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Accessibility and efficiency in digital public services: An impossible pairing?

Modernising citizen-facing services is a priority for every public sector organisation – but not at the expense of accessibility. We explore the key role accessibility plays in public services and how you can both achieve your transformation goals and meet your accessibility requirements.

Interacting with government services is something everyone has to do. That means everyone has to be able to use them, including the 16 million Brits living with disabilities.

But, too often, public sector services fall short of the accessibility standard required. In fact, 40% of UK local council websites fail accessibility tests (SOCITM, ‘Better Connected’ Survey).

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has made significant headway in improving inclusivity by design with its Service Standard – but public sector departments are also under pressure to digitally transform how they deliver services to the public.

In trying to balance the modernisation of their IT against the GDS accessibility standards, one is often sacrificed in favour of the other.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? And what if there was an easy way to take care of those accessibility requirements AND transform your service delivery into the efficient machine you need it to be?

In this blog, we’ll explore not only why accessibility is important but also how it can open the door to a superior service experience for everyone.

What is accessibility in public services?

The UK government defines accessibility in public services as services that: ‘enable people to do what they need to in a similar amount of time and effort as someone who does not have a disability.’

This helps empower people to feel independent and capable and avoid any frustration at services that have been poorly designed or implemented.

Accessibility also goes further than just disability. All users will have different needs at different times and still need to be able to use the service. Whether they’re restricted by location, health or equipment – the end goal is access for all.

Accessibility requirements in the public sector

Accessibility in public services reaches beyond simply putting a service online. Every digital government service needs to:

  • Meet level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) as a minimum
  • Work on the most commonly used assistive technologies, including screen magnifiers, screen readers and speech recognition tools
  • Include disabled people in user research
  • Have an accessibility statement that explains how accessible the service is

These points form part of the GDS Service Standard around accessibility.

If a service meets the GDS accessibility requirements, it will also meet the legal requirements that apply to public sector websites and mobile applications as outlined by the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications)(No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

But whilst the GDS Service Standard focuses on making the service accessible to everyone, it can be tricky to meet these requirements alongside digital transformation efforts to improve how those services are being delivered.

Want to use ServiceNow AND meet your GDS requirements? Find out how in our eBook.

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The four accessibility guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are organised under four main principles that state content must be:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.


This means that information and user interface components are presented in a way the user can perceive, i.e. the user can comprehend all the information being presented and nothing exists outside of their available senses.

Making a service perceivable could involve:

  • Providing text alternatives, such as large print, speech, symbols or simpler language
  • Alternative behaviour for time-based media, such as autoplay videos or slideshows
  • Presenting content in different ways or simpler formats without losing information and structure
  • Making it easy to see and hear different content, including high contrast and clear separation between key information and ‘decorative’ content


Operability relates to the physical use of a service or interface. Users must be able to perform the required interactions.

Making your service operable might mean:

  • Making all functionality available from a keyboard
  • Removing time restrictions for data entry or session timeouts
  • Designing content in a way that won’t cause seizures or physical reactions
  • Providing alternative ways for users to navigate and search a page beyond keyboard controls


Making a service understandable goes beyond just the information it provides – the user should also be able to clearly understand how to operate or engage with it.

This means not only making text simple and readable but also ensuring web pages behave predictably (no fancy animations or cluttered page design) and providing input assistance to help avoid any mistakes or errors.


Whilst robust may conjure thoughts of service stability and availability (which is important), in this case, it means that a wide variety of assistive technologies can reliably interpret the content.

This is to ensure that as technologies and services change and evolve, your web content remains accessible. The best way to achieve this is to generally keep things simple – the more complexity you introduce the harder it’ll be to stay compatible and compliant.

Balancing accessibility and efficiency in citizen services: A complex challenge

That last point on keeping things simple sums up the challenge for the public sector nicely: how can you overcome seemingly never-ending layers of organisational and technical complexity to make services both streamlined and accessible?

Taking a peek behind the curtain of government services often reveals a mess of legacy technology systems which are still heavily relied on to deliver key day-to-day services and business functions.

Add to that budget restrictions, the complex organisational structure of government departments and the need for strict data security controls and you’ve got a potent mix of challenges standing between you and the modern service experience citizens expect.

What’s needed is a way to consolidate those legacy systems into a single platform to end the costly maintenance and create joined-up workflows that produce relevant data to deliver services efficiently.

ServiceNow is one such platform and will help you tick a lot of those transformation boxes – but does it also support those GDS standards for accessibility?

Well, it didn’t. But we’ve changed that.

Building a better experience with a new GDS Toolkit

FlyForm has a heritage in the public sector. As such, we understand the challenge to provide efficient, accessible public services better than most.

We’ve used ServiceNow to help many government departments and agencies transform their internal IT services (see our work with the DVSA as an example), but using ServiceNow for citizen-facing services has sat tantalisingly out of reach.

This is because there wasn’t a way to use CSM or the Public Sector Digital Services (PSDS) suite in a way that met the accessibility standards stipulated by the GDS. And that’s why we created the ServiceNow GDS Toolkit.

Our GDS Toolkit is designed to help you create, or recreate, powerful services built in ServiceNow and deliver them to citizens in a fully GDS-aligned portal experience.

That means you get all the integration, data, AI and workflow benefits of the Now Platform to help you drive efficiency behind the scenes – and your citizens get an enhanced user experience that supports those four key accessibility principles.

So, no more having to compromise on accessibility or transformation. Now you can do both – and deliver a greater service experience for everyone.

Want to know more about our GDS Toolkit?

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Key takeaways

  • Public sector organisations often struggle to find the balance between transforming their services and meeting their GDS accessibility requirements.
  • Making services accessible is both a legal, and moral, responsibility for government departments and agencies.
  • In accordance with WCAG, citizen-facing services need to be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.
  • The public sector faces a legacy of technical debt and organisational complexity which makes it difficult to meet the GDS standards.
  • FlyForm’s new GDS Toolkit solution unlocks ServiceNow for use in citizen-facing services – and delivers them in a fully GDS-aligned portal experience.
By Al Attwood
23rd Oct 2023