We sat down with Graham Johnston, Senior Digital Communications Manager at Sussex NHS Commissioners, and talked about accessibility, workflow improvements, and the organization’s approach to web accessibility.

Tell us about yourself and your team

I’m Graham Johnston. I’ve been developing websites for nearly 25 years. A lot of that time I’ve been working for the NHS, for local government, and also, freelancing.

Accessibility has always been of interest to me and has always been a priority. Ever since my first interview when I was asked what Accessibility means to me. It was the first time I’d heard that term in this context.

At the time, I had no idea about screen readers, visual impairments, supporting people, or navigating the web with a keyboard. Once I’d started learning accessibility, It was an eye-opening experience and a whole new interesting world.

And of course whatever we do to make our websites more accessible for people with visual impairments or physical disabilities, the easier they are to use for everybody, so everybody gains.

But it’s the kind of priority that nobody is really screaming out for you to do. You know, there’s always a million day-to-day tasks and so many things that need doing, like development, content, or whatever it may be. So accessibility can often get pushed down the list of priorities, which is very unfortunate. 

And that’s why we wanted to subscribe to Silktide.

Firstly, there’s the financial commitment and you’re showing your organization that it’s important to you. But also the ease with which it enables you to keep on top of what you need to do. And we still have quite a long way to go. I think we’ve always done accessibility reasonably well. But we’re not 100% by any means. But I think Silktide can genuinely help us get there.

I’m part of the larger communications and public involvement team. I’m the only member of the team with a focus on the web, and the other members of the small digital communications team focus on broader communications and social media.

There’s far too much work for me to do on my own so I rely on other people in the organization to create content, even though those people are 99% focused elsewhere. They are not necessarily content editors or web-focused specialists, so their day jobs take up the vast majority of their time.

We have maybe 40 or 50 people who contribute to the site. So really, we rely on so many people taking a little bit of time out of their day editing and maintaining its content. We rely on Silktide to take an overview and enable us to spot the things we miss, like typos and accessibility issues.

We’re an NHS organization working on behalf of the three Clinical Commissioning Groups in Sussex, which means we commission local providers to provide services to patients.

We’re a membership organization and include GP practices within our area. We do a lot to support them as well.

Whether we’re communicating with staff or with the general public on our public sites, accessibility is very important. We have to make sure that everybody can access this content as much as possible and as easily as possible.

We’re managing five websites and supporting another. It’s a lot of work, particularly the internal website for the staff. There are around 4,500 active user accounts.

The public websites are relatively straightforward, as we don’t provide health information to the general public, they go to nhs.uk for that.

But we do provide information about local services and the work we’re doing to develop those. So the public sites are important but probably the smallest aspect of what we do.

Our user base on the internal site includes clinicians, GPs, practice nurses, pharmacists, practice managers, and the whole team at each practice. They all need to research clinical guidance.

As it’s such a large volume of users, we don’t have any way of knowing what their individual needs might be, so accessibility is just as important as on our public site.

It always feels to me as a member of staff at Sussex NHS, that it’s a very inclusive and progressive organization. We look after our staff well and we are concerned about staff wellbeing.

I think it’s all part of the same thing. If you are an inclusive organization in one respect, it’s easier to be inclusive in other respects as well. 

So I feel that this fits nicely with the general outlook of the wider organization that we would try to get web accessibility right as well.

What problems were you facing that led you to look for a platform like Silktide?

Even for a team with everything under control, it’s still very easy to make mistakes with content. All it takes is a copy and paste where you’re not paying enough attention.

We have so much content flowing through the site and devolved management, that without keeping track of and monitoring it we’d end up with many usability and accessibility problems over time.

This is in part due to a lack of familiarity with the concepts across some of our producers. Again, creating content is not their day job, so some of them may only add content weekly or monthly.

We needed to find a solution that could help us with this devolved content management approach.

Ultimately, the choice was either a person to permanently monitor all the websites, which wasn’t feasible at all, or an automated platform that would do it all for us.

