It's been over a year since we made GOV.UK a live service and made it the official web presence of the UK Government. To date, we've done little to publish content translated into British Sign Language and I wanted to take a few minutes to explain why.
From the beginning of the work to launch GOV.UK, we knew that we wanted to make it the most accessible platform we could. Our users don't typically choose to interact with us, after all, so we owe it to each and every one of them to try and ensure that no-one is being excluded unnecessarily.
We've done a lot of work across both the GDS and the wider government to ensure that each product team has the support they need when designing and building the services they provide. We remain confident that we made the right decision in providing one responsive, accessible platform we could continue to iterate on rather than a collection of separate silos for different user groups. That said, we're still not able to definitively say that we're meeting the needs of our profoundly deaf users.
What's the user need?
I've reached out to various user groups and deaf organisations since I started working for the GDS, but to date I've yet to have the same level of contact I've had with, say, the RNIB. With little input from deaf users or from people representing their interests, I remain unsure whether the user need for us to publish content in BSL is even there.
The Equality Act (2010) states that service providers including government should make reasonable adjustments to ensure that if you are a disabled person, you can access the service as far as is reasonable on the same terms as a non-disabled person.
Because we've rewritten all of the content published on GOV.UK to be more understandable by those with lower literacy levels, it could be the case that our profoundly deaf users are perfectly able to use the site even though BSL is their first language rather than English. We may be meeting the needs of our deaf users perfectly well with our transformed digital services, without the need to provide additional material such as video content.
I'd love to understand whether our lack of BSL content is a real problem for our deaf users. If you could help, as an advocate or as a deaf user of GOV.UK, I'd very much welcome your contribution.