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By Angwen Vickers, Senior Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer at NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB).

Do you know that barriers to digital access impact approximately 1.3 billion people world-wide who have disabilities or impairments? This represents 16% of the world’s population, or 1 in 6 of us.

Nationally there are 14.6 million disabled people in the UK, which is 1 in 5 people (Scope). In West Yorkshire, 17.6% of us are disabled where day to day activities are limited a little or a lot, with a further 6.5% having long term physical or mental health conditions but where day-to-day activities are not limited (Census 2021).

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is about making sure anyone who needs to can use digital content as easily as possible. This means making sure that when we design websites, digital tools, apps, or content, they can be used by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. It means removing barriers from digital environments, such as websites and apps, which make them much harder to use or prevent people from accessing them. The people most affected will be disabled people but making things more accessible benefits everyone.

Scope research indicates that 78% of disabled people say that having access to digital technologies is helpful or very helpful, but that disabled people are over 50% more likely to face barriers to accessing digital and online services than non-disabled people. And if you have an impairment, you are three times more likely not to have the skills to access devices and get online.

The importance of accessibility

For anyone who knows me, I talk a lot about accessibility and its importance. As a disabled person, I often find myself unable to access information or participate equally in society. Simple things like booking tickets for a train, or buying something online, or even accessing medical information can be difficult or impossible.

I dread when someone tells me to use a mobile app, knowing that most likely I am going to have issues. And, yes, nine times out of ten I can’t use the app.  Or when someone says use the QR code and there is no other way to access the information contained in it. My heart sinks when I get sent a poster via email in an image format and then have to explain that I can’t access the information on it.

I cannot explain how demoralising it is, how tiring it is, to have to share why I can’t access something or to ask for an accessible version. It is really humiliating and embarrassing to have to continually explain and justify why you can’t use something and why you need something ‘different’. The majority of the time, if it had been designed accessibly (properly), I would not need an accessible alternative nor would many other disabled people.

In my professional role in the ICB, I champion accessibility, advising colleagues on how to make sure information and content is accessible. I have recently rewritten our guidance and minimum standards to help make sure the information and content we produce is accessible. We have made accessible content training mandatory for staff, and I will be training colleagues to become accessibility champions.  I am involved in collaborative work in Kirklees to raise awareness and share best practice about digital accessibility.

The key thing that I would ask everyone to remember is that accessible information and content are not just about making sure your websites or apps are legally compliant. It is about making sure that everyone, both staff and our communities, have equitable access to information and services.

What can I do to improve digital accessibility?

Thank you for reading.

Angwen

Angwen Vickers

View more inequalities blogs below or on our Reducing Inequalities Alliance webpage. To write a blog about inequalities work you’re involved in, please email ria@bradford.nhs.uk

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