Weeknotes: Language attributes and accessibility

tobiogunsina Product management, weeknotes Leave a Comment

This was another short week for me – Monday was a bank holiday and I had Friday off again. Yay! 

I spent a lot of this week thinking about languages, accessible documents and the importance of strategy. 

What went well

One of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 is that the information you provide must be readable and understandable. You should identify the language in which the content is written and identify any changes in the default written language of the content so that assistive technologies understand it and can switch to the appropriate accent or pronunciation for that language.

When the language attribute is missing or incorrect, the language is not understandable. This is a high impact problem especially for people using assistive technologies like screen readers because it means they won’t understand the information or how to complete tasks. This is bad. 

Thanks to Data labs, we were able to use language detection to find instances of GOV.UK pages that have the wrong language attribute  i.e they have the english language attribute when the page content is written in a different language and GOV.UK pages that have mixed languages in their content without a change in the language attribute. 

I had ‘fun’ analysing and finding patterns in the report (and finding a lot of fascinating content in the process) so we now know the different causes of the problem and they range from the publishing workflow for non-english content to lack of support in the publishing tools to lack of clarity on how to publish non-english content. 

We will be spending sometime next week considering what we can fix, how we can fix this and how to help publishers in time for the deadline. The core problem is probably a lack of clear language strategy. 

Support for non-english languages needs to stop being an afterthought and considered properly starting from the needs so that the publishing workflow and guidance for publishers can be created with that strategy in mind. Currently, we support about 61 languages! The need for the language strategy is something we’ve been talking about for a while but I think this issue provides more evidence to show why it is important to have one. I’m strangely excited about exploring this space.  

GOV.UK teams usually have a program check in with the senior management team every 4 weeks to talk about progress made, confidence, risks, team health etc. We had one this week where we were able to discuss the continuity of the accessibility team after the deadline for meeting the guideline. Racing towards deadline has meant that there’s still a lot that can still be done to make things better for users and ensure that GOV.UK remains accessible in a sustainable way. I’m excited that the importance of this is clear and I’m keen to create a proper roadmap with the team. 

We had more conversations about the approach to requesting accessible formats of documents and we also got some feedback from publishers. It became clear that the current workflow is not intuitive enough for GOV.UK users, publishers and even for efficient management of published content. We decided to provide more information in the accessibility statement on how to request accessible formats of documents which is enough for now while we take the time to properly design a better workflow for requesting accessible formats after the deadline. 

I also spent a lot of time having conversations with several disciplines and accessibility specialists to make sure we have enough context and information on the cards for the next sprint. We call those conversations pre planning and I’ve found it more effective than trying to have those conversations in the sprint planning session. The goal is usually that at the end of preplanning we’ve agreed on the sprint goals, have an outline of each story/task and actions to write/update stories. It works well.

What could have been better

We’ve updated the image guidance and given departments a list of their GOV.UK pages with images to review their image descriptions because departments are responsible for their own content. Naturally, we’ve gotten a number of questions that we now have to find time to answer while racing towards the deadline. It would have been easier for both parties if this was not happening so close to the deadline but 2020 has been an interesting for GOV.UK and the accessibility team just restarted in July 

In other news

The product managers working on GOV.UK publishing, platform and presentation product managers met again to think about some long running problems and information that might help us think about how to tackle them. I love that we are doing this collaboratively so we can feedback into the GOV.UK roadmap more effectively. 

I attended the accessibility community meet up which was helpful to see what other teams were doing for accessibility across the organisation

I also attended the let’s talk about race sessions. I don’t think I’m the target audience but it’s nice to see people get educated about structural racism, white privilege and being anti-racist.