Voiceover: We’re now going to go and look at things from Bequeathed’s perspective, which is how Bequeathed actually took what the RNIB wanted, and delivered something that worked really well.
Jonathan Hassell: So, I’ve got Bequeathed’s chief operating officer, Pier Thomas with me to tell the next part of the story from their perspective. So, Pier, for those who don’t know very much about Bequeathed, can you tell us what you do?
Pier Thomas: Bequeathed is a legacy fundraising company. We actually provide UK consumers with a unique solicitor developed online platform which enables you to confidently write your own will.
And so, people ask why is this important? Well, research in 2020, by Canada Life, indicated that some 59% of UK adults do not have a will. And having an up to date will, is absolutely essential to ensure that your final wishes are carried out.
Our Will for Good service – we provide a free online will service that also raises money for good causes. So, you start online, complete the interview, and then subsequently, you will receive legal advice from an accredited firm.
What does that mean? It means it’s good for you, it’s good for your family, it’s good for your friends, and it’s also good for charities.
Jonathan Hassell: As somebody who made a will about 5 years ago, I feel both too late because I should have done it earlier,
and too early, because I didn’t know about you at the time, and I would have been using you at that point. So, thank you for what you’re doing. You were working with the RNIB, trying to get this to be an accessible service, so they could recommend it.
When we started working on this together last year, I recall you had an accessibility audit that had been done, a year previously.
Was that enough to know how far away you were from the sort of accessibility that you wanted in the product?
Pier Thomas: No, for a couple of reasons. One is, it was a year out of date, and a lot had changed in that year.
But it also told us about making specific individual changes to our system. What it didn’t give us was an indication of what that would mean. And that’s really, we would want- I suppose, in some ways, we were looking for what is the rubber stamp.
Jonathan Hassell: Yeah, absolutely. So, and the other challenge, and again, people don’t tend to talk about this so much, but it’s so important, you don’t have an in-house development team. You work with other companies on your software development. So, can you just tell us about those relationships?
Pier Thomas: Yes. We’re a small business. But what we have done is we’ve worked with Tier 2, a software development company,
as well as Exari experts to develop the platform since its inception over 6 years ago.
So, just for those who aren’t aware, Exari is a document generation system, and that powers the online will interview. And Tier 2 built an application which enabled users to interface with the platform, and with Exari, the engine.
Jonathan Hassell: The great thing about this from my perspective is what you’ve just said sounds very real. Most of the time, when people think about accessibility, they think about getting HTML right on a website. What you’ve been talking about is multiple organisations who were working on multiple aspects of a solution, and trying to work out how all of those people can get all of the work that they do to result in an accessible experience for users.
That’s real-world, that feels very 2021, there’s nothing theoretical about that. That’s a real challenge.
So, you needed to understand what that challenge was, to scope it, and to understand what level of accessibility
might be achievable, and within a reasonable timescale and budget. I’m guessing that may be one of the reasons why you came to us for help? As I say, we come into the story at this point. What were you looking for, from an accessibility partner, to help you?
Pier Thomas: Well, we already had, as you rightly pointed out, the audit. So we had a bit of paper with lots of things that we ought to do. But what it didn’t translate into us was what did this mean in terms of what we were going to achieve.
So we wanted someone, an expert to provide advice, to help us define what our accessibility objective was going to be, and that was, in fact, WCAG 2.1 AA. Then to work with us on a plan to actually achieve this goal, and to provide the appropriate support during the project.
Jonathan Hassell: Yeah.
Pier Thomas: So, we actually approached one of our existing customers, who had previously worked with you.
You’d done a project with them, and what we really liked about the work you had done, was about changing the culture,
and making accessibility part and parcel of how they approach their workload. So, that was one of the things that I certainly remember.
Jonathan Hassell: So often, companies say, “Could you test our product?” And then you don’t hear from them ever again
and you don’t know if you just gave them, as you said, that bit of paper, that oftentimes, makes people just a little bit uncomfortable or like, “Oh, gosh, we’ve got all those things wrong, or whatever.”
What we like is to help people get it right. So, we were delighted when you came to us and you said, “We don’t want you to test this thing. We want you to help us plan for how we can get this thing to where we want it to be.” That was music to our ears.
When we were trying to put that plan together for you, we knew that yes, we’d need to provide some support. And there would be some testing at the end to check that we’d got there. But the key thing really at the start was scoping the plan, trying to work out how long it was going to take, who was going to do what? What approach was going to work? And so, we put a plan to you.
You obviously liked it, that’s why we’re talking today, what did you like about the plan?
