This National Day, let’s work towards a more digitally inclusive Singapore
As Singapore turns 58 years old this year, various ministries across the Government have laid out plans for a more inclusive Singapore.
GovTech is no exception. In particular, we’re working hard to make Singapore more digitally inclusive.
A11y Week, organised annually by our very own Accessibility Enabling Team (or A11y Team for short), is a learning festival for all public officers in Singapore. The week-long event aims to foster an understanding and appreciation of accessible and inclusive design in digital services.
Through a series of insightful talks and engaging workshops, attendees gain knowledge and experience in creating digital experiences that everyone can enjoy and benefit from.
A11y Week 2023 ran from May 16 – 18, culminating on Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This year’s theme was “Understand & Understood: Making Communication Inclusive for All”. It was inspired by the A11y Team’s engagement with the Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) community, where they learned how people with congenital or acquired conditions are excluded from society when communications are not designed inclusively.
2023’s event sought to bring these individuals into the greater digitalisation conversation and to raise awareness of their challenges.
Attended by public service officers from over 80 government agencies, the hybrid event featured virtual talks and – for the first time since A11y Week began during the pandemic – 4 in-person interactive workshops. Over 160 attendees showed up in person.
Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights:
Everyone Is Welcome
This year’s speakers were meticulously chosen not just because they were experts in their respective fields, but because they also had firsthand experience with the challenges posed by inaccessible communication. The lineup featured a diverse range of tech professionals and advocates from the PwD community.
Shanta Arul, Public Policy Director of Technology & Innovation at Netflix, spoke about how Netflix looks at accessibility fundamentals
Sarah Yong, Fadillah Noor, and Sayfullah, Committee Members at ISAAC SG, shared their journey of helping Sayfullah find his voice through Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC).
Winston Wong, Special Education Needs (SEN) Officer at Temasek Polytechnic and Disability Advocate, provided actionable tips to better support students with SEN.
Rory Preddy, Principal Cloud Advocate at Microsoft, discussed how AI can help with coding accessibility into products.
To ensure that everyone, regardless of their position or level, would benefit from the event, the learning festival was curated to be inclusive of all attendees. The program included technical workshops, advocacy talks, and discussions on thought leadership and tech trends, designed to engage attendees from all backgrounds and levels, from individual contributors to officers in leadership positions.
Practical Lessons for Accessibility
One workshop, Empathy Lab, was designed to familiarise attendees with the principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
A11y Week Empathy Lab participants sharing their reflections on the POUR principles and how they can apply the principles in their day-to-day work.
Image Description: Photo of a group of participants discussing intently about their workshop learnings with colourful post-its on foam boards at the background.
One of the workshop’s most popular activities was, “How universal are our icons?”, where attendees were asked to label icons used in popular Government apps from memory, without their usual text labels. This highlighted how easily icons can be misunderstood if they are not intuitive, lack proper text labels, or contain too many small details.
The Inclusion Playscape, a carnival-style, in-person session, sought to educate attendees about accessibility through experiencing inaccessibility.
One particular station, “A11y Tic Tac Toe”, highlighted how a simple game like Tic-Tac-Toe could be much more challenging when accessibility considerations are not incorporated into its design and development. A pair of players had to play the game without being able to see the Tic-Tac-Toe board, using only a screen reader and a keyboard to navigate the grid.
An A11y Week participant learning about screen reader accessibility at the A11y Tic Tac Toe booth. The game is modified to be playable only through keyboard navigation and listening to screen reader cues.
Image Description: Photo of two individuals seated at a table and interacting happily as they learn more about keyboard accessibility while playing an accessible Tic Tac Toe game. In the background, there is a large digital display of the A11y Tic Tac Toe showing their progress.
Put on your Purple HATS
Purple is the colour of inclusivity in Singapore, and the Purple HATS testing tool was developed by the A11y Team to scan agency websites for accessibility.
A11y Week Tech Workshop participants learning to scan websites for accessibility issues using the new and improved Purple HATS Desktop App.
Image Description: Photo of a laptop displaying the Purple HATS Desktop App in the foreground and a room full of participants in the background listening in to the workshop presentation.
This open-sourced, customisable accessibility testing tool enables software development teams to identify and correct accessibility issues, to improve digital services for PWDs and the elderly.
It helps development teams scan and check for potential accessibility issues for newly-developed and existing websites and can be easily integrated into a software development team’s workflow.
In line with their greater mission, the A11y Team continue to develop Purple HATS to make it more user-friendly and accessible for all users. For instance, the tool’s reports are generated in a user-friendly HTML format. A new Graphical User Interface (GUI) feature was introduced this year, to simplify the use of the testing tool, particularly for those who are not as well-versed in command-line operations.
The reception was overwhelmingly positive with A11y Week attendees, even those with limited technical knowledge, navigating the new interface with little need for guidance from the technical workshop’s facilitators.
An A11y’s Work is Never Done
A11y Week might be over, but the work for digital inclusivity continues.
The team is now working on Playground, an upcoming initiative to help people who are just getting started with accessibility. It is an application that demonstrates common accessibility issues, particularly for keyboard navigation, found in transactional and informational websites.
It’s important to remember that digital inclusion is not a one-time fix, but an ongoing journey of learning and empathy.
As we celebrate Singapore’s 58th National Day, let’s strive to create a more digitally inclusive society where no one is left behind. From all of us here at GovTech, here’s to a more accessible and inclusive future, and a very happy National Day!https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/this-national-day-lets-work-towards-a-more-digitally-inclusive-singapore