Skip to main content

Celebrating accessibility

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: General

Employees of Newcastle wearing purpleHMRC's digital delivery centres recently celebrated the 8th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility.

Organised by a team of accessibility advocates, the day was advertised in advance and everyone was encouraged to show some disability love by wearing purple*. The posters included a QR code that took HMRC employees to a microsite we created, which included a YouTube playlist to learn more about accessibility and links to useful resources and tools.

Being an assistive technology user, and the HMRC digital accessibility champion, GAAD is of great personal importance to me and I would like to share some of the activities that took place.


We set up a pop-up Empathy Lab where people could wear goggles that simulate different visual impairments. This proved very popular and several visitors said that, after trying them, they gained a better understanding of some of the conditions their friends and family have and the barriers they face.

Visitors also got to experience simulated hearing loss for various situations.

As the reaction to the Empathy Space was so positive, we are now planning to make it a permanent resource in the centre.

Trying goggles that simulate different visual impairments in the London Empathy Lab


Here we ran a full day of activities to raise awareness and build empathy including:

  • drop-in clinics with specialists in our accessibility testing lab
  • getting people to try day-to-day tasks in our Empathy Zone
  • streaming the BBC Access All Areas event in our cinema room
  • scrum masters using the day to prioritise accessibility issues on their backlog.

In the Empathy Zone, colleagues said they found it was particularly insightful to observe a screen reader user navigating the web with desktop and mobile devices. Many colleagues were astonished to experience just how challenging it is to conduct an everyday task like sending a text or reading a newspaper with limited vision.

They were also able to experience how difficult it can be to follow a conversation while wearing ear defenders, the value of having captions when viewing recorded video content and what it’s like to do digital tasks with accessibility features enabled.


Here, we joined the Telford Autism Hub, HMRC assistive technology provisioning team and display screen equipment (DSE) Assessors at a market stall event where we demonstrated how our digital services are used by disabled users.

Participants completed one of several tasks written on printed cards. We then asked them to pick another card with a disability, and then used a disability simulation kit to complete the same task. This helped to show colleagues just how important it is that we make our digital services inclusive for the public and employees.

Several visitors commented about how revealing the experience was. One particular stand-out comment was: "We often talk about disabilities and making things accessible but this is the first time I've come close to understanding what this actually means for a disabled person".


Shipley really got into the purple theme – we even had purple trainers!

Of all the sessions we ran, VoiceOver screen reader sessions and the VoiceOver key commands sheets were particularly popular and stirred up plenty of discussion.  People also found the GOV.UK accessibility personas useful by experiencing different accessibility needs.

It was interesting how people found that, although they thought they understood accessibility issues, they admitted there was a lack of awareness about situational accessibility issues. But, that’s what GAAD is all about: inspiring conversation among participants and improving the wider awareness of accessibility. Just being told by one person that they will now use this to inform future user research means we made a difference.

Colleagues stand listening to a man speaking


The accessibility advocates in Worthing opened up the new Empathy Lab and encouraged everyone to come in and try the equipment. Visitors enjoyed trying on the simulation goggles and using the GOV.UK personas so that they could really get a feel for how challenging using the web and mobile apps can be.

We had several people give up because they found things like not being able to use a mouse too hard, but it gave them a greater understanding of the difficulties people face.

The mobile team dedicated the day to improving the design and accessibility of the HMRC mobile app, and we also held a very popular bake sale and raised around £190 for AbilityNet.

Raising awareness

Thanks to our HMRC accessibility advocates, we had a very memorable and useful day. So many more colleagues now have a better insight into how accessibility issues can affect our customers. The day brought home the importance of building all our services with accessibility at the forefront of all our minds.

If you or your organisation celebrated GAAD, I’d love to hear about it so please leave me a comment below.

Chris Moore, MBE @chrismoore_mbe

*In recent years, the colour purple has been increasingly associated with disability, symbolising a new positive narrative about the contribution of disabled people in the workforce and the wider community. Just as the rainbow flag has created a new conversation and increasingly vibrant LGBT movement, the use of the colour purple can help in the effort to build communities, challenge outdated perceptions and prejudices and inspire others.

Sharing and comments

Share this page