This past year will be remembered as the year that caused just about everyone to have to handle digital information differently than ever expected. Digital accessibility, digital is now the ‘new normal’ for work, education, finance, food, health, etc. so it needs to benefit everyone. People with disabilities have been affected the most by the pandemic when it comes to using digital services that are not accessible. For example: if they can’t order needed items such as prescriptions or food online, and have to physically go to the store to pick them up due to the digital services not being accessible, then it can cause ‘acute harm’ during situations like COVID-19. It is necessary to provide the same services to all people.

Disabilities are extremely diverse and can range from temporary to permanent. No one knows when or if they will need assistance in accessing digital information. An injury can happen to either you or your customer at any time, so it is best to have your information as accessible to as many people as possible, no matter what the situation.

Here are some examples of types of disabilities:

  • Temporary: broken glasses, or minor injury to head, eye or hand
  • Situational: needing to use captions when viewing a video in a public waiting room or not being able to see the screen easily due to bright sunlight outdoors
  • Age: shaky fingers or lack of vision
  • Permanent: blind, deaf or paralysis

Accessibility isn’t a fix-when-broken kind of problem. It is a long-term issue that businesses need to address and maintain periodically as part of their business plan, just as they would with IT, security, privacy and other technology issues. We are at a point where digital accessibility has become critical, because of the pandemic causing Accessibility to become a mainstream issue. More and more businesses will be delivering accessible apps and mobile responsive websites. If you have not been thinking about how accessibility affects your business, now is the time to start.

Next step

Take baby steps, and start now!

Pay attention to how accessible your website is. Have a plan on how to make it accessible and how to maintain it so that it stays accessible. Discuss with your team how your business is going to handle accessibility issues if they arise and make an internal policy. It doesn’t matter what size of business you are. There is an increasing need to provide a good experience to all people, including those with disabilities. COVID-19 has brought that into extreme focus. Whether your business focuses on customers or is a non-profit that focuses on donations, think about how the culture of your organisation comes across and what you want your users to experience on your site. If a user is not able to complete a purchase or make a donation, you will not only lose that one time action, you will also lose someone who could have been a strong advocate for your brand.

Make the effort to develop a company plan so that every bit of content added is accessible from the start, starting right now. Try using templates. Once you spend the time to make sure a file or webpage is accessible, use it as your base, and then reuse it over again. That way you will save yourself a lot of work and will just have to go in to update the images (with alt text) and content. This will save time and ensure that your users can access every bit of your information. When digital content is built correctly it allows the user to change it as needed for their specific situations, such as allowing them to change font size and style that is most readable to their needs. Then start on one page of your website at a time as your time allows so that you won’t have to worry about having to do it all at once. Also, make sure that your downloadable files are accessible as well.

Think about people with disabilities, both temporary and permanent. Would they be able to achieve what they need to on your site or are there barriers?

Try these quick and easy tests to see how many barriers you have with your website:

  • Tab through your webpage… can you see where the focus is and does its tab in logical reading order?
  • Do all of your buttons and links make sense when you read them alone?
  • Does your site respond to a mobile device easily and effectively? Are buttons easy to push and phone numbers easy to click on?
  • Print your webpage in black and white…. can it still be read easily, or is there not enough colour contrast?
  • How does your site function on a mobile device outdoors? Try to navigate around your site in bright sunlight – is there enough colour contrast to still be able to use the site or are there issues?
  • Do all videos have closed captions or a link to a source that does?

Easy tests like these point out barriers some users might be experiencing so you can know where to start to make your site more accessible. Also, be sure to add an accessibility statement to the footer of your site. If you are not already following the WCAG 2.1 AA Guidelines, you should be since they are the current standard used worldwide. (WCAG 2.2 is in the draft stage and predicted to be released in late 2021 or 2022.) In the accessibility statement in your footer, include that you are trying to follow the WCAG 2.1 AA Guidelines and that if anyone experiences difficulty accessing any content or document on the website they should access your business at a specific phone number or email so that you can provide an accessible option for them. It is best practice to have a 24/7 option, but if that is not possible, then list specific days and hours available for assistance.

What does success look like?

We all want our user’s experience to be both a pleasant and productive one. User experience is always worth the investment by putting you above your competitors and is a great way to build your business. Audiences are looking for easy to use experiences and authentic interactions. Engaging digital experiences such as live social media interactions, interactive webinars, large digital conferences, streaming apps-style content hubs to easily allow customers to find the resources they need most, and customized landing pages are all good examples of how to deliver personalized experiences so users feel like you are directing the content to them. Designing these user experiences and your website with accessibility in mind will help you to build brand and customer loyalty.

The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better? – Steve Krug

When you increase the quality of life for someone with a disability, you will increase the lives of their family and friends as well. They often will share, connect and refer brands and businesses that are easy to access. Remember, digital accessibility is never done – it is an ongoing approach to improving your business and your users experience with you.

London web designer – Thomas Albohm - Resources