Why website accessibility should be your top priority

Many companies and organisations don’t pay enough attention to accessibility and inclusive design in their websites and apps; however, the requirement is greater than you might think.

People with some form of physical or mental impairment are not a minority, they make up 20% of the population. What’s more, accessibility is not just important to people with a long-term disability. Today disability is not only defined as a personal attribute, it's context dependant. The context could be a short-term injury, time pressures, language barriers, bright light, or a noisy environment - everybody benefits from inclusive design.

So why is making your site accessible so important? Why can it be difficult? And why should you make it a priority?

Why is making your website accessible so important?

One in five adults in the UK are living with a disability and according to the Office for National Statistics only 22% of these have never used the internet. This means that more than 9.3 million people in the UK are using the internet with a disability.

Source: http://www.craigabbott.co.uk/accessibility-is-not-an-edge-case

By law, all public sector websites and apps will need to meet accessibility requirements by September 2020. This doesn't mean private sector companies are necessarily exempt either. It is already illegal for your website not to reach accessibility requirements in the USA.  This has resulted in an explosion in litigation - 2,285 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2018.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/accessibility-requirements-for-public-sector-websites-and-apps

The fact is good design should be intuitive and accessible anyway. Designing for accessibility provides a better user experience for everyone. Inclusive design can help expand your user base, it will deliver a smoother experience for everyone and it can also inspire innovation. Thinking about accessibility from the start of digital project rather than an afterthought is good practice and should be how we all approach any project.

Braille screen reader

Why can it be so hard to get right

As designers and developers, we never set out to make our designs inaccessible, but we tend to use our own ability and experiences as a baseline. As a tech-literate, 30-something professional, living in Leeds, I don't have any disabilities, I have fast internet access, I have the latest smartphone, English is my first language and I have a good understanding of language and writing skills. It could be easy for me to forget that not everyone is in the same situation. Empathy is an important skill to learn and we need to consider the issues other people might have using our sites.

Accessibility in web design has not been fully explored yet. Currently, there are few specialists in this area so there are plenty of opportunities to innovate and get ahead of the competition. The industry is still learning and the more we explore possibilities and gather feedback from people using our websites and apps, the more we can start to create experiences that benefit everyone. Our client, Microsoft, sees "human diversity as a resource" they realise that diversity is an opportunity for innovation.

What we’ve learnt from working with Microsoft

I am lucky enough to have worked with Microsoft for the past 4 years on ExpertZone their retail learning portal and a live streaming games platform for Xbox using Mixer.

Microsoft is leading the way with a culture focused on inclusion and accessibility and sees it as a driver of innovation.  Their vision statement is “Our mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” It was developed from the ground up and is how they approach everything they do.

Having worked closely with Microsoft, this inclusive approach is now the way we look at all our projects. The focus of the whole team, from the project managers and designers to the developers and testers is ‘How can we make it more inclusive?’ and ‘Can we make it better for the user through innovation?’.

For example, as part of the interactive services project for Xbox, to help increase sales, we featured live streaming gameplay on retailer websites. As part of Microsoft's commitment to accessibility, we added real-time live subtitles to accommodate users with hearing loss. This is a world-first for live streaming – we led the way with this technology and created something ground-breaking and beneficial to everyone.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Going above and beyond

Inclusive definition:

" Inclusive design: A design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity."

Accessibility defined:

" Accessibility: 1. The qualities that make an experience open to all. 2. A professional discipline aimed at achieving No. 1."

(Source: Microsoft's inclusive toolkit)

So, what can we do to be more inclusive rather than simply checking the box to say we are AA accessibility compliant, which should be a minimum standard for all digital experiences. We need to understand why and how people are excluded from doing things on our websites. What are their barriers, why can't they participate and why do they feel excluded?

Every element works together to improve the overall experience. We design for accessibility by using extensive user research, a well thought out user journey, a structured clearly laid out page, proper colour contrast, relevant and easy to understand content, concise copy, a build that takes into account assistive technology and testing with assistive tools.

We have had amazing results from this approach gaining a 100% Google accessibility score for both Microsoft and AIG. This means that not only is the site accessible but also improves its searchability and ranking.

These solid foundations mean that we have more time to innovate and push the designs and work we are doing. We can start to understand how to design for things such as dyslexia. We can concentrate on user-focused storytelling, copy, content, building the brand and adding nuanced touches to build a meaningful experience. It’s not always easy but with knowledge and practice, you can build your expertise.

100% accessibility on Googles accessibility tool lighthouse for Microsoft ExpertZone

What’s next?

There is still so much to learn and develop in this area. As an industry, we have only just started to make the internet a place that is accessible to everybody. We have a long way to go before these practices become part of our everyday. When I look around there are still so many barriers for people online. This approach is not only the right thing to do but also makes sense financially.

We are all changing, growing, and adapting to the world as it transforms and who knows what challenges the future will bring. The current climate has already brought an older generation online that have different needs and disability can grow with age.  Designing for accessibility can be complicated and we must be careful of making assumptions. But by designing with empathy and by having these things on our radar we take steps on the journey to being fully inclusive.

Hanneka, Head of Design

Bolser's lead designer, who also picked up the 'One to Watch' award at the 2018 Leeds Digital Festival.