Creating Triad’s accessibility empathy lab

Recently, I had an opportunity to work alongside excellent colleagues from Triad and the Department for Transport (DfT) as a QA practice lead, developing the new Manage Motor Fuel Greenhouse Gas Emissions service for GOV.UK. The new service allows the DfT to evidence that fuel suppliers have met the Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions reduction targets (4% in 2019, 6% in 2020) set out in The Motor Fuel (Road Vehicle and Mobile Machinery) Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Regulations 2012.

Being a GOV.UK service, it is required that the service meets level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) and must pass the Government Digital Service (GDS) assessment.

In this article, I want to introduce web accessibility considerations including the use of an accessibility empathy lab, like the one we created at Triad to test this website, and cover some of the benefits that follow.


What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility means that websites, tools and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web, including vision, hearing, cognitive, learning, neurological, physical/motor and speech, as well as neurodiverse conditions such as Dyslexia, Autism, Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and more…


Why accessibility matters?

The web has become an essential part of society, but 1 in 5 people have some form of disability that makes it more difficult for them to work in a digital world than the rest. It has, therefore, become increasingly important to make your web applications accessible by all, including people with disabilities.

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities; such as people using different devices, people with changing abilities due to ageing, temporary disabilities, situational limitations such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio, and people with a slow internet connection or limited bandwidth.


Web accessibility at Triad

Following a number of projects working with the UK Government on key services, at Triad we had developed an in-depth understanding of both how to build and the benefits of building websites and digital applications that are accessible by all, including people with disabilities. It’s now our aim, with all such developments, to consider accessibility from the design phase through to development and testing.

We follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 design principles while designing and developing our websites and digital applications to make them accessible. The WCAG 2.1 are an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility. They explain about how to make digital services, websites and apps accessible to everyone, including users with impairments.

To help our development teams achieve and optimise output, we also have created an accessibility empathy lab.


What is an accessibility empathy lab?

Triad’s accessibility empathy lab enables our QAs and developers to test how people with impairments may interact with the digital applications we build. It is inspired by Government Digital Services (GDS) accessibility empathy lab.

Importantly, the idea is to use the lab not only as an assistive technology testing space, but also to raise awareness about accessibility within our internal and external client teams.


What’s in the lab?

The lab contains the following equipment.

  • Windows 10 laptop with accessibility tools, including NVDA, JAWS and ChromeVox screen readers; ZoomText (screen magnification), Axe accessibility checker chrome extension that scans through a web page and reports any accessibility violations with respect to WCAG 2 guidelines; WCAG 2.0 colour contrast checker and Colorblinding – colour blind simulator. In addition to these tools, it also contains built-in accessibility settings such as Narrator, Magnifier and Colour contrast.
  • Windows 7 laptop with NVDA and ChromeVox screen readers and ZoomText (screen magnification).
  • Mac for using VoiceOver screen reader and other accessibility settings.
  • iPhone for using VoiceOver screen reader and other accessibility settings.
  • Android phone for using Talkback screen reader.
  • A set of goggles that simulate different visual impairments.
  • Magnifying glass.

The lab also contains inclusive design posters such as the Home Office accessibility posters, translated into many different languages.


Goggles that simulate different visual impairments


How we use this lab?

Since opening a year ago, our QA team has successfully used the lab for accessibility testing of the new Manage Motor Fuel Greenhouse Gas Emissions service, which passed the GDS Beta assessment with no issues.

Aside from testing applications, this lab has also helped our development teams to understand more about accessibility needs and standards, and to familiarise themselves with the different technologies and software that people use to interact with websites.

Delegates trying accessibility glasses in PowerApps meetup


What’s next?

This lab is accessible to all our consultants and we want to encourage them and our clients to include accessibility in their development process. We also want to widen its capabilities by setting up other accessibility tools and assistive technologies that are available in the market.

We believe at Triad, that by improving the awareness of accessibility and assistive technologies in the wider community, both users and clients will benefit. If it can be considered at the outset of a development project and the whole team has had the opportunity to visit an accessibility empathy lab, plus use it during development, the resulting applications will be more inclusive and usable for all users. It will also help your business to comply with the new GDS accessibility policy.

This important theme is already gaining mainstream recognition as demonstrated by a recent session I presented, together with my colleague Pieter Veenstra, about PowerApps & Accessibility in a Microsoft PowerApps group meetup, with more planned in the near future.


Venu Botla

Senior consultant, Triad Group Plc