UK National Delivery Plan 2023
Improve standards of accessibility, safety and inclusiveness across online services.
What already exists
Across the UK, there are a range of organisations that focus on making the online world a more accessible and inclusive place. AbilityNet, for example, offers services to help disabled people use technology more effectively. The Digital Accessibility Centre provides testing and auditing services to ensure that websites and digital platforms are accessible, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Disability Rights UK advocate for online accessibility. All organisations that offer digital services must focus on ensuring that they are accessible, and great progress has been made, particularly with respect to public sector digital services. However, when it comes to ensuring the universality of truly inclusive digital design, there is still a long way to go.
In addition to accessibility, inclusion must also extend to ensuring a safe and secure environment for internet users. The UK Government is taking steps in this direction by introducing the Online Safety Bill, which is aimed at promoting online safety for all users. Furthermore, organisations like Internet Matters are working to create a safer online space through various initiatives and campaigns.
Ensuring accessibility, safety, and inclusiveness is crucial to ensure that everyone can interact fully with the online world on their own terms. While there have been significant advancements in making digital services more accessible much work still needs to be done, particularly with regard to the inclusiveness and design of non-public sector essential digital services. Research shows that most non-internet users across almost every age category are disabled33; this highlights the need for action to ensure that digital service design is not based on a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
To achieve this, we need a cross-sector mandate that ensures all individuals have the necessary support to access online services in a way that suits their needs. This goes beyond requirements for ‘assisted digital’ and towards what the author of the UK Government’s first digital strategy describes as “internet-era service design to reach all users, regardless of channel.”34
In this section, we will highlight the critical role of accessibility and inclusivity in online service design, as well as the importance of creating a safer internet culture that empowers and supports everyone. Ensuring that online services are designed to be accessible and inclusive is essential for enabling all individuals to participate fully in the digital world, regardless of their abilities or circumstances.
Actions for 2023/24 Phase 1
3.1 Raise awareness and understanding about the importance of accessibility in digital product and service design.
3.2 Build on existing work through the online media literacy strategy and the making sense of media plan to ensure media literacy education and training is accessible to all.
3.3 GDS and Cabinet Office to build on existing work to ensure all public service websites and applications have the highest standards of accessibility.
3.4 Encourage DPA members to ensure compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility guidelines, subject to further consultation.
Actions by 2030 Phase 2-4
3.5 Develop mechanisms to incentivise developers to prioritise accessibility compliance.
3.6 UK Government to develop a mechanism to enforce public sector accessibility regulations across non-public sector digital services.
3.7 Policymakers across the UK to review existing support available in relation to assistive technology.
3.8 Produce a regular monitoring report of adherence to WCAG compliance standards across websites and applications of non-public sector digital service providers.
3.9 Advocate for digital service and product design to include testing by people with low or no digital skills.
3.10 Ensure all offline options are protected for those that are unable or unwilling to access digital services in both public and private sectors.
3.11 To build on work to facilitate greater levels of algorithmic transparency.
Theory of Change
- UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review
- National Delivery Plan
- National Delivery Committee
- Digital inclusion ecosystem
- Stakeholder engagement and support
Accessibility and assistive technology
Adult Internet Users by disability and age group
Source: Office for National Statistics – Internet Users, Labour Force Survey (LFS) Exploring the UK’s digital divide – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
In 2018, the UK Government adopted requirements for all public sector websites to uphold accessibility standards based on the internationally recognised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).35 While central government websites generally have excellent standards of accessibility, websites administered at a local level, such as those through local councils or NHS trusts, are less consistent in their adherence to these guidelines.
Yet despite local variability, there is nevertheless a robust programme of monitoring to ensure compliance with the regulations that is conducted by the Central Digital and Data Office within the Cabinet Office. A review conducted in 2021 found accessibility issues with virtually all 593 tested websites.36
Currently, this monitoring method is not applied to non-public sector digital services. The Equality Act (2010) does provide a legal basis for requiring businesses to make reasonable adjustments to services for individuals with protected characteristics, including disabilities,37 and these provisions apply irrespective of whether services are provided online or offline. However, at the time of writing, no organisation has been successfully taken to court under the Equality Act in relation to the accessibility of online services. An action was brought by The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) against the government in relation to website accessibility, but this was settled out of court.38
So, to create a more responsive mechanism for enforcing accessibility requirements, UK Government should conduct reviews on non-public sector websites for accessibility standards, with the power to issue fines to websites that repeatedly fail to implement guidelines. This would provide a more proactive enforcement approach and incentivise private sector organisations to prioritise accessibility in their digital services. Alongside this, there is a need for an ongoing report series detailing the state of accessibility and safety across public and private sector digital websites and services. Greater levels of awareness and visibility to recognise and praise good practice, but also to call out bad practice, will help to increase awareness and action.
Assistive technology can also play a crucial role in facilitating web accessibility for disabled individuals. However, the cost can present a significant barrier to access.3 It is imperative that the existing support ecosystem continues to highlight the benefits of assistive technology. In addition, policymakers across the UK should consider ways to increase the availability and affordability of assistive technologies. This could include offering tax incentives to companies that develop and sell assistive technologies, investing in research and development to drive down costs, and partnering with technology providers to increase access to these products.
Inclusive service design
Accessibility is crucial for ensuring that everyone can access the benefits of the online world. However, inclusive service design requires more than just facilitating access to a digital service. It also involves protecting offline options for those who face additional barriers to engage. With the closure of traditional face-to-face options, there is a risk that some people will be excluded from engagement with government and commercial services. UK bank branches, for example, have almost halved since 2015.39
Where digital apps replace services that have been traditionally offered via face-to-face or telephone options, it is imperative that services are designed with the needs of users in mind. In some instances, password-protected accounts can hinder the provision of financial and housing assistance, and the sharing of relevant documentation. This issue is particularly problematic when services are accessed solely through a smartphone. The Universal Credit journal system, Council Tax online accounts, and certain banking apps highlight the need for all apps to assume that users will access them on their phone, and they need to enable easy sharing of readable documents with third parties.
