7 Steps To Digital Accessibility

A pile of purple pound coins representing the Purple PoundOver 20% of the world’s population has a disability and in the UK the combined spending power of people with disabilities and their families, also called the Purple Pound, is £249 billion a year. For this reason, ensuring your products and services are accessible and able to be used by people with disabilities makes good business sense.

Whether you're a small company just starting up or a larger corporation that's been in operation for a long time, we know there may be challenges in sourcing information that will allow you to make your products and services fully accessible. As an Accessibility and Usability Consultant at AbilityNet I've worked with our Digital Accessibility Services team to produce this seven-step guide to making your digital product accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.

A mobile phone with someone doing some online shopping Digital services can provide a level of independence to people with disabilities that they've never experienced before. A person who may not be able to walk to their local bank due to a physical disability can complete financial transactions using a banking app. A person who is blind can shop online rather than in-store using their computer and a screenreader, which is a piece of assistive technology that describes the visual information displayed on a computer screen. In both examples the digital service on offer allows greater ease of access for the customer compared to navigating to a shop in-person and then requiring assistance from someone in-shop. If you don’t design your websites and apps in an accessible way you are not only losing customers - you are denying people with disabilities their independence.

1. accessibility shouldn’t be an after-thought

Make sure you consider accessibility throughout each part of a project and don’t leave it until the last moment. It will save you a lot of time and money if different access needs are considered throughout research, design, development and testing phases. Retro-fitting accessibility can be stressful, painful and extremely challenging. An inclusive approach which is well-planned will ensure you have a more usable product/service which can be enjoyed by a greater number of your customers.

2. use personas

Using personas of people with situational, temporary and permanent disabilities will help you to understand the diverse needs of your customers. Conduct user testing on your website or app using people with disabilities when possible. Barclays' free Diverse Personas guide is available online and can be used to help people designing products and services to understand the needs of customers with different disabilities.

3. simplify language

Try to ensure you simplify language as much as possible so your content is accessible to as many people as possible. At the Government Digital Service (GDS) they try to ensure their content has an average reading age of nine. People with low literacy levels filling in passport forms, as an example, then have a much better chance of completing their tasks. There are a lot of great tips on language from the GDS

4. colour contrast

Ensuring you have good colour contrast makes content easier to read for people with low vision and also for any users accessing your website or app when out in the sunshine. You can check your colours using Check My Colours which analyses the colour contrast of web pages.

5. provide descriptions

You can provide descriptions to every image using alt text. Decorative images should have empty alt so they can be ignored by screenreaders. This includes adding captions for images on social media. You can review our articles on adding alt text to Facebook images and how to make your Tweets accessible. A quick web search should produce some great advice for web pages too. 

6. provide subtitles for video

With people increasingly using their smartphones on the move there has been a large increase in stats of video views without sound. Recently it was shared that around 85% of Facebook video views are with sound muted. This statistic makes a great case for subtitling your content. You should provide subtitles and transcripts for video content as this helps people who are hard-of-hearing, who may not have English as their first language and the 4 million non-disabled users whose preference is to use subtitles according to the ODI

Transcripts for videos particularly help people who are deaf and blind as they can convert the text to braille. YouTube offers a great free service with closed captions which can now be edited, but for embedding captions we recommend adopting others services to assist with captioning video content.

Quick and easy test: turn off the sound and watch your video. Does it make sense if not provided with subtitles and a transcript?

7. use native html

When possible ensure you use native html elements such as buttons, links and select boxes, as they are inherently accessible with assistive technologies such as screenreaders. If you need to develop custom elements ensure they have the appropriate ARIA support which will ensure they are accessible by assistive technology. HTML is a preferred format to PDF but if you need to use PDF ensure you tag correctly for accessibility. For more information on understanding how semantic HTLM can be used to enhance accessibility see the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1

Quick test: unplug your mouse and ensure you can fully navigate and interact with buttons, links and forms on your website just by using the keyboard. This will dramatically improve the accessibility of your website for people who cannot use a mouse and for screenreader users.

AbilityNet can help

At AbilityNet our aim is to make the digital world a more accessible place. We offer a range of free and expert paid-for services for people at home, at work and in education. AbilityNet has a range of resources and expert knowledge we share with our clients and on our website. If you'd like to know more about our services you can contact us by calling 0800 269 545, email enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk or visit the Digital Accessibility Services section of our website.