Accessibility is more important than ever

By Siobhan Mercer on 16th Apr 2020

The internet has become our lifeline during lockdown. Being online has become a huge part of how we now live our everyday lives.

We must all work hard to ensure our digital offering is accessible to as many people as possible, so no-one gets left out.  

“The power of the Web is in its universality.  
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” 

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Accessibility issues 

To make our services as inclusive as possible, we need to consider accessibility at all stages of our service design.  

Often people only think of sight loss and screen readers when considering accessibility of online services. There are many other conditions which affect people’s online experience. These include colour blindness, hearing impairments, physical disabilities, dyslexia, autism, cognitive issues, learning disabilities and many others.  

You will need to consider the range of people who use your service. Here is an introductory video to get your thinking started.  

The accessibility of your service is also affected by many other things:

  • Have you considered the type of devices your users currently have access to, which may be old and slow, or have small screen sizes?
  • Do your users have the required software?
  • What is their language level?
  • What is their skills ability?
  • What about location? 
  • Or broadband speed? 
  • Or cost of data?  

What should we be doing?  

Good digital design removes barriers that many people face in the physical world. Here is a series of short videos to help you think about bad design and the barriers this can create.  

Scope have produced a series of simple infographics and information on best practice in accessibility design for a variety of users. Their website also includes useful articles about how accessibility is good for business and reaching more people. 

Scotland’s Inclusive Communication Hub provides a series of case studies and resources on how to make your information accessible. Their concept is simple - make everything easy to access, simple to understand and your message will go further.   

Inclusion Scotland is our national disabled people’s organisation. Their social model of disability shows that people are not disabled because of a medical condition, but by barriers put in place by society. They have produced excellent guides on Accessible and Effective Remote Working and Accessible Social Media

AbilityNet supports people living with disability or impairment to use technology. They provide specialist advice services and information resources

Start making your content more accessible today 

Here are five easy things to start doing today as you continue working on making your content and services more accessible: 

  1. Use plain English 
    Short clear simple sentences are readable and accessible. Explain any acronyms and ditch the jargon.  
  1. Use capital letters for each new word in hashtags and website addresses 
    e.g.  #DigitalSkills or #DigitalEvolution is much easier to read, and is accessible to screen readers, than #digitalskills or #digitalevolution 
  2. Structure your content clearly and consistently 
    Using Heading 1, Heading 2 settings in documents and web pages will help users navigate your content. This helps screen readers and other assistive technology work more smoothly. 
  3. Enable image descriptions on your website and social media 
    This is commonly called the alt-text setting on images.
    Also avoid posting large chunks of text as embedded screenshots, as these are inaccessible to screen readers.
  4. Turn off your mouse and try to access your content using your keyboard 
    Can you access your digital offering without using your mouse? Some users can only use their keyboard to navigate your content.  

User-testing or using personas and profiles 

User-testing with a wide variety of clients will give you the best feedback. Yet, it is hard to do good quality user research remotely. This is when using imaginary personas or profiles can help.  

A persona is a generalised representation of a user of your product or service. The concept is from marketing but works well for inclusive design. You can name the personas and build up a picture of them, as demonstrated well in this blog post.  

Every time you create any new content or service, you should ask yourself “Will this work for each of my personas?” 

Looking at persona pairs takes this a step further. One person in the pair has a disability; the other person does not have a disability but is encountering a similar user issue.  Solving the issue makes the content more accessible to both people in the pair.  

Another option is to use a set of user profiles  or user stories to highlight common barriers your users may face. 

If you are doing user research, it is helpful to think about what research questions you are trying to understand. This blog gives a helpful overview of the three main types of user research

Legal requirements for accessibility 

It is a legal requirement that your service be accessible. There are regulations that apply to public sector websites and apps. Helpful advice on how to meet these accessibility requirements has been published in guidance by both UK Government and Scottish Government

You are also required to have an accessibility statement on your website and apps. 

Further reading 

This blog post concentrates on making written online content more accessible. Accessibility of video content and live events are other areas which we all need to make more accessible.

If you are interested in more detail on accessibility, see The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the Web Accessibility Initiative. This is part of the World Wide Web Consortium which is the main international standards organisation for the Internet. A simpler user-friendly checklist of the guidelines is available at the a11y project.