Public Sector Future Podcast | Episode 64: Accessibility Fundamentals: Collaborating for Impact

Episode 64 guest speaker Rich Corbridge

Accessibility Fundamentals: Collaborating for Impact

with Rich Corbridge

Rich Corbridge is the CDIO for the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions. He shares how DWP have been embedding approaches to accessibility across the organization.

Episode summary

Rich Corbridge is the Chief Digital and Information Officer for the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK. Rich shares how DWP have partnered with Microsoft to train 26,000 DWP employees on Accessibility Fundamentals.

Accessibility Fundamentals: Collaborating for Impact

The UK Department for Work and Pensions

Rich Corbridge is the Chief Digital and Information Officer for the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). As the UK’s biggest public service department, DWP administers the State Pension and a range of working age, disability and ill health benefits to around 20 million claimants and customers.

Reflecting on the scale of DWP, Corbridge shared, “There are 20 million customers of DWP today, supported by 100,000 people who work in the organization, across 800 different buildings throughout the UK. Government in the UK describes our estate as being the biggest IT estate across government. There has been some people said that it’s the biggest IT estate in Europe.”

Corbridge explained his team are responsible for operating the technology which supports the operations of the department, as well as for transformation, data, data security, information security, governance and procurement. “The team that runs that is roughly 5,000 people now.”

Accessibility training for 26,000 employees

Corbridge explained that within DWP “accessibility has to be something we consider all the time. Because people who have vulnerabilities often need different styles of access to our systems. And that might be digital systems, it might be people, it might be language, it might be learning issues over the past, it might be just that moment in time where accessibility is difficult. So we have to find ways that allow anybody who needs help to access help”.

Corbridge shared that DWP has partnered with Microsoft to help jobseekers with disabilities better use technology to help them gain and retain employment in an increasingly digital workplace. The Accessibility Fundamentals learning product was developed, tested and launched with work coaches, and then wider DWP colleagues.

“90% of our work coaches across 800 job centers have now been trained in how to offer support in technology accessibility, how to make sure people can understand all the different tools that need to be able to do their job.”

“Up to December 2023, 26,000 people had taken up that training across our organization. A really big cohort of people have come forward and said, ‘I need to know how to help people understand what makes technology accessible for them’.”

The impact of Accessibility Fundamentals

Corbridge shared that “98% of people rated it as extremely valuable… Those scores are quite remarkable. So it’s something the team that are working on iterating how we do more of that, are really proud of.”

“We’ve got quotes about it being life changing for colleagues, that they’ve gone through this accessibility training, that has given them access to tools they didn’t know existed, which makes their day in the office, their day at work, so much more fruitful for them, so much more ability for them to offer the services they want to.”

Corbridge explained that the need for this training was evidenced both by the need to support people accessing DWP services, and to support DWP employees.

“We have a very large proportion of my team who require some sort of workplace adjustment for them to be able to do their job.”

“I’ve been in the role 12 months, and one of the things I’m seeing a lot of is that the fact that we invest so heavily in accessibility brings a much more diverse workforce, which in turn is creating that diverse view of how do we build our systems, how do we create our systems and support them, so that they are there to be as accessible as possible for citizens of the UK.”

Putting accessibility at the heart of digital

Corbridge outlined how the program has evolved, “Initially, it was organic, and it has now become a formalized program. So we have a practice of colleagues across the whole of digital who focus on accessibility, both of our internal systems and our external systems. They come together across all of the cities where we have offices and colleagues working, and on a regular basis, and start to understand what are the next challenges, what are the things we go after.”

“The special interest group for accessibility has that duality of looking at what needs to be there for our customers and what needs to be there for our colleagues.”

“We have taken that model to the British Computer Society, the BCS, and are starting to help them create a special interest group for accessibility and really build the wheels of that, so that across the UK public sector and private sector, we can start to share stories with each other on how to get this right.”

Supporting colleagues and citizens with new technology

Corbridge explained “We’re obsessed on how we get better and better accessibility inside our organization, so we truly can support that diverse workforce, so that we can allow and facilitate everybody to be the best person they want to and can be in the jobs they do. So there’s a real focus on making sure that that’s something we continue to invest in, we can continue to find time for people to do the training, to understand what’s next.”

“But I think the other side to it is to keep looking at the innovation and change. What’s the next thing that’s going to become available to truly facilitate a new level of accessibility, and really being really clear on how do we bring those new innovations to bear, both for our colleagues and for citizens that are seeking our help?”

“You almost can’t have a conversation about technology without mentioning AI at the moment, can you? It feels like we are on the verge of being able to use a lot more in that space, to be able to do so much more across everything that we do and everything that we move forward with, which is really exciting.”

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