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Accessibility matters to us all at the IPO 

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital, Inclusion and diversity, Transformation

Following National Inclusion Week (26 Sep – 2 Oct) it’s now National Dyslexia Week and we’re reflecting on our accessibility progress here at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

Back of a man's head and shoulders as the uses a digital pen to navigate the IPO website

As I browsed through the archives, I came across a blog written in 2016 by an IPO colleague. In ‘Researching the realms of accessibility’, Sarah describes the brilliant work undertaken with the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) ‘to ensure our services are accessible to all our customers’.

This was before my time here, so it was really interesting to read. I’m proud to say that we’ve continued in this good vein with our work on accessible and inclusive content.

When I joined the GOV.UK web team in 2020 we were already award winning in what we do. Ranked number one for accessibility out of 50 worldwide IP office websites for three consecutive years (by IP magazine World Trademark Review), we were clearly already doing something right!

Accessible by default

Like other Government departments, we had a focus on moving away from inaccessible content formats. We offered alternative versions of documents and made use of our in-house user research team to test content and identify accessibility problems that we needed to address.Graphic of blue computer screen with text reading 'We want out content to be used and understood by the widest possible audience.'

In 2018, the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations were put in place to ensure that all public sector content is accessible. Once we were happy that we had met the legislation for our external customers, we began to turn our focus inward and review our internal content to ensure that was inclusive too.

I joined the accessibility project team and began work on making inclusive content part of our culture. As reflected in our accessibility statement, we really do want as many people as possible to be able to access our services and content. The question we asked ourselves at this point was ‘how do we go about achieving this and becoming accessible by default in all that we do?’


IPO Accessibility champions: changing our culture

 In 2021, I set up an accessibility champions network, attracting almost 50 representatives from various areas within our business who now fly the flag for accessibility in their areas. The Digital Accessibility Centre helped us once again, providing training to all of our champions.

As a network, we then set out to support the rest of our people in their learning. Our in-house creative team have made a set of animated resources based on the Worcester Council SCULPT framework and we’ve brought in more training for IPO people to learn   about creating accessible documents and content.

Screenshot of the front page of the IPO's internal accessibility knowledge information board, showing tools and videos for helping staff to make their content accessible.

As we learn more and more about how to be inclusive in our information and services, we’re making small and frequent improvements to what we do and most importantly, how we do it.

Some of the improvements our network members have initiated include:

  • better tagging of headings to enable users of assistive technology to navigate 
  • improvements to customer letters, removing jargon and replacing with plain English 
  • conversion of PDF format letters, to accessible versions 
  • better text description on our YouTube videos 
  • subtitling of video content on externally-facing digital channels 
  • monitoring of customer feedback – our Customer Experience Unit now has a dedicated category for accessibility 
  • creation of a bank of resources on accessibility for IPO people 
  • use of accessible Word and PowerPoint templates

We’ve also commissioned third parties to audit our content for accessibility. We’re working on fixing a small list of recommendations to our intranet pages and customer letters.


Creating an environment where we are all supported to do our best work 

Four people speaking at the Intellectual Property Office

Anne-Marie Switzer, our Diversity and Inclusion Manager says:

“Having the right culture is a big part of making the IPO a brilliant place to work. We have committed to creating an environment where our people have everything they need to succeed in their role.

“We aim for our workforce to be truly representative of all parts of society and for each employee to feel respected and confident that they have everything necessary for fulfilling their role.

“We hope to achieve our ambitious goal to become the best intellectual property office in the world and to provide outstanding customer service. This can only be done if we give people the right tools and support them in everything they do.”

Our areas for focus this year are:

  • equality impact assessing new change projects and consulting relevant staff groups and employee networks 
  • ensuring all policies and documents use inclusive language, imagery and design 
  • working in partnership with targeted campaigns, such as the Gender Inclusive Language project and Accessibility Project to deliver improved service to our customers 
  • continue to monitor our workforce data, focussing our attention on areas where there is any under representation.

One thing we all agree on is that accessibility matters to everyone. We’re not claiming to be perfect, but we’re certainly making great strides every day to continue our learning and improve our information.

Accessibility can’t be an ‘add on’ and must form part of everything we do – both for our external and internal audiences.

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