In the fifth instalment of our UX Bites webinars, we discuss the business case, design methods and power of designing for accessibility and inclusivity. Often misunderstood, accessibility is an important component of inclusive design – but it’s not the whole solution. We explain what both terms really mean and how to apply them in your digital products and services.
Making your digital products accessible and inclusive
Video: UX Bites by Fathom webinar 5 ‘Making your digital products accessible and inclusive’. Retrieved from Fathom’s YouTube channel.
Q1. Could you share some resources to check websites against WCAG criteria?
A1. To conduct accessibility audits from Level A to Level AAA, we take our guidance directly from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, as well as resources and information provided by the Web Accessibility Initiative.
From these resources, there is information on evaluation methodology, testing equipment, reporting tools, and guidance on involving people with disabilities within accessibility and usability testing.
To support the identification and resolution of accessibility issues, we use a number of assistive technologies, tools and plugins including
- JAWS for testing applications against screen reader support
- WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool by WebAim, for quick automated checking of code, content, structure and colour
- Adobe Acrobat for evaluating accessibility requirements on PDFs.
Q2. Is there a mistake you see companies doing while trying to become accessible that you believe should be done in a different or better way?
A2. We commonly see organisations trying to make a product or service accessible after the fact, rather than thinking about accessibility and inclusive design right from the beginning. By implementing inclusive design principles at the very start of a product / service lifecycle, you can ensure it meets accessibility requirements from MVP onwards.
Becoming accessible isn’t just a one–off fix, it is a change in behaviour and culture within organisations, putting the needs of the users first and foremost. When we talk about inclusive design, we talk about designing for a diverse range of users, being mindful of permanent disabilities, as well as temporary and situational impairments. Microsoft have great resources on inclusive design thinking.
Q3. Are there similar tools and techniques for making email, apps or digital products accessible?
A3. For testing native applications, we recommend reviewing the Android Developer or iOS Developer documentation on accessibility, which provide great guidance on mobile application design principles and advice on how to build and test apps for accessibility.
To help support email accessibility, you can follow the WCAG 2.1 guidelines in a similar way to auditing a standard webpage, reviewing semantic HTML, colour contrast, content hierarchy and clear hyperlinks to webpages. Since HTML email pages allow for CSS styling, you can present a clear visual hierarchy and focused states while being viewed by the reader. If you create an email using semantic HTML, you can extend its support by ensuring clear alternative text for graphics and adding ARIA attributes to your HTML elements, if necessary.
Q4. In general how many companies are really engaging with this area in your experience? Is it an uphill battle?
A4. In the past accessibility was thought of as something that would limit the innovation and creativity of design. However, businesses are starting to recognise the importance of meeting the needs of diverse populations is key to their competitive advantage.
In the UK alone, 1 in 5 people have a disability – this could be visual, hearing, motor (affecting fine movement) or cognitive (affecting memory and thinking). And, with an ageing population, many more people will have visual and auditory impairments in the years to come.
There are other situational barriers that can cause users difficulties too: if you’re on a busy train it can be difficult to hear audio content, and reading in bright sunlight will affect your ability to see website text or links.
Accessibility is about making your product available to as many people as possible in as many contexts as possible. And, companies that are thinking strategically understand that investing in accessibility and inclusive design training will result in more innovative solutions to user problems.
Q5. Great presentation – really enjoyed it. My name is Ciara and I wanted to ask what you have found to be the biggest challenge when user testing with people who have disabilities and how have you overcome this?
A5. In the current context of the Covid–19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges is engaging users in a remote environment for testing or interviews. Users will have their own unique set up for interacting with websites – they will choose a specific screenreader and browser combination or other assistive technologies for mobile. And not all users of assistive technologies will be experts either. Just like other users, they will have different levels of competencies.
In the past, when we conducted in–person interviews, we could spend time at the start of the session to get to know the user and understand their needs and provide guidance. In order to set up remote testing we now spend additional time before we carry out the tests to let users know what they can expect, send through all the consent documentation and get a sense of the user’s own unique requirements so that we adapt our sessions accordingly.
If budget allows it’s also helpful to build in contextual inquiry methods to get an understanding of the user’s environment and behaviour in advance of the testing. This can be done using semi–structured interviews or incorporating diary studies.
All in all, each participant is unique and part of our job is to get to know users and understand their own circumstances so we can build better, more intuitive products. If you want to find out more, here’s a really good article on Smashing Magazine about conducting usability studies – with guidelines for visual, auditory, motor and cognitive disabilities.
(Thanks Ciara for your kind feedback on the webinar!)
Q6. Do you have any examples of products with good accessibility and ones with bad? (Ones we would recognise)
A6. Generally, the best products are those where the team has developed an accessible design system that meets WCAG’s four principles – Robust, Operable, Perceivable and Understandable. In the UK, many companies are now adopting the best practices of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS). Their system is publicly available on the GDS website and they have written extensively about their inclusive design and approach to accessibility on their accessibility blog.
Q7. Regarding inclusivity: Most online forms present an option of choosing gender based only on the binary system. What are your thoughts on that? Are the official online forms (passenger details for international flights for example) bound to the way the state is recognising the genders?
A7. Often times we see webforms generated from legacy paper documents where no one in the organisation has ever questioned ‘why are we asking for this information?’. And, it’s not until companies start listening to users that they begin to realise how online forms present significant barriers to users and massively impact their customers’ experience.
That’s why when forms are being designed, it’s always important to test them with real users and look at ways of improving their usability and question the amount of information users are required to input.
In some cases, particularly in regulated industries like aviation, insurance and utilities, it can be difficult for companies to change their forms as they are legally required to collect certain information – for example, the legal definition of gender as defined on a person’s birth certificate. In this instance however, some companies are finding ways to better empathise with their customers and let them know that they understand their situation.
This is something MoneySupermarket does well by introducing contextual help text for the binary question ‘Are you Male / Female?’:
This information will not impact your individual insurance pricing. However, we appreciate some people may not identify with binary gender. In this case, please refer to your sex/gender as outlined on your birth certificate or gender recognition certificate.
MoneySuperMarket. Contextual help text beside gender form field. Retrieved from Moneysupermarket.com.
This statement will resonate 100 times better with users than an ‘out of the box’ phrase like ‘please select an option’!
Q8. Has anyone made a backup SMS system for people without smartphones?
A8. This is a difficult one to answer without knowing the purpose of the app but it sounds really interesting. In short, we haven’t seen anything that includes an alternative SMS service to native app usage, from some brief research into this area.
You might remember the NHS contact tracing app hitting the headlines earlier this year, which received some negative attention. It was set to exclude one in five Britons who don’t have a smartphone, according to OfCom.
We know, like you, that it’s a big issue to address. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “While we welcome any new technology that may help tackle the outbreak, we must ensure that no one is disadvantaged or locked out of services simply because they don’t have a smartphone. A substantial group – including the majority of those aged 75 and over – are not online and most of them never will be.”
We know of lots of apps that enable elderly and disabled users to access a range of services. Some of our favourites are:
- Be my eyes
- Dragon Dictation
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