Pier Thomas: A couple of things. The ability to work in a phased manner because that would enable us to manage our costs, but also to manage our timetable. The training that you were offering to the development company because that would be something that would stay with them. Your approach of ensuring that accessibility would become part of how we approached development. So, not just for during the project timeframe, but also, in the future.
Jonathan Hassell: Absolutely. We’re here to empower. That’s the way we like to do things. That means that after the project ends, yeah, you don’t need us anymore. That’s what success looks like for us. So, there was an internal team looking at the design as well, can you just take me through who the team were, who made this happen with us?
Pier Thomas: I think to do that, let me just step back slightly because, although we initially considered accessibility, if you want to call it, in isolation. We would just box off what we needed to do to make our system accessible, and that’s what we were going to do.
But what we quickly recognised that even to do that box exercise, there was significant changes required. We paused, and we then thought this is potentially an opportunity to greatly improve the user experience. So, we then decided we would rethink the online will interview process, and we would also look at changing the look and feel of the user interface, because bearing in mind, it’s over 6 years old, which in today’s world, is a long time. So, our objective then became to rebuild the front-end with accessibility at the core, to achieve the AA standard. So, we shifted from accessibility on its own, to a much broader, more complicated, and a much bigger project than we had originally envisaged.
So, our next decision was to ensure that we had the right expertise. I’m a great believer in the team being greater than the sum of its parts. So, I believe in get the right people around the table, you are likely to get a better outcome, working together, that is. So, we put together a team of specialists, which is one of the reasons we came to you. Obviously, we have a longstanding and a good relationship with Tier 2. They understand our system inside out, so that was another important part. We’ve got our Exari experts that we’ve been working with for a long time. They understand the interview inside out. And we also then went and found a company called NDP who are UI UX experts. And to crown it all, we put in place a project manager, who managed it on a day-to-day basis. So, I could step back and have much more, I suppose, of a management role, and also, because I’m not involved in it day to day, it’s easier to view the project in its totality.
Jonathan Hassell: When I heard that it was like, actually, we’re going to relook at the design, and just check to see could this be improved at the same time. Spot-on. I mean, massive kudos to you and the team for, yeah, taking something which some companies would just think of as almost cynical on occasions, out there: “I’ve got to do this accessibility thing. I’m doing it under sufferance.” We never felt that once from you. It always felt very creative, and taking the user experience for everybody up a level, which is great.
Jonathan Hassell: So I’ve got Tier 2’s Project Manager Ellie Watters with me to tell the next part of the story, from their perspective. Ellie, you’ve been Bequeathed’s trusted development partner for years now. Can you tell me about Tier 2?
Ellie Watters: We are a team of expert software developers. We help customers in a lot of industries and sectors
to build custom software solutions. Some of them, like this one, are end to end. They’re entire projects, where we’re part of the design, the requirements gathering, we develop and we deploy into production. For others, we’re more consultative.
Jonathan Hassell: So can you tell us the level of accessibility knowledge you had at the start of this project?
Ellie Watters: We emphasise user experience in all of our solutions. It’s really important to us that usability is a key part of any solution or any application that we build. But this was the first time that we had been given a requirement to build to a double-A standard. So it was really good for us to be working on a collaborative team, where we had a subject matter expert in how to achieve that standard.
Jonathan Hassell: The first thing that we did was, we tried to work out how we could help. It’s great to have a subject matter expert, but we want to be an expert in helping where you need the help. We could see, already, at the start of it, that your team, your developers, had some skills. Some things were definitely right in the product at the start of this improvement project.
We figured that a little bit of training would be good, but also some remote support. What we find, a lot of the time, is that training gets you to a great place, but there’s always that thing that you didn’t ask at the training, that you then realise is really important, a little bit later. So how was that working for you?
Ellie Watters: It worked incredibly well, Jonathan. You provided training, in the beginning, to our development team, but also, our testers. This solution, rather than being fixes to an existing website, was building accessibility into a brand new front-end for the application, which meant that accessibility was at the core of how we developed this… allowing our developers the opportunity to learn the very specific techniques needed to build an accessible solution from the ground up…
It was, actually, really interesting for our testers to be part of that training as well, because it meant that, before we even provided any functionality for our test cycles to start, with Hassell and with Bequeathed, we were confident that the level of accessibility in our coding met at least the minimum required standard. Then, as you mentioned previously, having a subject matter expert on hand during our development cycles was really important, because it meant that implementation details for particularly tricky pieces of functionality could be just discussed up front. We could get some really good advice on the best way to implement accessibility,
Having Graham available to test each piece of functionality as we brought it through, and to highlight any even smaller changes that we could make to improve the accessibility standard, before we’d reached a point where we’d developed the entire product, was incredibly helpful. That collaboration seemed to work very well and was really valuable for us.
