The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Customer Accessibility Design Team is transforming the way disabled people access information that is important to them. One of the most exciting projects we have been working on recently is the introduction of new easy read communications standards and products.
What’s easy read and how does it meet user needs?
Easy read is an alternative way of presenting information which combines images and text. Images are left-aligned on the page, with supporting text for each image on the right side. This placing gives the reader an idea of what the written text says.
Transforming complex information into clear and understandable text helps all DWP's customers. This is supported by the GOV.UK Service Manual, which explains how accessibility is not just for “people with disabilities – all users will have different needs at different times and in different circumstances”.
Providing information in an easy read format means that our customers are able to more clearly understand our communications and services. This has led to some of our customers being more independent as they no longer have to rely on others to understand guidance or explain a document.
Here’s what we did.
In April 2018 we started our discovery phase to address concerns with our alternative format products. We knew, through partners and independent reports, that customers with learning disabilities, poor literacy or English as a second language are at times confused by complex DWP information and need extra help to understand it.
We researched and scoped what already existed. For example, easy read products from disability charity Change, guidance from the New Zealand Office for Disability Issues, and easy read products on GOV.UK.
We started to build a support network through the cross-government accessibility community, internal colleagues, charities that support people with learning difficulties, and other government departments.
We soon discovered that there were no cross-government easy read standards, no consistency in products across departments, and variations in quality. We also found there were considerable costs across government in outsourcing easy read production to suppliers.
Our discovery found that to make easy read consistent and helpful, we needed:
- skilled people, to build capability in easy read principles and design formats
- proven best practice standards for producing easy read products
- a suite of easy read products across different DWP services
- upskilling and awareness of user facing colleagues in how to provide easy read products
- promotion of the availability of easy read to customers
Prototype and testing
We developed and tested a prototype product for Access to Work. Using a test and learn approach, we applied feedback and results from user testing and consultations to iterate the prototype.
We were hugely helped by learning difficulties charities Mencap and People First. We spent time with both charities in person and on the phone talking through each line, each picture, each page and each element to make sure we met user needs.
Mencap set up user testing with people who have learning disabilities. Early feedback identified we needed to improve the clarity of images and also how well they related to the text. Finding suitable images that reflected some of our processes and the wording associated with benefits was a challenge.
We secured approval from our internal Software Asset Management governance board, which has to approve new technology, to introduce the use of Photosymbols into DWP. Photosymbols is an external picture sharing website that has over 10,000 images taken specifically for use in easy read products.
We secured funding to purchase our own multimedia camera equipment. We set up a green room in one of DWP’s buildings in Tyneview Park where the team is based. This has significantly improved the quality of our products and addressed our testing feedback.
We refined the written text in our prototype based on customer feedback. We made use of several online tools, such as the Hemingway App, which helped us develop a clear writing style for our easy read products and communications.
How it was received
DWP published its first easy read product for Access to Work in January 2019. We received positive feedback from stakeholders and customers. This feedback included: "the best easy read product I've ever seen", “it is really good and very easy to understand" and "at long last something I can understand". Following this successful prototype, we developed easy read products for Support for Mortgage Interest.
DWP easy read standards
From our work, we wrote DWP’s first easy read standards. Mencap, colleagues from HM Revenue & Customs and Department for Health and Social Care endorsed these. We've found our standards are not only used by designers, but also community partners and accessibility advocates when they are speaking to easy read suppliers. At the moment, these are internal documents, but we hope to publish them soon and will be blogging about it then.
We are currently developing a set of easy read products for Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit. Our easy read standards have been adopted even as far as The Department of the Premier and Cabinet in Australia, but we want to push this further.
Our next steps include implementing our easy read standards across all government departments. This will bring consistency and quality to easy read products providing a proven service for the target audience. It also reduces government costs by producing work in-house rather than outsourcing.
Content designers in DWP are working on an easy read HTML template so we can move away from PDF. Currently, our easy read products are in PDF format so we can follow the design format of images left, text right. We recognise PDF does not work for everyone and has limitations so look forward to seeing what we can do HTML-wise, and see this as a work in progress.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
You can contact us at OEDCustomerCommunications.AccessibilityDesign@DWP.GOV.UK