What is digital accessibility? And what's involved in making digital products and platforms accessible?
I delved into this topic at our recent “Adopting a Customer-First Strategy” event in Sydney. I was joined by experts in customer and user experience, who spoke on how to embrace customer-centricity to deliver a more engaging experience for digital users.
We recently released a video to commemorate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), an annual event that promotes awareness about digital accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. This short video does a good job of explaining what accessibility is, who it impacts, why you might need to consider it from a business perspective, and how to apply it to your own platforms and make them accessible.
A common misconception is that accessibility and inclusive design are one and the same. However, if we look a bit deeper into both of these practices, they're actually quite different.
An interesting distinction is that inclusive design considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference. On the other hand, digital accessibility refers to the practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with or access to websites by people with disabilities.
As you can see, there’s quite an important distinction between the two. To quote an article by Kat Holmes from Fast Company, the biggest one is that “accessibility is an attribute, while inclusive design is a method.” Ideally, they work together to create an experience that is not only compliant with standards, but truly usable and open to all.
Why be accessible?
Accessibility is important to consider from a business perspective, and there are three main drivers for this:
1. Moral and ethical drivers
We want to do the right thing for our users. To that end, we need to take all the necessary steps to make our platforms as inclusive as possible.
Customer-centricity is another reason. As outlined in the above video, there's quite a few different groups of users that we need to consider. It's really important to create user stories when you're building your platform, and then consider the customer at the centre of these user stories and development techniques that you put into play.
2. Legal drivers
Many government organisations around the world now have to meet legal and legislative requirements, with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) being the most common. For example, the Australian Government must meet WCAG 2.0 level AA at minimum, whilst WCAG 2.1 has recently been adopted into recent European ICT standards.
It's very important to understand your organisation’s responsibilities in terms of accessibility compliance. That’s because there are consequences for not making your platforms accessible, such as litigation from affected users.
In 2000, a landmark case around accessibility litigation was brought against the Sydney Olympic Games Organisation Committee (SOGOC). Bruce Maguire, a visually impaired user, was unable to access the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics website to check the progress of the games, such as accessing scores and medal tallies.
SOGOC was found to be at fault and Maguire was awarded $20,000. The organisation was also made to fix their website in line with accessibility requirements.
The Australian government took notice of this case and soon adopted WCAG for all its public sector and government websites moving forward.
Even so, you still hear of instances of accessibility litigation and lawsuits against various public and private organisations. The amount of web accessibility lawsuits are on the rise, particularly in the US, and it’s showing no sign of abating anytime soon.
3. Corporate drivers
15 per cent of people around the world are said to experience a form of disability. When you think about it, that’s a potentially large market that a business may be missing out on by not making its products and services inclusive and accessible.
Also, think about your competitors that aren’t accessible. By simply addressing this untapped market, you can gain a competitive advantage.
Accessibility is also an opportunity to build your brand advocacy. People will sit up and notice how inclusive and user friendly your products or services are, and then tell other people about them.
The reverse is also true. It's very easy for people to share negative experiences on social media, so why not build up your platform turn them into potential brand advocates instead?
Understanding your customers
You need to know who your audience is. You’ve no doubt already identified who your core audience is, but what about the subset with accessibility needs?
Here is a video by Apple that provides a glimpse into the life of one such digital user, who actually created the video:
This is a really great example of the different ways people can interact with technology. This user has been empowered to be able to interact digitally, so if you can make your products or service accessible, then you can appeal to them as well.
The road ahead
Now that you know what accessibility is, who it's for, who it affects, and why it's important to implement, what can you do next? I've outlined some quick and easy fixes in this short video:
If you're keen to implement accessibility properly, you can start by assessing yourself again an accessibility maturity roadmap. It helps pinpoint where you are on your accessibility journey.
If you're starting at the beginning, you'll need to determine your current maturity levels and set future goals. You'll constantly be setting goals, and they may shift and change with product development.
The next step is pinpointing initial issues that you need to resolve. Find any high or medium priority issues that you need to action first to ensure that users will have the most inclusive experience as quickly as possible.
Conduct a full accessibility audit in line with WCAG 2.0 or 2.1. You can choose the level of conformance you require, whether it be level A, AA, or AAA. Most organisations, especially for government, will aim for WCAG 2.0 level AA, but we highly recommend considering 2.1, which has some extra considerations for cognitive disabilities, visual impairment, and mobile responsive content.
The next step consists of implementing your fixes. Make sure everyone on your team can actually fix the issues that have been identified through the accessibility audit.
After you’ve identified the issues and fixed your platform, you need to evaluate your conformance. The goal here is to make sure everything is as accessible as possible.
When you evaluate conformance, you'll generally be presented with an accessibility statement, which will outline at what state your platform currently is, and where you'd like to be. It's also referred to as a “conformance claim” by the W3C, who are responsible for creating accessibility requirements.
Next, you need to communicate your accessibility efforts. The accessibility statement mentioned above can be tailored towards a public facing audience, so you can publish that on your website to clearly communicate to your users about how accessible your platform is.
You may have noticed that some websites may have a link in the footer linking to an accessibility statement. This lets users know where you are on your accessibility roadmap, steps you've taken to implement accessibility conformance, where you'd like to be, and any potential issues that can affect end-users.
The last step is to review, repeat, and maintain. Make sure that you're consistently going over your roadmap, keeping abreast of new changes to technology and development techniques, and making sure that you're fully aware of your responsibilities and requirements.
If you are interested to find out where you are on your digital accessibility journey, contact us and we will guide you through the process and guidelines. If you feel that your customers are not getting the digital experience that they expect, we can also help you transform your applications to deliver the quality your customers demand.