It is also critical that digital products and services are tested by people who have low levels of digital capability. User-centric design involves incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences within the design process. It is critical that developers test products and services with users with low or no digital skills. Most digital products are routinely tested for accessibility standards, but in some cases, testers with accessibility needs are already tech-savvy. As such, organisations like AbilityNet are well-placed to raise awareness about the need to include ensure that digital product and service testing is as inclusive as possible.
A key part of ensuring that everyone can realise benefits from the online world relates not only to ensuring access but also the quality of access. Online harms reflect a diverse range of challenges, such as online abuse, cyber-attacks, data breaches, and misinformation. The nature of these harms is inherently complex, and any regulatory solutions are bound to involve trade-offs.40 To respond to these challenges, the UK Government has introduced the Online Safety Bill.41 The broad intentions of the bill are welcome, especially with respect to making social media providers more accountable for the content they share on their platforms, but there are legitimate concerns about the implications of the Bill for privacy and security. While welcome in some respects, the Bill will not be sufficient to address the full range of complexities that impact online safety.
A significant issue with respect to online harm relates to the use, or sometimes misuse, of personal data. It is critical to provide people with more control over their data in both the public and private sectors. To achieve this, greater transparency must be implemented to enable individuals to understand how their personal information is being used and the rights they hold as digital citizens. It is critical to ensure that when algorithms are used for decision-making purposes, they are transparent and accountable. Work carried out by the Cabinet Office in relation to the Algorithmic Transparency Recording Standard42 provides an important mechanism to ensure transparency within public sector organisations. It will be critical to ensure that mechanisms to enable people to take control of their data are enhanced and expanded.
It will also be vital to prioritise digital and media literacy, and to empower individuals with the knowledge and skills to navigate the online world safely. Action is needed to build on the Online Media Literacy Strategy43 and the Making Sense of Media Annual Plan44 to ensure that digital and media literacy education and training are accessible to all. It is necessary to integrate support into these plans for the individuals and families who are currently experiencing, or have recently experienced, digital poverty, as they may be vulnerable to online risks and harms. Identifying effective strategies for mitigating these risks is crucial while ensuring everyone can fully benefit from digital technology.
It is necessary to integrate support into both the Online Media Literacy Strategy, and the Making Sense of Media Annual Plan for the individuals and families who are currently experiencing, or have recently experienced, digital poverty, as they may be vulnerable to online risks and harms. Identifying effective strategies for mitigating these risks is crucial while ensuring everyone can fully benefit from digital technology.
Fortunately, there are a range of organisations and initiatives that are focused on supporting this agenda. Internet Matters and similar organisations play a crucial role in achieving this by offering skills training programmes, creating online safety guidelines, and collaborating with schools, community organisations, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of potential online risks. Platforms such as Learn My Way, the digital skills learning platform developed by Good Things Foundation, offers information and resources on staying safe online for those with low/no digital skills.
The Scottish Government has recognised the importance of digital literacy by equating it with traditional literacy and numeracy, and there is a strong case for the universal application of this principle. This encompasses not only technical proficiency in digital tools and platforms but also the understanding of how to stay safe online and navigate the digital realm with confidence.
Why digital access matters:
Breaking down barriers.
What people with disabilities have said about why digital access matters to them:
It’s had a good impact. It’s given me more independence. It’s allowed me to keep my interests and access them in a different way. I’m able to do things I’m interested in when I want to do them.
– Digital Lifeline recipient
I didn’t have anybody visiting, and I couldn’t see anyone. I got myself in a bit of a mess with things like putting out the rubbish. It was a lot better keeping in touch after I got the tablet.
– Digital Lifeline recipient
I bought a new cooker, fridge and freezer online, and I got new lights for my flat. It’s good because things can be a bit dearer in a shop, and then you have to carry the stuff home.
– Digital Lifeline recipient
Supporting people with disabilities through technology.
It is critical that everyone can access technology, no matter what their circumstances are. This is particularly important when it comes to people living with a disability.
AbilityNet is a charity that provides support to disabled people to make the most out of technology. Alex Barker, who works at the charity, is a passionate advocate of making sure everyone has equal access to technology. As a disabled person, he knows first-hand the transformative power of technology in his daily life. He identifies digital exclusion and poverty as a real problem, and notes that many people are excluded because they cannot afford to pay for either the devices or connectivity they need.
For people living with disabilities, engaging with the online world poses challenges. Alex believes that instead of telling people that they cannot do something, they need someone to sit with them, take time, and provide solutions to help them get online. There is no one-size-fits-all approach because each person has unique needs. Built-in technologies, such as screen readers, zoom function, and spell checkers like Grammarly, can help customise the user experience.
Alex has been involved in several initiatives aimed at supporting disabled people. The Digital Lifeline Project saw AbilityNet, along with partners, providing devices to help people stay connected during COVID-19. The project involved Lenovo donating devices, which partners distributed to end-users. The project made a real difference in helping people with learning disabilities use technology in a way that suited and met their needs.
To support everyone in engaging with the digital world, Alex believes that it starts with making sure everyone has equal access to technology. Donations of devices are essential, especially during the pandemic when people were more reliant on technology. Organisations should also take the time to provide solutions tailored to each user’s needs rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.
For more information on the work of AbilityNet and the lifeline project, check out their website.
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Read the overview
We have condensed the following National Delivery Plan 2023 into a 10 page PDF. This provides an overview of our approach, the six missions and their suggested actions.