By Joanne Moore

Don't be an accessibility Grinch

December 14th, 2023
6 min read

Ensuring your website is accessible is one of the best gifts you can give your users and your business this Christmas.

Ensuring that your website or product is accessible goes beyond just benefiting users with disabilities; it also contributes to an enhanced overall user experience. Resulting in websites that are more user-friendly and intuitive for all.

A recent study with Deloitte found that “57% of consumers surveyed say they are more loyal to brands that demonstrate commitment to addressing social inequities in all their actions”. So it’s no surprise that in 2023, where social responsibility is a driving force behind consumer choices and the demand for representation grows, accessibility isn't just good for business—it's a pathway to sustained success and a lasting, positive brand legacy.

We only have to look at the big tech giants like Apple and Google who set the trends other brands follow. Apple’s campaign ‘The Greatest’ celebrates artists and athletes with disabilities using their products in a short film. This coincided with Apple’s launch of advanced software features for cognitive, vision, hearing, and mobility accessibility, along with innovative tools for individuals who are nonspeaking or at risk of losing their ability to speak. The advancement of these tools already builds upon Apple’s leadership in accessibility. 

Solve for one, solve for all

As web designers and developers, it's crucial to be mindful of the diverse range of users with varying abilities. In the UK alone about 24% of the population – over 13 million people -  live with disabilities who need to be able to complete simple tasks online. If we think about how many tasks we need to complete online now, from paying bills to online banking, we need to ensure we create an inclusive online experience for all users. This includes those with disabilities and limitations such as:

  • Visual impairments

  • Deafness

  • Mobility issues

  • Cognitive impairments

  • Speech impairments

By prioritising accessibility, you are not only making it inclusive for specific individuals but also creating a space that caters to all users. If we think about the environment users might be in when using a product, it is not always in ideal scenarios. Some users can experience “situational disabilities”, like in a loud crowd and they can’t listen to audio or in a car and they’re visually impaired. Some people could have “temporary disabilities” like a broken arm or have lost their glasses.

We must recognise that embracing web accessibility isn't just a legal requirement; it's a commitment to creating a digital space where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate.

Better accessibility = better user experience

 If you think about it, having an accessible website not only champions inclusion for individuals with disabilities but in turn elevates the overall experience for everyone who engages with it.

Despite the strides made in digital accessibility, users with disabilities still have challenges when interacting with websites. Visually impaired users might struggle with non-descriptive alternative text on images or have their journey through a website made more difficult with complex navigation. As designers and developers, it’s up to us to ensure we adopt inclusive design practices to tackle these challenges. Some tactics for inclusive design include:

  1. Alt text: Ensure all (non decorative) images have descriptive alt text, allowing screen readers to convey the content to users with visual impairments.

  2. Intuitive navigation: Create a logical and well-structured layout, making navigation seamless for users with motor impairments who may use alternative input devices.

  3. Captions & transcripts: Accommodate users with auditory impairments by providing captions or transcripts for multimedia content, ensuring that information is accessible through various means.

  4. Consistent design patterns: Maintain consistency in design elements to enhance predictability and ease of use, benefiting users with cognitive impairments.

  5. Plain English and Plain Numbers: remove complexity in content by displaying content and numbers in a way that your audience can interpret.

Follow the W3C Standards

Another important way to make your website inclusive and accessible is by following the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards. The W3C develops technical specifications, guidelines, techniques, and supporting resources that describe accessibility solutions. One of the international standard guidelines to follow is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines stand as a beacon, guiding the path for the digital world where web content is not just available but accessible to all. These standards have 4 main principles for creating an accessible website. Within each principle are guidelines you can reference and success criteria that you must meet to pass these standards. These 4 principles are:

  1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in a way that all users can perceive.

    Success Criteria Examples: Providing alternative text for non-text content, ensuring adaptable text size, and offering captions for multimedia content.

  2. Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable by everyone.

    Success Criteria Examples: Keyboard accessibility, giving users enough time to read and complete tasks, and designing navigation that is consistent and predictable.

  3. Understandable: Information and operation of the user interface must be clear and straightforward.

    Success Criteria Example: Using consistent navigation and labelling, providing input assistance, and avoiding content that could cause seizures or physical discomfort.

  4. Robust: Content must be reliable and compatible with current and future technologies.

    Success Criteria Examples: Ensuring compatibility with various assistive technologies, validating code to industry standards, and designing content that remains functional as technology evolves.

While standard accessibility tools and guidelines are invaluable in identifying and addressing many issues related to website accessibility, they have their limitations. True inclusivity comes when we go beyond automated tools and we test with users who have to experience these issues when using websites in real life. Testing with users can provide us with the emotional impact of using a website, we can see their frustration or exclusion first-hand. Users will also bring a unique perspective on how accessibility features impact navigation and overall experience.

Taking all this into consideration, we recently embarked on a project with the largest energy supplier in Northern Ireland, Power NI, to make their website accessible to all. It is estimated that over 20% of the Northern Irish population have physical or mental impairments which has substantial effects on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities such as topping up their keypad meter, submitting meter readings or switching their electricity provider. For this project, we carried out a detailed auditing of their website using automated tools like Wave, Dynomapper, VoiceOver and keyboard functionality and testing with real users. The project was a testament to how improving accessibility also improves usability for all and the results show:

  • The first energy provider in Northern Ireland and one of only nine companies across the globe to successfully achieve Inclusive Service Provision Kitemark ISO 22485

  • Smashed target (20%) by increasing change of supplier online completions to 33%

  • Beat target by 4% by increasing organic search engine traffic on switching pages by 9%

  • Achieved a major milestone of over 500 thousand domestic customers (2025 target), 57% of the N. Ireland market 

The way forward

Web accessibility, as we've explored, is not merely a compliance checkbox but a commitment to creating a digital world where every individual, regardless of abilities or limitations, can participate fully. Understanding the challenges faced by users with disabilities and adopting inclusive design practices is not just a responsibility but a opportunity that we should all strive for in our work.

So as we bid farewell to the accessibility Grinch, let's carry forward the spirit of digital inclusion into the new year. By embracing accessibility, we not only meet standards but craft a digital future that is welcoming, empowering, and truly accessible for all.

 And remember –

No matter how different a Who may appear, he will always be welcomed by accessibility here

 

Joanne Moore

Hybrid UX Designer