to talk day on 3rd February is so important and is an area wanted to highlight. It is great that Digital transformation has moved on immensely in the public sector during this time, but it has put an enormous strain on resources alongside the need to ensure we all balance work with our personal lives as the two have increasingly blurred with the move to hybrid working. 

2021 was a difficult year for me personally. My Mum passed away during the year and we had another 3 deaths in the family plus my father had a stroke and needed to go into a nursing home. I know a lot of colleagues in the Council have related stories. The support I had from the organisation and colleagues has been fantastic – it has allowed me to talk when needed and I have always known that colleagues are there for me. It has encouraged me to address my mental health in the same way was I do my physical health which isn’t always an easy thing to do. 

For time to talk day we have lots of opportunities for all colleagues to take the time out to do this across the Council both on the day and moving forward. Within the team as Director of Digital has had coffee mornings every Friday for the last year. We are now changing it up a bit using something called icebreakerbot on teams to randomly introduce 2 colleagues to each other to encourage that informal networking. We will continue to introduce other initiatives to give all that opportunity to talk informally and recreate those water cooler moments. 

More information on time to talk day here – Time To Talk Day – Time To Talk Day. 

If you need support with your mental health, please ask – people will help. A good starting point for support is https://www.mind.org.uk/ , https://youngminds.org.uk/ or  https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ 

It couldn’t happen to me

Did you know that people are more likely to be a victim of fraud or cybercrime than any other type of crime? Can you spot all the different scams? Here we take you through several of the more common scams doing the rounds and provide useful contacts to report them, as necessary.  

  1. Copycat websites – make sure if you are using a search engine that you check that the site you select from the search results is a genuine valid site. Some sites even offer you options to do business with government agencies for a fee when a fee is not actually required. Note: some search results will be shown as Ads (Adverts) – if responding to any of these please check they are genuine. 
  1. Phishing emails/texts/letters, so called as they fish for personal, often banking data. If you receive emails (particularly unsolicited ones) asking you to click a link to update your account/banking/card details, always be VERY suspicious.  Similarly, if someone asks you for your bank/other account details through a chat/community platform, do not supply.  Banks rarely ask for your details in this way. If you receive such requests – do not respond to the details provided in the email/text/letter – but contact your supplier direct by phone or email using the contact details on your usual statements to check the validity of the email/text/letter. These frauds may also encourage you to enter your username/password from other services eg your internet/mobile phone/utilities account. Be very suspicious, and check validity with your providers.   
  1. Online sales sites – eg Facebook Marketplace/ eBay etc – if an offer is too good to be true then it probably is! Carry out some investigation into the seller, do they have positive feedback – do they look to be a genuine person? Do they suddenly ask you to make a payment outside the selling services normal routes – note “friends & family” payment options are not covered by standard payment protection options, designed to protect your purchase? Do they ask you to make a special insurance payment so they can arrange collection by courier?  In these cases you will be encouraged to make a token payment up front which will (in theory) be refunded when they pay – do not be fooled and do not send money after all they are the purchaser not you.  
  1. Problem with your computer/router/broadband etc. If you receive a cold call informing you that there is a problem with your equipment or the broadband etc and you are at risk of a virus or someone hacking into your accounts, simply put the phone down. Microsoft or major phone/internet providers do not ring up their customers to tell them about issues, and anyway they have no way of knowing about the issue remotely. If you are concerned, then contact your phone/internet provider direct using the details they provide in your statement. 
  1. Catfishing – this is where someone creates a fake/fictional identity to compromise another person in some way, this often involves developing an online friendship/relationship (to gain your trust and learn as much about you as possible) with a view to fraudulently obtaining money or simply to create upset. You should be cautious about people reaching out for new friendships, especially if they start to ask for money. 
  1. Scams on Facebook – if you are dealing with a company on Facebook check they are genuine and verified – this is shown by a blue tick after the company name. So, if you find a site offering free £100 shopping vouchers for the first 50 customers – double check that the site/page is a genuine business page by the blue tick. As an extra check there is a Page Transparency section – which will provide more information on who is responsible and the length of time the page has been operational. 
  1. Text messages – asking for payment for parcels to be delivered. These are unlikely to be genuine – again the best advice is to telephone or visit your delivery centre on their published direct number obtained from the company website. Do not contact them using the details provided on the card, as this will simply put you in direct contact with the scammers. 
  1. Fake COVID passes – you will never be required to purchase a COVID pass or booster, so ignore any requests to purchase. 
  1. Fake gift cards – remember if an offer sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t. If you receive a request to click a link to activate your free gift card – visit the company’s genuine site/telephone to check. 
  1. Insecure sites – one indicator that a site is not genuine is the lack of relevant cyber security – indicated by a padlock icon in the website browser.  If you don’t see this symbol or your browser warns you the site doesn’t have an up-to-date security certificate, that should be a warning to you to exit the site. Never provide any personal details unless the site is secure as a minimum.  But it is still important to check it is a genuine site and not a scam site. 

