One billion people in the world live with some form of disability, according to the World Bank. How can governments ensure their services are accessible to all?

“Focusing on accessibility is completely aligned with that goal of developing better and higher quality products,” said Gloria Chua, Product Designer, Experience Strategy and Design at GovTech Singapore.

Speaking at the Inclusive Business Forum 2020 on workplace disability inclusion, GovTech shared five steps it has taken towards building more inclusive products and services. The Forum was organised by SG Enable, an agency that enables people with disabilities.

1. Test

GovTech built its own tool to help create more inclusive products. The tool, Purple HATS, automatically conducts accessibility tests when building a digital service, so developers can build inclusivity into the product development process more systematically.

2. Be conscious of who you’re excluding

Developers need to be conscious of who they might unintentionally exclude with each product. “When we first think about inclusion and accessibility, the top of mind disabilities that we think of are typically sensory in nature, or perhaps cognitive disability,” said Chua.

But there is no such thing as a normal user, she says. A user’s language proficiency or digital confidence may hinder them from using a service well, and can also be considered forms of exclusion.

3. Engage and understand

With this broadened view of disability in mind, the next thing to do is to understand how people with disabilities use a service. GovTech ran workshops in which employees with disabilities shared their experiences of using a product. In one of these workshops, a visually impaired software engineer at GovTech taught fellow colleagues about how to make services more accessible through a coding method known as semantic HTML.

These workshops are part of GovTech’s Accessibility Awareness Week, which took place for the first time in mid-June this year. This initiative aims to show engineers why accessibility matters for their product, and how they can prioritise it as they build, Chua shared.

4. Develop empathy

Government Digital Services team in GovTech held a mini competition for teams to find accessibility bugs on government websites or services and fix them. Within a week, there were 300 bugs reported, and 70 fixed, Chua shared. “It is more constructive to start from making people want to do accessibility by making it fun and something that they care about and empathise with,” Chua said.

Technical fixes aside, the competition aligned the department in terms of the importance of building accessible products. Chua stressed the importance of bringing everyone on board. “Even though changes might be small, you have to involve everyone in the journey to make accessibility stick,” she said.

5. Start with hiring practices

It takes an inclusive organisation to build inclusive services. “Regardless of your background, as long as you have something that we can bring to the table, then you apply to us,” says Lim Zui Young, DevSecOps Engineer in GovTech’s Government Digital Services unit, who also oversees internship placements at the agency.

Lim is well-placed in this role. He started out as an intern himself, and as someone with visual impairments, he understands what needs to be done to make the workplace more inclusive.

Technology is helping GovTech test whether their services are accessible, but the most important factor is their people.