In UX Bites #11, we discuss making your digital products more accessible and inclusive for all.
The state of digital accessibility
Video: UX Bites by Fathom webinar 11 ‘The state of digital accessibility’. Find this webinar and more on Fathom’s YouTube channel.
Q1. Given that the impact of a disability ranges massively from person to person and how hard it is to attract disabled participants for user testing, how do you recommend teams avoid the trap of “assumptions.” For example, assuming that one colour–blind participant represents all similarly disabled users?
A1. There is a big overlap in the Venn diagram depicting accessibility thinking and design thinking and one of the things in that overlap is the danger of making assumptions. The question really gets to the heart of the matter here, which is the importance of not seeking to design or speak on behalf of someone who you haven’t had the humility to understand or whose shoes you have not put yourself in.
As the question infers, involving as many participants as possible certainly gives a rounder view.
Additionally, a combination of quantitative and qualitative research can really help you to understand your users in a more rounded way, rather than simply speaking to them on a one–to–one basis. There is a plethora of information and research already available, with lots of data that helps us understand those people’s worlds better – just by embracing the data.
Accessibility tools such as screen readers can also give us a brilliant head start in understanding the experience of a website, app or digital product through the eyes and ears of people who are living with various conditions.
Q2. Has the average reading age of 9 years old in the UK been consistent for the past number of years, or is there any trend to show that the average reading age is increasing or decreasing over time?
A2. That statistic has only been measured recently and only once rather than consistently. It’s unlikely to be a static figure and is likely to go down rather than up. In all likelihood, it correlates with the number of adults who label themselves as disabled, which does increase yearly, usually by about 1% or 2%.
This is likely to be further impacted by the last year or so, as we are likely to see some kids struggling to keep up, specifically in early years education.
From a UX perspective, look at the government website ‘gov.uk.’ They were very clear about the reading age they were writing for and if you look at their numbers it’s impressive: 600 public services in the UK are available through this website yet customer satisfaction is 88.8%.
Every 100 times a public service is accessed in the UK, 79 times is done through gov.uk. So there really is a close correlation between understandable English, writing in a way that users understand and having a system that does and performs as you want.
Tools such as Hemingway are also a great way to check the reading age of your copy. The app uses grades based on the American education system. Thanks to attendee Harry for the reminder on this tool.
Q3. Can you suggest any good accessibility courses?
Texthelp has worked quite closely with a company called ‘Ability Net’ who are based in the UK and provide a wide range of training courses for all different types of accessibility, both digital and non–digital. They even have free courses available.
Q4. Do you have a starter pack for businesses to better understand WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and perhaps one which is NI–focussed?
Texthelp actually changes the terminology of the WCAG to make it a little bit more readable and more user–friendly for their clients. They are considering the experience of the people trying to fix the UX of their sites through accessibility, so feel it is important to simplify some of the more complex wording and concepts.
There are some good training tools out there for WCAG also. In fact, the web accessibility initiative website from the people who run the WCAG guidelines has some really good initial steps to introduce you to WCAG: what it means and an overview of the rules.
At Fathom we run accessibility audits and we both find that the number of errors or issues can be in the hundreds of thousands but when you boil them down they relate to a handful of templates and easy fixes that can very quickly reduce that number to a much smaller, manageable figure.
Q5. At what point in the development process would you recommend considering accessibility requirements?
A5. The earlier in the process you think about accessibility requirements the easier it will be to implement them. If you are building a new product and decide that you are going to make it WCAG compliant, AA standard, you must understand the standards and be cognisant of this throughout the planning, design and development phases.
If you have something already in place and you have to retrospectively go back and fix it – that is a much bigger task and will cost much more in development.
Q6. Does accessibility tie into SEO in any way?
A6. Absolutely. Technical accessibility in particular. If you structure your website in such a way that there are no headings, no paragraphs, no images or captions for videos – somebody, for example with a screen reader, is going to have severe difficulties navigating and understanding the website.
However, search engines are also not going to be able to index that data effectively. They are not going to be able to pull in the structure of the page, they are not going to pull in text representations of images or video content. So, you get a double benefit there; making it more accessible and improving your SEO at the same time.
Q7. Is there a deadline for all content to be accessible on public sector websites?
A7. Regulations as of 23.09.2019 mean all public sector organisations have a legal duty to make sure websites and apps meet accessibility requirements before going live.
Q8. If we substitute the word ‘patient’ for ‘customer’ we can see that people with disabilities are in most need of internet access due to so many health and wellbeing services being accessed through digital means initially. Do you have any thoughts on this?
A8. Absolutely. There’s a quote by Tim Berners–Lee that comes to mind, “if you are not on the web, you will have problems accessing services” and that is very relevant to the world we live in today. If you have difficulty accessing or using the internet you will ultimately have issues accessing services.
Now more than ever, internet access is a lifeline, not a luxury and with that everyone should be able to use it, regardless of their health, education or social–economic status.
Q9. How long do you think (approximately) it will take for a baseline accessibility level to be set and enforced for the private market and businesses, similar to what is in play now in public organisations?
A9. More of our clients are recognising the need to develop accessible websites and products. We certainly expect to see further developments in accessibility regulations around the world, for all markets and sectors.
It’s difficult to know how long that might take but high profile lawsuits such as Dominos and Beyonce.com are paving the way for a baseline for accessibility.
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