More information advice and examples are given in the links below: 

Digital Inclusion in Hounslow

During the last 18 months Digital inclusion challenges have been magnified which has given the team a renewed drive and focus to continue work in this area.

For some people it is issue with devices, for some it is connectivity and for some it is the confidence and training needed to use digital services. Only by being able to address all 3 can this be truly addressed .

Internally within the Council we have challenges with ensuring all colleagues have access to the right tools as all internal systems moving online.

We have a new Digital Inclusion Commitment with a new action plan to drive addressing issues internally and externally working with partners such London Office of Technology Innovation (Loti) and our Local Voluntary Services.

So what is Hounslow doing?

Hounslow now has a Digital Inclusion Group which has met regularly over the last 12 months and there continue to be deliverables across all these areas. This work has been alongside national government initiatives.

Earlier this year the Council supplied 750 devices and 150 dongles to school children – information here: Hundreds of extra laptops for Hounslow pupils | London Borough of Hounslow

Connectivity

The council has signed master wayleave agreements with 2 suppliers and this work includes social value elements and contributions towards connectivity challenges including free connections to community spaces. Further information here: Hounslow signs first full-fibre agreement | London Borough of Hounslow.

Based on current rollout schedule the council through this will be able to provide 300 residents broadband connections for a year and half price connections for another 200& – this is alongside free community wifi connections as part of this work.

Devices and training

The council is recycling laptops to residents – the aim is to complete 700 per year and we have completed the initial pilot. We are also continuing to tie this in with skills and training with the local voluntary services training people to perform this work alongside joint work with our Adult Education teams to provide digital skills.

Resident journeys

This is the feedback from two resident journeys which shows the difference this support has made:

  • Resident 1
    • This resident is a member of a support group who provide activities and support to young people with disabilities.
    • He lives independently in sheltered accommodation in the borough.
    • He was using a very old desktop computer and was pleased to receive a refurbished laptop which has allowed him to download and play games online.
    • This has meant that he can still socialise while in lockdown and can access the zoom activities arranged through the club.
    • He has learned how to create youtube videos and uploads regular content for the club.
  • Resident 2
    • A 65 year old resident, described as not being very computer savvy was referred to our Work Hounslow team for help finding work. Previously, having lost his job, he became homeless and was a year before he found accommodation. He wants to learn to use a computer.
    • Work Hounslow arranged to meet with him. Work Hounslow then asked if Learn Hounslow had a laptop he could use as she was aware we do loan them to learners.
    • We enrolled him on a short beginner’s digital skills course, and he borrowed a Chromebook. After this he returned the Chromebook, and the voluntary services were able to gift him a reconditioned laptop to use. He initially had difficulty using this as he didn’t realise where he might be able to access free wifi but the team informed him he can access free wifi in some coffee shops and public spaces such as libraries so he is now able to make full use of his new device.

Digital Festival 2021

The wait is almost over…

Digital Festival Hounslow begins on Monday 1 November and it will be bigger, bolder and better – join us for a month-long celebration of wellness, technology and all things digital!

This year’s line-up includes some fantastic sessions for colleagues with numerous guest speakers including Microsoft, Amazon and the Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation (SOCITM). You can also find out how to get involved in our new Organisational Development, Learning and Leadership Cohort at various events throughout the Festival.

We’ve also got a range of fun and exciting activities for colleagues as part of our ‘fun at the festival’ events – find out more below.

The Festival will also feature a number of bespoke sessions for residents, local community groups and voluntary sector organisations, including workshops on social media and engagement, CV building and accessibility.

