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Why we should all care about accessibility

Having previously worked in a range of different industries, I’ve had the opportunity of being a part of several teams that placed particular focus on building services to achieve strategic goals.

Unfortunately, decisions made to achieve these did not always prioritise the users’ needs. As a developer I’d often find myself building services on the corporate roadmap that did not always make sense or serve those needs.

The goal of interaction design

As an interaction designer at Companies House, the user-centred approach we follow is fundamental to creating services that are easy for users to interact with. This results in the design and development of services that are aligned with satisfying both the user and business needs.

But who are our users?

When each of us considers what a user might look like, this brings to mind ideas about who our typical user is. Maybe that is Alice or Bob (if your background is in cybersecurity), or maybe your user is Karim the product manager, or Anya from finance.

Using personas to guide user-centred design

Creating personas about our users is a crucial part of the design process. Personas are fictional characters that represent groups of users with similar service needs and common behaviours.

These help us to:

  • exercise digital empathy
  • gain a greater understanding of user needs
  • support the decision-making process on how to better serve these users

A photograph of Jason Deakin, and the logo of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

User-centred design for all users

It's often cited that 1 in 5 (20%) of users in the UK have a disability. So, what about designing for these users? What about Felicia with a broken arm, Sarah with macular degeneration, or Paulo with repetitive strain injury (RSI)?

How can these users still interact with technology, and would these users benefit from accessibility adjustments?

Can Felicia navigate the web using just a keyboard? Can Sarah see all the elements on a website? Maybe there is not enough contrast between the colours used on all of the pages, or maybe it’s possible to get by using a screen reader. Would Paulo even benefit from any adjustments?

The answers are not always clear. And maybe they do not need to be. Not only is it short-sighted to assume that it’s only the 20% of ‘disabled’ users that will benefit from accessibility considerations, it’s also a flaw in the design approach and quite simply a massive misconception.

Supporting accessible and inclusive design

A design approach prioritising an accessible and inclusive user-centred design makes sure the services we create are a pleasure for our users to interact with.

Interacting with digital services using screen readers, gestures, switch controls, keyboards and even glasses are examples of innovations that make digital services accessible and inclusive. These are not just for ‘disabled’ users. They are for all users.

User-centred design is about organising text so it can be:

  • read as letters on a screen
  • listened to through a screen reader
  • felt through touch in the form of braille

It’s about creating a button that can be interacted with using switch access (video 7m 6s), a screen reader (video 4m 44s) or a keyboard. It’s about using images that include alternative text, which can be read aloud or rendered as braille, and allows users to put focus onto a button or linked image with a single voice command.

User-centred design at Companies House

At Companies House, we’re working towards creating more accessible and inclusive digital services. These are aligned with delivering our strategic goal to provide brilliant services that give a great user experience.

For the services we create, the design team uses persona profiles to test accessibility. We consider users like Ashleigh, a partially-sighted screenreader user, Christopher, a user with rheumatoid arthritis or Ron, an older user with multiple conditions. Prototypes and iterations of services undergo thorough user testing to collect feedback from a range of different users.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) also has the accessibility empathy lab, which provides an opportunity to take part in empathy exercises. Although this is not currently open due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you can read about how the accessibility lab is now virtual, and take part in the virtual experience.

In her TED talk on the opportunity of adversity (video 21m 58m), Aimee Mullins discusses the opportunities that arise from recognising and embracing our differences.

The focus is not only on normalising perceptions of ‘disability’. It's also on recognising the normal limitations in all of us, and exploring new ways we can use technology to embrace and support these differences, to create more accessible and inclusive digital services for all.

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  1. Comment by Julie Harnett posted on

    Making accessiblity easier is all to the good. But Companies House also needs to ensure that company information cannot be hacked by those who have ill intent. Currently, it is all too easy to circumvent so-called security codes and change a company's bona fide data, add the names of unelected directors, change a company's HO address, 'terminate' a company secretary's name. Despite the 'lawful' person supposedly owning the codes, the perpetrators of such fraud are also enabled to create access codes and getting off scott free. How is it that companies House can allow 2 persons with different addresses to have immunity from prosecution? DUAL ACCESS SHOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE. Shame on the 'company house powers that be'. Having to pay lawyers to sort out the consequences should not be necessary!!!!! Who Pays? Elderly Members!!!

  2. Comment by Carlos Miranda posted on

    Why can't the Registration of a foreign company in Companies House be Online, and only on paper?

    • Replies to Carlos Miranda>

      Comment by jodiejohn posted on

      Hi Carlos Miranda, thank you for your comment. Being a digital organisation is fundamental to achieving our strategic goals and realising our vision for the future. Our corporate strategy will see a transformation of our services, replacing our ageing services and supporting infrastructure, and developing new ones. Where possible, we hope to be able to provide more digital journeys for our users in the near future.