Brent Council Case Study

Building empathy

All Able worked with Brent Council to deliver an empathy lab during Brent Tech Week to build awareness of accessibility and how to make practical changes to make council services more inclusive.

Brent Council has been focussed on expanding their staff's skillset including accessibility and Brent Tech Week is an opportunity for staff to spend time learning about new technologies and good practice to help them deliver services.

What is an Empathy Lab?

Some of our empathy lab kit laid out including simulation glasses, a cane, braille documents, colour filters and more.

An empathy lab is the chance to start discussions on accessibility kickstarted by a collection of materials that encourage users to consider how users with a range of disabilities and impairments may interact with the world using assistive technologies and what kind of barriers they may face.

The All Able empathy lab is an in-person event where members of our team engage attendees in conversations around the services provided by our host organisation, their role, the kind of content they create and how they can get to the next level of making accessible content.

The event, as the name describes is about creating empathy. We do not encourage sympathy for disabled users, but instead focus on the blockers we as service or content creators put in place and appeal to attendees that small actions on their part can have big differences to the people that need it.

Why build empathy?

Time spent in an empathy lab can help users to understand the impact of their work that they may not have thought about before. This may then raise questions that they can follow up with their disabled user base to better tailor services to suit all their customers’ requirements.

All Able empathy labs are always a positive environment to encourage future good practice and deeper thought on how we all build services for everyone.

One of the hurdles to embedding accessibility into organisational practice is getting buy in from staff, not making accessibility seem like a chore and showing the important reasons why accessibility is so important. To do this, a positive atmosphere to help attendees learn more about the reasons why we want to be accessible and feel empowered or motivated to take action can be a great first step to easier adoption of future accessibility policies.

What has changed?

After Brent Tech week, the council has seen immediate change to how accessibility is considered at all levels including increased feedback from staff and practical activity on improving services.

“I was really pleased with the positive impact All Able had during Brent Council’s Tech Week. To most of our workforce, accessibility was something they were seeing and hearing about for the first time and could relate to not taking online accessibility more seriously in the past. Many took All Able’s contact details to see what or how they could support them in the future. The empathy lab definitely had the effect I was hoping for.”

Asmita Gorasia, Digital Workstream Lead

What's next?

Going forward, the aim is to make sure accessibility is considered a priority in work streams. When the council prioritise building accessibility into the plans now, it does not become a rush at the end of a project, but something that is considered and worked on the entire way through.

What is included in an Empathy Lab?

The All Able Empathy Lab includes a host of physical devices that help to either simulate the effects of certain barriers or tools used to help overcome those barriers. We have a full set of simulation glasses that simulate the effects of a number of visual impairment barriers, 3D printed tactile map examples, a range of assistive technology and many other tools all supported by training and guidance from the All Able team to ensure users understand where an empathy lab experience fits into training and the focus on barrier removal.

Our empathy lab includes:

  • BSL guidance sheets

  • Lip reading exercises

  • Colour blindness tests

  • Large print keyboard

  • Magnifiers

  • Dexterity aides

  • Cane for blind and visually impaired users

  • Visual impairment simulation glasses set (x10 pairs)

  • Braille writing slate and alphabet guide

  • Dyslexia and visual stress colour overlays

  • Signature guides for blind and visually impaired users

  • Noise cancelling headphones

  • Cambridge style simulation gloves

  • Two laptops (1x Mac, 1x Windows 10) for using assistive tech (AT)

  • Mobile device to show range of assistive tech or other supportive disability apps

  • Tactile Map, teaching materials and tactile paving examples (traditional, multi-material and 3D printed)

  • A range of accessibility and disability related books including good starts about accessible and inclusive web design, some famous disability journeys, and content building