SESSION BOOKINGS ARE NOW OPEN

Our programme for 2021 is now live! Check out what’s on offer at the festival and start booking your tickets here.

FUN AT THE FESTIVAL

Unique Team Building Ideas for Your Next Corporate Team Meeting - MTI Events

The Digital Festival isn’t all about work and learning.  We have planned some fun challenges which will help you connect as a team.

On the Monday of each week we will set you a fun and varied mini challenge for your team to complete and submit on the Friday. Points are awarded for completion and bonus points for creativity and even being healthy.

We also have one challenge which we will set on the first day of the Festival and you will have 4 weeks to complete which will get you out and about in our wonderful borough.

Don’t Delay! Sign up your team today and brighten up your November: Register here.

The first challenge launches on Monday 1 November at 10am – get more info here!  

Join our Organisational Development, Learning and Leadership Cohort

As part of our Organisational Wellness Strategy we want to create a flourishing workplace where everyone is able to be at their very best.

To support this ambition we’re looking for volunteers from across the Council to join our Organisation Development, Learning and Leadership Cohort. The Cohort will have lots of opportunities to get involved in new wellness initiatives, such as coaching, mentoring, facilitating development sessions and sharing new ideas. 

During November’s Digital Festival we will be running lots of sessions for you to find out more about the Cohort and what’s involved, so join us for;

  •  A virtual ‘hangout’ with the team to learn about who we are and what we do.
  • Complete our ‘Own Your Learning’ sessions, which will be on areas related to our world.
  • Join a weekly LifeClubs webinar, where you’ll explore areas related to each of our four Landmarks to help you Connect, Belong, Grow and Flourish.
  • Take part in our workshops about the big conversation we want to have and how you can support us.

You can find out more about the Organisation Development, Learning and Leadership Cohort by clicking here.

What is user research and how can you do it well?

User research allows us to move beyond assumptions to identify how we can best support our users. Great user research needs to be inclusive, non-biased and focused.

Why do we need user research?

The users of any given product or services could be internal or external. In most cases, it’s both.

When you understand your users, you are more likely to design products and services that work well for them. 

Knowing your users better means you can:

  • allocate your resources more appropriately
  • provide digital tools that make background processes more efficient
  • improve accessibility
  • free human resources to focus on the most vulnerable citizens.

So how do we learn more about our users?

What do we mean by “user research”?

User research looks to unearth the buried treasure in a way that captures an individual’s experiences, motivations and struggles.

User researchers help their organisation empathise with the people they design for and build up a genuine understanding of their daily lives, routines and the tasks they wish to perform.

As researchers, we try to find the truth in amongst often conflicting stories from different people. We realise that people can be unreliable witnesses: they might not know why they are doing the things they are doing, especially in times of distress.  There are also those who don’t want to tell you about their experience, or don’t tell you the whole truth.

Conducting user research helps us fill those gaps about our users and create services that meet their needs.

We use a range of techniques and approaches when we research.

Observational (ethnographic) research

Typically occurring early in the research process, this technique is all about observing how users behave. It helps us understand what they are trying to do and the context within which they experience our services.

User stories

User stories help to create a simplified description of a service by describing the type of user, what they want and why. User stories can help us understand some of the needs and aspirations we may have missed.

Here’s an example of a user story:

As a new dog owner

I want to find local parks

So that I can safely exercise my dog

User interviews

Having a guided, individual discussion with users helps us better understand their lived experience and the circumstances that led them to access our services.

Focus groups

During a focus group session, we ask a group of people about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a service or concept.

Usability research

After we have developed an early prototype, usability testing helps us understand how users interact with the prototype, which allows us to refine it quickly and often.

How can we make user research inclusive?

To build a good service, we need to consider the experience of a wide range of users.

This includes people who:

  • are living with disabilities
  • are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • need support to use the service.

Being inclusive isn’t just about the service, but also about the way we conduct our research. This means that we need to think inclusively when recruiting participants, selecting locations and conducting our sessions. 

What makes a good user researcher?

Good researchers need to be empathetic, curious, good listeners and able to put themselves in the shoes of the user. They should be able to probe sensitively, as sometimes users can be too polite or overwhelmed to tell us their stories. 

