Digital inclusion and why it’s not enough to just focus on accessibility

Charlotte Jais - profile picture

Last year I blogged about the work I’d been doing around strengthening our approach to accessibility.

Over the last few months I’ve been building on this by tackling some of the digital inclusion tickets in our continuous improvement backlog. While previously I’d been focused pretty much solely on accessibility, it quickly became apparent the more I delved into this area that this isn’t the only way in which poorly designed services risk excluding their users.

As NHS Digital have highlighted, connectivity and digital skills are also really important parts of digital inclusion. If someone does not have access to a stable internet connection and they don’t own a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, they are likely to find it difficult to access a service that doesn’t provide an offline route. Similarly, someone who lacks confidence online and struggles with digital skills is likely to face challenges too.

One way in which we’re making sure we cover these three elements in our work is by carrying out inclusivity assessments at discovery and alpha. To do this we draw on insights from various activities that we’ve carried out, such as interviews with users and stakeholders, workshops, and surveys, to see where users are likely to have needs relating to digital inclusion and how these can be met.

This assessment is written up as a section of our report, and addresses the following key questions:

  • Where are the different users of the service likely to fall on the digital inclusion scale?
  • How likely or unlikely is it that the different users of the service have what they need to be able to access the service?
  • What are the potential access needs of the different users of the service?

We then use this information as the basis for our recommendations on how to provide an inclusive service.

It’s also important to note that accessibility, connectivity and digital skills are not mutually exclusive. For example, people with disabilities are three times more likely to lack the skills they need to get online. This creates additional barriers for some users.

This is why it’s not enough for us to just focus on accessibility when we’re talking about supporting clients to provide inclusive services. We need to make sure that we consider connectivity and digital skills too. Otherwise, while we may be helping to solve problems for some users, there are still others that are being left behind.

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