Participation A to Z: accessibility

April 12, 2024 by No Comments | Category Accessibility, consultation, digital platforms, Get involved, Lived experience, Our work

We are beginning a new A-Z series of posts. Each letter of the alphabet will cover a different topic in participation and public engagement. We hope you enjoy this mini-series, and without further ado, we’re kicking things off today with A for Accessibility! 

What do we mean by accessibility? 

When we talk about accessibility we mean providing people with equal opportunity to participate to the fullest extent possible whether this be getting the same information, visiting the same places, participating in the same interactions, or accessing and enjoying the same services. 

Have you heard of the ‘social model’ of disability? It’s based on the idea that people are disabled when their environment fails to meet their needs. Those failures can be social, physical, or because of attitude or the way we communicate. 

The social model of disability does not mean people are not disabled, it challenges us to find and remove the environmental barriers that get in their way. In other words, it says that society needs to change to better support disabled people, not that disabled people need to change so they can participate in society. It supports the idea that disabled people have a right to be full and independent members of society on an equal basis with others. 

Accessibility and inclusion 

We often use the word inclusion, alongside accessibility and we will here. However, these words are often used interchangeably and while they overlap, they are different. 

Accessibility is how we measure the quality of content for disabled people. In digital and built environments it’s based on recognised regulations and standards, and meeting those standards is the minimum we should do so we do not create barriers for disabled people. 

Inclusion is more about diversity because it focuses on things like culture, language, geography, and digital exclusion, as well as people with disabilities. 

When it comes to public engagement in Scottish Government, we rarely talk about accessibility without also looking at inclusion.  

Accessibility and participation 

As a government, we have a responsibility to provide access to our services for all the people of Scotland. One in five people in Scotland has a long-term health problem or disability. We provide information and services for everyone so we must ensure our digital services do not exclude people. 

Digital accessibility is about building websites and services which work for disabled users. Some of these users may be using assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, assistive input devices or navigating using the keyboard. It’s not only about assistive technologies. It’s about ensuring designs consider use of colour, layout and the complexity of written content. 

Written consultation is our most frequently used digital participation activity. The Digital Engagement Team help policy teams ensure their consultations are digitally accessibility. This includes ensuring the text is formatted correctly using appropriate headings, tables, etc which are compatible for screen readers, checking for the inclusion of alt text that describes any images used in the consultation, use of labels, hyperlinks, acronyms, and clear, simple language for readability. We know that without without these essential inclusive design features we could potentially be excluding people from having a say in the decision-making process on matters that affect them. Take a look at the accessibility statement for our consultation hub for more info 

We spoke to Suzanne from the Mental Health Directorate to find out how they have considered accessibility and inclusion when designing their Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill consultation. 

Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill: consultation 

“At every stage in our work leading up to and including our public consultation we have engaged extensively with lived experience. A Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP) was formed to direct and comment on our work, the consultation paper, and its proposals. Creating spaces and listening carefully has enabled us to take steps to ensure both the consultation paper and the way people can respond are as accessible as possible to neurodivergent and learning disabilities communities. 

As our main consultation document was long and complex, and given that our consultation questions followed a non-linear approach, we funded a post within the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities to ensure all documents were translated to easy read. We also created a separate easy read booklet for each of the sections within the consultation, which are available via the Citizen Space consultation hub, as well as on our Scottish Government website and in hard copy too. 

We felt it was also important to provide a summarised version of the full consultation document and further provided an audio version and British Sign Language (BSL) video. As people are born with a learning disability and neurodivergence (and often a combination of multiple conditions) we also ensured we had a child-friendly version of our consultation paper addressing the sections most applicable to children and young people and accompanied this with a guide for adults to support children and young people to respond. 

We would encourage people to submit responses online using Citizen Space but to be as inclusive as possible, we made sure you can send us responses in a variety of ways, including via charities or support workers and we set up a Freepost address to receive offline responses as well. 

For anyone about to embark on similar work, we urge you to consider neurodivergent people and people with learning disabilities and to apply good practice in providing information in clear, simple, and unambiguous formats and most importantly to offer easy read versions. It takes time and budget, but these should be set aside to ensure no one is exclude from taking part” 

The Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill: consultation closes on 21 April and the team are hoping to receive a lot of responses, all helped by the accessible and inclusive methods and resources developed to support people to respond. 

For more insights into participation and public engagement in Scottish Government read our other posts on our participation blog.

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