Questions need to be open and curious so that we capture a range of different experiences and opinions. We need to ignore our own bias and ensure that we don’t design research that presents loaded questions to our users.

Learn Hounslow

Digital Skills Course offer for Adults

Learn Hounslow is a provider of Adult and Community Education and is part of the London Borough of Hounslow. The teaching and learning provided is funded by the Greater London Authority’s Adult Education Budget (AEB). Learn Hounslow is an Ofsted ‘good’ provider where the information, advice and guidance offered is Matrix accredited.

There is a wide range of courses on offer: such as short informal courses, qualifications, or courses to enhance your employability, business, and personal development. Learn Hounslow provides course subjects across different curriculum areas. Their aim is to empower residents to realise their full potential and achieve their own goals.

The Digital Skills course offer includes a variety of digital skill courses for learners with different abilities.  

Learn Hounslow offers the following FREE Digital Skills courses for all – regardless of their financial circumstances! Choose from:

  • Digital Skills for complete beginners,
  • Essential Digital Skills qualification (Entry 3 and Level 1),
  • Microsoft Office Basics (for new users),
  • Essential Digital Skills qualification for ESOL learners.

Learn Hounslow also offers courses for adults who wish to improve their existing digital skills. Fees may apply for these courses.

If you wish to improve your digital skills or you are interested in gaining a qualification which may lead to a change in career, contact Learn Hounslow to find out more about the following courses:

  • – Microsoft Office Intermediate (non-qualification course),
  • – Spreadsheets and Word Processing Level 2 qualification.

The new Practitioner Qualification offer

Learn Hounslow has recently introduced a NEW Practitioner qualification offer. These courses include:

  • Cybersecurity Level 1 & 2
  • Introduction to Programming – Level 1 & 2
  • Introduction to Networking – Level 1 & 2

Participants on a Practitioner course must be assessed prior to starting the course. 

The syllabus is such that candidates should complete a Level 1 qualification before progressing on to a Level 2 qualification.  Learn Hounslow teaches towards Level 1 at the start of the academic year before moving onto Level 2.

Lastly, you do not have to pay any course fees if you meet the following criteria:  

  • – You are in paid employment and earn less than (£10.85 p/h) £21,157.50 annual gross salary OR
  • – You are unemployed, looking for work and in receipt of a means tested benefit.

Visit www.hace.ac.uk for more information and to browse through the latest courses available.

Call 020 8583 6000 to book a pre-course assessment, enrol onto a course, or find out more information.

Pick up a Learn Hounslow prospectus at your local library (in Hounslow borough) or visit Meadowbank Adult Education centre in Cranford to find out more about our service. We are open from Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm.

Inclusive design and accessibility

How to design and develop accessible websites?

Understanding exactly how and why people are excluded can help us establish concrete steps towards being more inclusive. We can make things better for everyone by addressing accessibility. 

All of us are going to have a disability at some point in our lives. These can be 
temporary like a broken arm, situational such as using a device in a dark room, 
or they can be natural such as progression of aging. 

Looking for points of exclusion

image showing permanent, temporary and situational disabilities
  • vision, hearing, motor or speech impairments
  • cognitive impairments (for example, ADD, dyslexia or autism)
  • situational challenges (context in which users are interacting with the product such as a dark room or a public transport combined with ability-based impairments could result in further, overlapping pain points)
  • temporary impairments (for example, a broken arm)

How to design accessible websites?

Colour

Here is a fictional university website called Accessible University. It has been created to demonstrate a variety of common accessibility problems. Try to navigate the page to identify any links. 

There are three links on the page that say, “click here”. They are not descriptive and informative and they do not meet contrast requirements, which makes them extremely difficult to spot. You can read more about contrast requirements on accessibility.digital.gov page. 

Additionally, the links rely on colour to communicate information. Colour blind users would be unable to distinguish them from non-link text. Therefore, links should always have an underline.

People may have difficulty distinguishing red and green and blue and yellow. 