I think the other element which did really have an impact, personally, on me, and the members of the development team who viewed those sessions, was having the ability to sit in and watch real users, so real disabled users, who have different needs from the application, using what we’d built. It allowed us an insight into how it feels to navigate through an application. There is a sense of pride when you hear people saying that you’ve done well and what you’ve built helps them. But it also is incredibly impactful, looking forward, into seeing what the real challenges are for people who aren’t sighted or mouse users.
Jonathan Hassell: It’s great that you mention that, because we feel it’s massively important. There’s something about user testing that makes everything real.
Pier Thomas: It’s almost impossible for someone without a disability, like myself, to truly appreciate the difficulties a person with a disability has when using any website. So, having users with a range, and we didn’t go for just sight loss, which is obviously, what RNIB are focused on, but we looked at users across a broad spectrum. So, we had dyslexic, we had people with motor impairment, we had autistic, and we also had older users, and what they did was, by them actually- us being able to see how they use our system, it highlighted what accessibility really means. But it also identified some of – and at this stage, they were minor, fortunately – the sort of minor tweaks that needed to be achieved from a practical perspective. Added to that, it gave RNIB the confidence that this new service would be accessible.
Jonathan Hassell: As the person who was working with you, putting that user testing together, again, it was just so good that. It felt really massively inclusive which I think will bear real dividends going forwards with the product because you find so much more out about it.
Pier Thomas: Our customers are charities, and a lot of charities either support various users with disabilities, or they have supporters who themselves have disabilities. And so, whilst we started off with RNIB – because they were really the impetus for the project, and the focus was sight loss – it became really clear, very quickly, that by going for WCAG, the AA standard, that we could actually make this accessible to a much, much broader range of users.
Jonathan Hassell: Which also included one of those users in the user testing who was older. And presumably, older people are probably slightly more of your audience because people my age and younger, just don’t think about wills yet.
Pier Thomas: You’d be surprised. What we found is last year, that the average age came down significantly, because a lot of people were suddenly- one, they had time because they were at home, but also, they were being impacted by losing friends and family, and it suddenly brought home to people the realisation that if something was, unfortunately, to happen to them, where would that leave their loved ones?
Jonathan Hassell: What was the hardest part of this to make accessible? Looking back on it now, from the end, was there one part where you thought, “Gosh, how are we going to get through this?”
Ellie Watters: On an accessibility project, we have a very clear criteria, a requirement that we need to meet. That is the double-A standard. There is an element, because the standard covers any application – any web application – of subjectivity within that criteria. One of the hardest parts was knowing when to stop. So knowing when you’ve met the standard, and when to release your first version. I think part of the difficulty there is that, in the tech industry, anyway, you should never stop developing. We never stop developing and improving and learning.
The industry of accessibility, also, there are constant improvements and innovations in how to help people who need support in using the internet the same way everyone else does. One of the hardest parts, as you well know, because you were on this with us, is knowing when to stop that first release, and accepting that there will always be improvements.
The reason that this project got across the line, I think, in such a smooth way, was having experts who knew where that line was. I mean, you were part of the team that wrote the standards, so having experts who could tell you where to stop was really integral to that.
Jonathan Hassell: A lot of people have a different problem, actually, than the one you had on that one, in the sense that you had a richness of feedback. So you have all of the technical feedback, in terms of how to get to WCAG 2.1 AA, but you also had the user feedback, some of which really isn’t touched on in WCAG 2.1AA. So a lot of projects out there, because they don’t do the user testing, they don’t even know that there is more that can be done.
Voiceover: Some key things to pull out of there… Scoping the size of the task, seeing what is feasible. And, like Bequeathed did, not being afraid to take accessibility improvements as an opportunity to improve
the experience for everybody. People have been asking about Return on Investment. That’s a place that
you can get a lot of that. This product is now better for everyone. Work out what’s feasible in your time and budget. Create a phased plan to keep you on track. The training and support was really important for Ellie and all of the devs on her team. And also they really appreciated us training their testers, so they could be testing things themselves, rather than relying on an external company like ours. And fundamentally, and you’ll see it as we come all the way through, user testing is not just a great way of proving to the client that you’ve actually achieved what you wanted to achieve, but it’s also really motivational for the team.