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One of the core offerings of our new Digital Nations Group (DNG) is providing a lively forum for members to discuss their own digital issues with other organizations who share similar challenges.

Every month we’re running an hour-long online “hangout” where one Digital Nations Group member or guest organization can bring a particularly thorny digital problem to the table, and then get instant feedback, answers and even inspiration from other teams.

Judging by our first hangout, these sessions will prove to be a great way to share learnings, explore issues and build community.

The importance of accessibility

We were thrilled that our very first hangout involved the Scottish Government (the devolved government for Scotland in the UK) to talk about “Harnessing digital to make public services accessible and inclusive”.

Accessibility is a massive issue, which rarely gets the attention it deserves, both in relation to the digital workplace and in providing public services. It is often far lower down the agenda than it should be, even though an accessible web and digital services for all are now essential components of a fair, democratic and inclusive society.

While the team from the Scottish Government were keen to explore how other organizations are using digital to make services more accessible, it turned out we all also had a lot to learn from the Scottish Government.

British Sign Language in Scotland

The work the Scottish Government is doing with British Sign Language (BSL) users is truly inspirational.

British Sign Language is a language in its own right with its own grammar, syntax and vocabulary. There are even local dialects and what are considered to be accents. BSL is not a translation of English using the hands!

Significantly, this means that of the approximately 12,000 BSL users in Scotland, some may not know English or will have it as their second language. There are also some users who are visually impaired, so deliver BSL in tactile form.

Supporting accessibility and inclusivity

The Scottish Government is committed to making life easier for BSL users. As well as a general commitment to providing accessible and inclusive public services, the Scottish Government has declared its intention to:

“Make Scotland the best place in the world for British Sign Language users to live, work and visit”.

Most notably, Scotland is first in the UK to recognize BSL as an official language. Underpinning this groundbreaking decision, a number of bodies and initiatives have been set up to support the changes and improvements needed.

The fact that many of these groups have a strong emphasis on inclusivity and involving BSL users should be applauded.

For example:

  • A BSL National Advisory Group is made up of people from nine public bodies and ten BSL users, including under 18-year-olds, the visually impaired and parents of deaf children.
  • A Deaf Sector Partnership has been created to help co-ordinate the activities of five organizations which offer practical support to the advisory group and public bodies.
  • A BSL National Plan has been introduced for consultation, which includes ten goals across public services, health, transport, democracy and more. Filmed messages from Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and others have been translated into BSL inviting people to give their input.

Everyday challenges of BSL users

During the hangout we also got some salient reminders of how BSL users face many challenges in their everyday lives. Daily activities which many of us take for granted can be challenging and frustrating for BSL users:

The BSL National Plan aims to tackle some of the everyday challenges BSL users face, particularly around using public services. For example:

  • keeping up to date with transport announcements at stations, which are sometimes audio only
  • difficulty in visiting the doctor’s surgery, where it may be hard to communicate without an interpreter or to understand critical information relating to a prescription, e.g. how many times a day to take how many tablets
  • relying on subtitles when a BSL user does not have English as their first language
  • having to wait for a BSL translation for important news, which is rarely available at the time it is issued
  • dialing emergency services.

How can digital help?

In the last part of the hangout we covered some of the approaches and digital tools that can remove some of the daily challenges for BSL users.

We discussed a range of measures already being undertaken by organizations inside their own digital workplaces, including:

  • providing transcripts for all videos
  • using a filmed BSL translator for important news
  • allowing questions in live events to be submitted via text which appears on a screen at the front
  • using an app to grade how easy to read content is.

Watch this space!

However, overall, it feels as if Scottish Government is leading the way when it comes to accessibility.

It has already been hard at work setting the wider context for real long-term improvements to take place – and we’re going to be following closely to see what they do next.

Clearly, digital will play a major part in the solutions implemented. Just as Scottish Government is leading the way in policy, you can be sure it will also be leading in accessibility for digital services too.

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We look forward to hearing from new entities who are seeking solutions to similar challenges!

About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a research associate, benchmark evaluator and knowledge manager for DWG. He is also a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in knowledge management, collaboration, intranet and social business. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme. He recently co-wrote a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson.

Steve is passionate about being able to work from anywhere, and is occasionally seen in local coffee shops with his trusty laptop. When not working, Steve can be found exploring London with his family.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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