Accessibility and inclusion
Last week we held the second Interactions event, with three speakers who gave their unique perspectives about the importance of accessibility and inclusion when it comes to designing websites, digital products and services. This is an increasingly important area for businesses to focus on, with 20% of the UK population currently living with a disability or having accessibility needs.
Here’s an overview of the main points:
Know your customer and design with them front of mind
Firstly, we heard from Arun Sispal, a UX Designer at Yorkshire Building Society (YBS), who has led on the design of the YBS mobile banking app. The app is aimed at a core group of savings’ customers aged between 50 and 65. Insight revealed that these customers can be apprehensive about technology, they’re very security conscious and prefer face-to-face interactions in branch. They’re also typically unaware of the nuances between a banking website and a banking app. Arun explained the research and insight work that was carried out up front to understand the needs and wants of this group of customers, so that the new app could be designed around the customer. The next step was to ensure the new app aligned to the YBS brand and motto: real help with real life.
As Arun stressed, it’s vital that accessibility doesn’t fall down the priority list when it comes to app design. Start and end with your customer and their lived experience front of mind. Charities like the RNIB and Scope provide resources around accessibility, which brands can use to inform their own customer research efforts. Usability testing is a vital part of the design process to create a holistic picture of accessibility needs. Considerations include colour contrasts, scalable fonts, clear and simple language, the placement of links and table layouts within the app, and how to design every aspect of the ‘look’ and functionality in such a way that a screen reader can easily navigate the app. It’s also helpful to incorporate design features that target users are already comfortable with; for example, underlining links in the app, which mimics how links often appear on websites.
Arun concluded by explaining the importance of friction in banking apps, because as an ethical and responsible business, YBS wants to slow the user journey down so that customers understand every step of the transaction they’re making. It’s important that customers are always consciously aware of the consequences of their actions within the app.
It’s time to fall in love with WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
Our next speaker, Emma Aldington, a UX Content Designer from Cinch, shared her insight around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the global rulebook for accessibility standards. Above and beyond her day-to-day role, Emily is also an accessibility advocate both inside Cinch and externally. She explained the four pillars of web accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Taking each in turn, perceivable is essentially about users consuming information from your website, so how an individual can perceive and read content, regardless of what senses they have available to them. Operable is about actually interacting with that content, regardless of what device you might be using or your accessibility needs. Understandable is simple – once you can perceive and operate the content, do you understand what it’s telling you? Finally, robust is about browsers and devices interpreting HTML. Under each of these four accessibility pillars or principles there are several guidelines, and there are three compliance levels to aim for: A, AA and AAA.
As Emily explained, even for organisations which have just started working toward the first level of accessibility (‘A’) there are things they can take from the AAA level, including the use of plain language and the need to avoid jargon. The beauty of WCAG is that it provides clear and actionable guidelines that will make a real difference to users with accessibility needs. Emily gave practical examples of how designers can start to take action toward each of the four accessibility principles. A lot of it is common sense; for example, not assuming how someone will view or use your website. So, this may result in providing captions for video because users may have a hearing impairment or may choose to view with sound off because they’re in a public place. Another great example, which is simple to apply, is using alt text for images.
Embed accessibility principles
Our final speaker was Phil Hesketh, Founder of Consent Kit, an informed consent platform which helps forward-thinking design teams to respect their participants and stay compliant with GDPR rules. Phil talked about how the sudden shift to online due to Covid-19 forced many organisations to reimagine their workflows, which highlighted cracks in some systems in terms of their accessibility. This is an in-built design problem, but with accessibility front of mind, it doesn’t take much to significantly improve the quality of the experience for disabled participants and to make processes better for everyone. There is huge potential to drive systemic change, altering how an entire function performs in a business and how inclusive it is.
In terms of informed consent, accessibility is essential. If someone can’t understand what’s being asked of them in a consent form, then there are weighty ethical implications as to whether that consent is even valid at all. Phil advised starting with a simple visual device, such as a high-level process map, so that everyone is on the same page from the outset. Then build your accessibility checklist for every step of the process. And before you begin, develop some clear accessibility principles that everyone commits to. For example, use plain language, signal your intent, give people space to think and invite questions, be helpful, and – perhaps most importantly – test with real people who have lived experience of disability.
From a brand perspective, how can you demonstrate you’re a responsible and ethical business if your products and services aren’t accessible? Organisations in all sectors will increasingly be focusing more effort and resources into the inclusion and diversity agenda, which includes accessibility. The WCAG is a great place to start your accessibility journey. Check out charities like RNIB and Scope and organisations like One In Five and Fable, which provide specialist help and guidance. Essentially, if you get accessibility right, it makes the experience better for everyone.