Not relying on colour alone to convey important information was an essential element of the design of a symptom tracking app. Here is a prototype of the app: 

Prototype of a symptom tracking app 

On top of colours such as green representing low severity of symptoms, orange representing moderate severity and red representing severe symptoms, letters L for low severity, M for moderate and H for severe were added resulting in a system that users who can’t distinguish between colours can understand, without compromising the design for users who can see colours well and they usually associate green with low level, orange with moderate and red with severe/high level. 

image showing severity of symptoms

Text colour on white background

Many dyslexic users are sensitive to the brightness the high contrast colours cause. This is the reason why we don’t use pure black colour for text used on a white background. Our primary colour is: #0B0C0C. Our secondary colour is: #505A5F. Have a look at Hounslow Design systems to learn more about the colours, styles and components we use.

Apply background colour to input elements on all forms

Apply background colour to input elements on all forms, in case users change background colour to black so that users can still see the black text and input background colour does not go black. Learn more about how users change colour on websites.

Responsive design

The page should be readable and functional when the text size is doubled and viewed on any device or desktop. 

When designing for mobile devices make sure that your interactive elements such as buttons or links have touch targets that are large enough and there is enough space/padding around them to make them easy to press without overlapping onto other elements. This is extremely helpful to everyone but especially anyone with a motor impairment. 

Simple design

Here is a banner video used on a university website. What is your first impression of it? Functionality to stop the video is provided, which is great, but the video runs too fast. Users with cognitive impairments, for example autism, dyslexia, ADD, could find such a design particularly overwhelming.  

We should always try to create simple, minimal design to reduce distraction and cognitive load. Simple doesn’t mean boring. Here are several design examples which embrace simplicity and accessibility without compromising the user experience.  

Different ways to engage users

Having different ways to engage with content provides better experience for everyone. Here is a prototype of the same symptom tracking app you saw earlier: 

Prototype of a symptom tracking app  

It shows a calendar page which presents all symptoms a user has experienced in a particular month; a user can view symptoms based on their severity or look at a particular day to check the symptoms experienced then.  

In order to simplify a complex design users can view all symptoms or only one type of symptom, resulting in a system, that’s easier to understand, especially for people with autism spectrum disorder or cognitive impairments, who could get too overwhelmed with too much information presented at once.  

Content

Plain language

To be digitally accessible, start with plain speaking. Don’t use buzz words or technical language. 

Meaningful, descriptive link texts 

The link text should give user enough information to decide whether they want to click it 

Don’t use 
Create flexible layouts that work on any device. Learn more.

Use  
Create flexible layouts that work on any device. Learn more about responsive layouts. 

Meaningful, descriptive headings and page titles 

Use meaningful, descriptive headings and page titles. Headings communicate the organization of the content on the page. Nest headings by their rank or level. The most important heading has the rank 1 (<h1>), the least important heading rank 6 (<h6>). 

Video

Use:

  • YouTube videos. YouTube auto-generates closed captions for your videos and is great for compression if your video is too large
  • captions – text recording of any speech that appears at the same time as audio
  • volume, play/stop, rewind controls 
  • transcript

Long blocks of unbroken paragraphs

Long blocks of unbroken paragraph text are not only hard for dyslexic users to read, but for non-dyslexic users too according to 6-surprising-bad-practices-that-hurt-dyslexic-users.

That’s why it’s better to use short paragraphs that express one idea.  This is because dyslexic users need more breaks between ideas than non-dyslexic users. Breaking up your text to one idea per paragraph makes reading a lot easier for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic users.

Progressive disclosure

Show the least amount of information/functions necessary for a given task/purpose.

Users like to search and navigate

Users tend to use search boxes a lot on pages which have a lot of content. Some users will prefer to navigate the page while others will use a search box. Search boxes and navigation should go hand in hand in order to help users reach their goal.

Navigation repeated on multiple pages should appear in the same place in each time. Users can easily navigate, find content, determine where they are.  

Accessible design leads to a better user experience 

Accessible design does not only lead to better experience among users with disabilities but also among those who do not have disabilities or limitations. Many accessibility requirements improve user experience, particularly in limiting situations.  

I also love the four principles established by the team at BBC:  

  1. Give users a choice.
  2. Put users in control.
  3. Design with familiarity in mind.
  4. Prioritize features that add value. 

These principles can be applied to any project to improve user experience for everyone. 

How to develop accessible websites? 