How did you find Silktide?

I believe it was through the Index. I’d seen an accessibility league table for NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and saw that we were respectable but still needed improvement.

I started to dig a little further as I was quite interested in the concept of a public league table for accessibility and noticed quite quickly that you were partnered with Socitm. I’d also read that the RNIB used you.

So this got my interest.

I arranged a demo and Silktide seemed to be exactly what we needed to solve our problems. I was very impressed so I started to persuade the budget holders that this was worth investing in.

The whole process was very easy, and Silktide was very easy to explain to people.

In fact, now we’ve been using Silktide, it’s like having another member of the team.

Aside from this, we were contacted about a year ago by the Digital Cabinet Office, who’d noticed a few accessibility shortcomings on our public sites. They were very supportive and gave us a really useful report.

It outlined key priorities and things we needed to look at. They checked in regularly with us over a short period of time to check our progress against those targets.

It was very, very constructive, genuinely helpful. And it was the first time we had someone being very vocal about accessibility.

What was your process for finding and fixing issues on your website before you used Silktide?

No one person, or small team of people, can be aware of all the issues on any website. My workflow was mainly about stumbling across things that were wrong. It was very reactive.

Our contact with the DCO gave the right people the right motivation here to really take notice of web accessibility, and it was invaluable.

We also had a lot of work to do with PDF accessibility. One problem we had was that anybody can create a Word document and turn it into a PDF. In most organizations, they can be formatted in lots of different ways, and then find their way onto the website. 

So we needed something that could help us fix PDF problems but also show people how to create accessible PDFs in the first place.

Once you started using Silktide, was there anything you found useful that you didn’t know about?

I was thinking of Silktide primarily as an accessibility tool, but of course, there’s so much more to it. The usability and content quality modules, checking things like spelling, grammar, and broken links.

That wasn’t our motivation for getting Silktide, but it’s been incredibly useful.

Up until now, we’d been installing all sorts of WordPress plugins to check broken links, along with other separate tools for different tasks.

The thing we like about Silktide is being able to do everything in one central place with one interface. It approaches everything in the same, consistent way.

Silktide is also very easy to use.

Has your productivity improved with Silktide?

Yes, because it gives you focus. You can just dive in there and start doing substantial improvements. You can focus on the tasks that will have the biggest impact for the smallest amount of time invested.

Knowing what to focus on is incredibly useful. We have limited time and with Silktide you can see exactly how to spend it. If you have a particular, single problem that affects a thousand pages, you can be alerted to it and make a big difference quickly. That’s very useful.

What’s your advice to people who might be considering using Silktide.

I highly recommend it, I think that’s clear. It has high levels of usability. The interface is not an obstruction to work. Within a very short space of time, I felt completely comfortable with it. I’m still finding new aspects to it.

It’s so difficult to get the interface right for so many of these kinds of platforms but I feel that Silktide is as clear and engaging as it can be.

I’m finding it strangely addictive. I just dip in with the intention of spending ten minutes here and there on some tasks, but because of the way it’s presented it really pushes me on to do a bit more, and a bit more. And before you know if a good chunk of time has gone and I’ve fixed a lot of issues.

So it’s addictive but in a good way. I like the idea of gamifying the process.

The investment has been absolutely worthwhile. I’ve been using it only for a few months, and really I’m just starting to scratch the surface. It’s still mainly just me using it, but already it’s made a huge difference. I’m finding errors that should never have been there in the first place.

And actually, the act of making the investment makes a difference. When you have the figure on the budget, it focuses everybody’s attention. So the cost actually helps us out

How have you found the support?

It’s been very good. The platform itself is full of support and is very intuitive. Any questions that I have are answered with a very quick response. You’re thoroughly helpful and it’s always good to know there is an interested point of contact there.

I never have to battle my way through technical support. I’m working with someone at Silktide who also wants to help us succeed, so that’s been really useful.

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