When we think about accessibility for customers, it often conjures up images of accessibility ramps, widened doorways, or the instalment of hearing loops to brick and mortar stores and buildings. However, as we see a trend towards increased digitalisation, in an age where more and more services are moving online, there is a new strand of accessibility that we must consider to ensure we are catering for all customers.
The strand in question is known as web accessibility and it is about ensuring those living with disabilities are not excluded from accessing or contributing to the internet. To contextualise the increasing importance of web accessibility, we only have to look to the latest Government-recorded statistics to see that Britain has an ageing population. And, likely with that, a rising number of those living with impairments – the Papworth Trust has found that the people most likely to have a disability are over the state pension age.
With a rising number of people in need of greater accessibility, and more services being delivered online, it seems nonsensical for any business to ignore the need to cater for this growing group. However, there are still a large number of websites that exclude people with disabilities – mostly as a result of lack of knowledge or the misconceptions they hold about web accessibility.
Tackling the great accessibility myths
The internet should not be treated as something only for the privileged few, but instead should be open to all – regardless of ability or disability.
As a user experience (UX) agency, at Sigma we hear the same misconceptions time and time again from businesses when we discuss creating more accessible solutions. Some of these myths include:
- “Accessible websites are ugly”
For some reason, when people think of accessible websites, they automatically envisage unattractive, unimaginative, dull layouts, when actually, websites can be visually stunning and highly accessible. Examples of websites that look good while being accessible to those with disabilities, or who use assistive technology such as screen readers, include Apple, Arts Council England and Citizens Advice.
- “Creating a more accessible website is an expensive, difficult venture”
For many, the idea of creating a more accessible website is thought of as a testing exercise that requires a lot of money and time. However, if you get the right help, creating more accessible content should not be difficult – it should instead be pretty straightforward. Even more so if it’s considered early in the project lifecycle. What’s more, it’s important to remember that the money it costs to incorporate more accessibility online is only an upfront cost that can have a huge return on investment, with more accessible websites tending to be cheaper and easier to run.
- “Accessible websites only benefit the few, not the many”
It’s untrue to say that the rising number of people who live with a disability are only “the few”. In the UK today, there are over two million people living with the sight loss which is set to double over the next 30 years. If increasing numbers of people will develop a disability in one form or another, then surely accessible websites are actually catering for a growing demographic, including those suffering from progressive or temporary conditions where need and ability can vary and change over time.
At Sigma, we strive to design for the 5% because then the website will be accessible and usable to those people, as well as the other 95%. Our approach is about ensuring that web design is all-inclusive so that no one is left behind and each year we hold a conference called Camp Digital in Manchester in the hopes of spreading more awareness of this. The conference is an opportunity for industry professionals from the digital, design and UX communities to come together and share ideas about how we can make the internet a more inclusive and accessible space online.
Practical advice to create a more inclusive and accessible website
By setting the record straight and debunking some of the myths held when it comes to accessibility, we can now look at some of the practical ways to create a more accessible web presence.
If a customer has a physical or motor impairment, websites should keep typing to a minimum, make clickable interactive elements large without demanding precision, and should be designed with mobile and touch screen in mind.
For those that have impaired vision, websites should use a readable font size and a combination of colour, shapes and text, while ensuring to publish all information on web pages as opposed to other document types such as PDFs.
Customers with complete sight loss often use screen readers to consume content, so it’s important to structure your page clearly and consider that not everybody uses traditional devices like a mouse to navigate.
Those with autism require websites to use sentences written simply and in plain English – avoiding figures of speech and idioms. The colour scheme should be simple and layouts must be consistent and uncluttered.
For customers who are hard of hearing, or fully deaf, you should provide access to subtitles or transcripts to accompany videos, content should be broken up with sub-headings, images and video, while complex layouts and menus must be avoided.
As access to a large number of products and services shifts online, it’s clear that the internet needs to become a more inclusive space for all – fast. Customers, regardless of ability or disability, should be treated fairly and given equal access to products and services. Plus, improving the accessibility of your website will not only improve the customer journey for the growing 5%, it will also improve the experience for the other 95% too. It makes sense to create a space and web presence that the maximum number of people can access and benefit from, so why delay?
If you’re interested in finding out more about accessibility and other user experience related topics, you can attend our Camp Digital conference in May. More information here: www.wearesigma.com/campdigital