Keyboard navigation 

Focus

Some users drive the computer entirely with the keyboard or other type of input device. For those users, focus is absolutely critical. It’s their primary mean of reaching interactive elements on the screen.  

 A link text in state focus

Colour yellow is used to indicate which element is focused on. For example, when a user tabs to an element with their keyboard. 

We only add focus to interactive controls such as buttons, form inputs, links, dropdowns etc. 

You can use tab button to navigate websites: 

image of a tab button

Pressing tab button moves focus forward

image of shift plus tab button

Pressing shift button plus tab moves focus backwards

image of arrow buttons

Pressing arrow buttons moves focus within a component

Try to navigate www.gov.uk using only your keyboard. 

As you can see it is very easy to navigate the page as the bright yellow coloured focus indicator is present on all interactive elements on the page such as links, buttons and a search box. 

Here is a fictional university website called Accessible University. It has been created to demonstrate a variety of common accessibility problems. Try to navigate the website using only your keyboard. 

As you can see the website is extremely difficult to navigate with tab buttons. There is no focus indication for keyboard users.  

To add focus use tabindex. Remember to only add it to interactive elements on your page such as buttons, links, search input, form elements etc.

A tabindex = 0 will add the element in the natural tab order.

If you don’t want an element to appear in the natural tab order set tabindex to -1. You can programmatically focus it using javascript focus() method.

Here is an html code for a button without tabindex which doesn’t have a focus. 

image of a dropdown menu button without focus

<div id=”dropdown”>Menu</div>

Here is an html code for a button with tabindex which has a focus. 

<div id=”dropdown” tabindex=”0”>Menu</div> 

Tabindex greater than 1, for example tabindex = 5, will jump the element to the front of the tab order regardless of where it is in the DOM.

Focus indicator can seem lost when navigating websites using offscreen content such as off-canvas menus. In order to fix it you can set its visibility to hidden or display none and make it visible again when users click on the menu. 

The ARIA Authoring Practices doc (or “ARIA Design Patterns doc”) is a great resource for figuring out what kind of keyboard support your components should implement.

WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices

Skip link

We can create a hidden link called skip link which gives keyboard/switch devices and screen reader users the option to bypass the top-level navigation links and jump to the main content on a page.  

It is usually included in the header. 

<a href=”#content” class=”govuk-skip-link“>Skip to main content</a> 

HTML mark-up

Screen readers rely on a good HTML structure. The browser takes the DOM tree and modifies it to make it useful to assistive technology, therefore, correct HTML mark-up is essential for accessibility. 

Have a look at Accessible University website again, and try to complete the “Apply now” form using only your keyboard. 

As you can see, it is extremely difficult to complete the form. It lacks accessible form mark-up. 

Provide text alternatives for any non-text content 

Form labels

There are two ways to add labels to your HTML code:

  1. We can use label as a wrapping element:  

<label> 

<input type=”checkbox” checked name=”jLetter”> 

Receive promotional offers? 

</label> 

2. We can also use for and id attributes:

The label element has a for attribute whose value matches the id attribute of the associated form field. 

<input type=”checkbox” checked name=”jLetter” id=”letter”

<label for=”letter”>Receive promotional offers?</label> 

Form validation

Validation should be designed in a way that considers the needs of all users, including those who can’t see the error message visually, and those who are unable to use a mouse. A good design would be one in which: 

  • the capabilities of HTML5 are fully utilized, including the required and pattern attributes, as well as <input> types such as type=”email” and type=”url”. Using these features enables browsers to provide their own validation, which is likely to be supported by assistive technologies
  • the error message includes enough detail so that all users know which fields have errors
  • the error message is written to a container that is marked up with role=”alert”. This is ARIA markup that results in screen readers announcing the message to users as soon as it appears, regardless of their current location on the page
  • the user’s focus can be sent automatically to the first field on which a correction is needed
Aria

Aria is a W3C specification that is designed to communicate roles, states, and properties of user interface elements to assistive technologies. ARIA is essential for accessibility of today’s modern web interfaces. 

WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices has a set of recommended design patterns for common widgets, including a menu design pattern. 

Text alternative

Use text alternatives for images. It’s a short written description of an image, which makes sense of that image when it can’t be viewed   

<img src=”house” alt=”picture of a house”

Make use of the tools and information available