National Digital 11 conference – digital by default, accessible by default

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

The UK National Digital conference ND11 took place last week on 11–12 May 2011. It was run by RaceOnline and it concentrated on how to get the 9 million people in the UK, who are still not connected to the Internet, connected by the Olympics in 2012.

The conference concentrated on why these people are still not online, the main reasons being:

  • Cost of the hardware, software and services required to get online.
  • Physical access to reliable broadband.
  • Lack of skills and training required to access the Internet.
  • Lack of interest and motivation to use the Internet.

The first afternoon of the conference was a celebration of the Digital Champions. A Digital Champion is someone who volunteers to help people who are not online get online. In a video from David Cameron he thanked these volunteers and announced that there are now about 100,000 in the UK. New initiatives in this area announced at the conference included the BBC First Click Campaign, which helps people take their first steps onto the Internet, and Go On Adopt, which is a scheme to make it easy for schools, youth groups, or student groups to adopt a care home, or old people’s home, and train the residents to use the Internet.

The second day was titled “Building a Networked Nation” and was opened with a plenary addressed by Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, and the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for culture, media, the Olympics and Sport.

Martha described the need for: inspiration, skills, prices and access, and in particular the need for trusted friends for people taking their first clicks on the Internet, what she called the F factor. She also introduced the £100 computer being offered by Microsoft and Remploy.

Jeremy then announced a new government initiative to ensure that 90% of the UK would have superfast Internet access by 2015. He also pointed out that all new web products must support mobile, that there is a move towards the Internet of things (e.g. intelligent parking spaces) and that all new government solutions will be digital by default. Digital by default means that when a new service is provided it is assumed that the Internet will be the means of delivery rather than paper, phone or face to face.

At the end of the session I was invited up onto the stage to ask a question; I introduced myself by explaining my work with Fix the Web and then asking why we were a day into the conference and disability and accessibility had not been mentioned. Martha apologised for this omission and admitted that it was odd as she is registered disabled (she walks with a stick). It was pleasing to note that by the end of the conference people not just talking about digital by default but also accessible by default, I hope that this emphasis on accessibility will continue into the future.

All through the conference there were young people with small video cameras interviewing the presenters and the delegates; following my question I was interviewed and if you can see my rant about accessibility at

Two other interesting sessions I went to, which I will write about in more detail in the future, were:

  • The benefits that DirectGov have got from putting comments boxes on all the detailed pages (e.g. Exchanging your paper driving licence for a photocard and the 10 laws of customer feedback that Graham Spicer generated from this experience.
  • The analysis by the Engine Corporation of the breakdown of the 9 million still off-line, which surprisingly showed that 2.5 million of them were affluent home owners.

I would like to thank AbilityNet who invited me to the conference and I look forward to being involved with ND 12.