Inecke Snyder-Lourens: Putting accessibility first in customer experience
By Inecke Snyder-Lourens, Director of Professional Services, Cognifide
Over 20% of the world’s population has a disability, that’s one in five individuals. The combined UK spending power of people and their families with disabilities is £249 billion a year. Combine this with the fact that we’re all living longer, increasing the incidence and definitions of disability. The power of the Purple Pound is on the rise. For this reason, ensuring your digital products and services are accessible to all makes good business sense.
However, accessibility and usability are still not prime considerations in customer experience design and build. Building a great digital experience is a complex and time-consuming process. Building experiences at scale increases the complexity exponentially and time constraints usually dictate that certain elements “need to be sacrificed” to speed up the whole process. Too often, accessibility is a consideration that suffers.
The upshot of this is that accessibility is currently more of a buzzword than a defined part of the process. Everybody talks about it but the reality is that most people know very little about it. And many businesses and institutions have had a very harsh lesson, learning more about accessibility via a lawsuit. For website owners, developers and testers, accessibility is almost always about legal requirements and not really considered with the customer in mind.
If you don’t design your websites and apps in an accessible way you are not only losing customers, you are denying people with disabilities opportunities to be self-sufficient. So how do you put accessibility at the top of the agenda?
The accessibility audit
First you’ll need to address your existing digital properties. Run an audit to assess their level of accessibility. Begin with defining a set of objectives, a baseline accessibility score. Ask where you want to be once you’ve acted on the audit recommendations? Global WCAG standards help with establishing those objectives; for instance, we would like our website to be AA compliant.
You can test website components against web content accessibility guidelines which should result in a meaningful audit. By aggregating identified issues across different pages, you’ll size up the problems and identify any quick wins. Then prioritise remaining issues and determine the best solutions.
It’s sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. Each and every issue seems important. Tackle the easiest fixes (content issues) first, and then move further to js, css fixes (front-end issues), design fixes and finally, back-end platform fixes.
Using inclusive best practice in design benefits all users. But simply complying with WCAG doesn’t guarantee a user-friendly website or app. Usability is about how easy and intuitive a website is to use.
During the design phase, create personas of people with situational, temporary and permanent disabilities to help you to understand the diverse needs of your customers. These personas can then be re-used during your testing phases. If possible include people with disabilities in your user testing panel.
All great websites start with great content. Make sure that headings are easy to scan so readers can easily find what they are looking for.
When you are creating content, think about the language you use, use a clear and coherent writing style and keep it simple. Colour contrast is an important consideration, not just for people with low vision, but for any users accessing your website or app on the move and in the sunshine.
Every contextual image should have an alt text description for users who find it hard to see them. Whereas, decorative images should not have alt text so they can be ignored by screen readers. Always provide subtitles and transcripts for video content, to make life easier for the hearing impaired, and ensure that visually impaired individuals can convert the text to braille.
Long term change
Once you have reached your accessibility goals, you need to maintain the new standard, without having to undertake large compliance projects in the future. In other words, you need to incorporate this into the fibre of the organisation. Define a governance framework and document standards and best practices that detail constraints and considerations for the various functions in your organisation. This governance framework should assign ownership and responsibilities and enforce these through measurable internal processes. This is the only way to ensure WCAG compliance and bring about real change, making accessibility part of the fibre of your organisation.