Design For All feat. Oliver Quinlan

Introducing Oliver Quinlan, Senior User Researcher at Government Digital Service, spearheading accessibility and inclusion initiatives for GOV.UK Forms. Oliver’s journey spans from education roles to impacting computing education at the Raspberry Pi Foundation before joining GDS 18 months ago.

The purpose of the series ‘Design For All’ is to demonstrate the importance of inclusivity in design and share knowledge on how to create more inclusive and accessible design experiences.


Chris @ ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what you do and tell us about your experience in accessibility and inclusion?

Hi, I’m Oliver Quinlan and I’m a Senior User Researcher at Government Digital Service. I’m working on GOV.UK Forms, an easy to use tool for building online forms on GOV.UK. I’ve been at GDS for about 18 months now. Before then I was Head of Impact and Research at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, working on computing education programmes and products for young people. I started my career in the education sector, and moved through various roles in a direction that increasingly involved focusing on research.


Chris @ ADLIB: How important is inclusion to your work?

Working on tools for government, it is paramount. Government services are for everyone, and people have to be able to engage with them no matter what their background, experience or needs. For GOV.UK Forms there are a number of different aspects to this. One is that the forms produced for people to complete need to be accessible and inclusive. Another is that the form building tool needs to be accessible and inclusive. We’re creating this tool so that civil servants can really easily create an online form, so we’re also making sure that anyone can make use of it.


Chris @ ADLIB: How are you promoting inclusive design through your work and what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

As a user researcher I’ve been making sure that we are sharing designs and testing prototypes early and regularly with people who have a range of access needs and who use assistive technologies. I think it’s really important to do this early and often, as otherwise you can end up going down the route of designing something and then realising it is inaccessible and having to ‘fix’ it. Early and often gives you perspectives from users that can help design things as accessible from the start.

A challenge I have come across from this approach though is that revealing a simple, early idea is not accessible can make it feel like the team is stacking up difficult problems to solve. We had a feature in our product that was designed to meet a common need, but we had to remove it from the prototype early on as testing revealed it wasn’t accessible. There wasn’t capacity available for a long time to re design it thoroughly in a way that was accessible, so that need had to be parked for quite a long time. In the long run this will result in a fit for purpose and accessible feature, but in the short term it felt like a difficult challenge.


Chris @ ADLIB: What are 2-3 tips you’d share to other practitioners trying to make their work more inclusive?

Test your designs with real people with access needs and who use assistive technologies. You can find some issues by auditing yourself, but the way the whole experience comes together for someone often reveals different things than you would find without that real experience.

Talk to people with access needs broadly about their experiences in the area you are working on, and get others in your team to join and observe these conversations. It’s important to build empathy and to understand that not everyone’s experience is the same, even if they have similar needs ‘on paper’.

Also talk to people about good experiences they’ve had in the area you are working on. There are lots of accessibility issues out there, but some experiences and products work well for people. Don’t always see accessibility as looking for problems, there are positive experiences to learn from too.


Chris @ ADLIB: What are some of the resources you’ve found helpful to develop your understanding of accessibility and inclusion?

I’ve found it’s really useful to spend time researching common assistive technologies such as the JAWs and NVDA screen readers, and the tools built into operating systems. When I test with people and they talk about technologies I’m not that familiar with I’ll make a note and go and look at them in more detail. I’ll never understand them as well as someone who has different needs to me, but it can help have a deeper conversation about this when you know the tool a bit.

The Web Disability Simulator is useful to build some initial empathy with people who access the web differently. Although no substitute for actually talking to and testing with people.

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Chris Nasrawi