Accessibility strategies at Sainsbury's during the pandemic

"We were having tech huddles and digital huddles, 600 people on calls where accessibility and disability were right at the top of the agenda. So it was an incredible thing in that respect… but just because it’s being talked about it doesn’t mean that everyone understands it," said Bryn Anderson, Digital Accessibility Specialist at Sainsbury's, discussing how the change in narrative for people with disabilities was amplified during the pandemic.


Bryn joined us in our Accessibility Insights webinar series with Robin Christopherson MBE, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, who hosts the monthly online chat with individuals who are working to improve digital accessibility and inclusion.


Highlights from the webinar


Bryn went onto discuss the Sainsbury's business as a whole: “We were well-prepared in that a lot of people understand what inclusion and accessibility is. Our drivers, pre-COVID, would make exceptions for people, help to carry shopping on the delivery front, and we have had an accessibility agenda for some time."


Watch the captioned webinar recording and you can download the transcript:

All of our webinars are recorded and you can find them on our website.

Slides used in the webinar, Q&As and a podcast version of the recording are below:

Follow up questions and answers from the webinar

Bryn has responded below to some of the questions that were posed by attendees in the Q&A panel during the webinar:

Q: Did the noise around the public sector web accessibility regulations on September 23rd help raise awareness further or shed more light on the challenges of assuring greater levels of accessibility?

For Sainsbury’s it didn’t have a big impact as the legislation is for public sector. There is, however, another piece of legislation called the Accessibility Act which requires e-commerce (and specific industries) in the EU to be accessible. However, I believe the UK government has already come out and said that they won't be transposing the Accessibility Act into British law. (For more information on this, see Robin's blog on the topic from earlier this year.)

Q: Does the Sainsburys website use ARIA for screen readers for the blind? If so, please explain if the voice heard is synthetic or a human, and how you try to make that voice sound natural and human and not resembling a computer? How does the company make the voice sound British or Scottish?

Yes, we encourage the use of WAI-ARIA to better support screen readers where native HTML falls short. As far as the voice goes, this is mostly down to the screen reader being used and the preferences you set for it. 
One thing we do have control over is declaring the language of the page in the doc type e.g. ‘en-gb’ would, in theory, have a screen reader read in a British accent vs ‘en-us’ which would use an American accent depending on your screen reader preferences.

Q: How are you tracking users who are using the Sainsbury's site with increased font size? Having that data would be really useful when making the case for changes. Bryn mentioned something to do with iOS, I imagine this is a related website plugin to monitor user behaviour?

You can track IOS and Android SDK feature usage like font scale and VoiceOver/TalkBack in for example Google Analytics. However, it’s a bit of a controversial topic and should be approached with caution. For example, what if the number is really low? You can guarantee that the number of VoiceOver users is going to be nowhere near 30% - does that mean you shouldn’t prioritise support for an operating system feature that ships with every iPhone? Of course not, and especially when that feature is a critical or essential feature as opposed to a preference.

Q: What are the tools Sainsburys uses to address accessibility issues? Is WebAIM one of them? For readability / comprehension purposes, particularly for cognitively disabled people, what age and school grade level does the Sainsbury's website use? What tool does Sainsbury's use to determine that grade or reading level? Hemingway or Grammarly … other tools?

WebAIM chrome extension and colour contrast checker, axe chrome extension, Microsoft Insights for Chrome, SiteImprove Chrome extension, axe-cypress for end-2-end testing... those are the ones I am aware of that I’ve seen used. 
I am not aware of any reading level assessments that we do as a business but we (The Luna Guidelines team) do provide copy guidance for content teams to follow.

Q: How does Sainsbury’s test readability for and by cognitively disabled people? How do they do UX /UI studies on this category of people? Important question for me… “user testing.” Perhaps discuss NN Group techniques.

First off I should say that research is definitely not my area of expertise, as much as I would like it to be. It depends on the project and what resources we have available. For example, we recently recruited and tested the copy and messaging for a new feature with colleagues who identify as having a cognitive impairment (for example, dyslexia and dyspraxia). In this instance we conducted interviews with several colleagues who were asked to talk us through several steps in a journey. 
I am definitely in favour of heuristics to identify tasks or situations that might be disabling regardless of how the user/participant identifies. In a survey, for example, we might ask a question about how easy/hard on a scale of something or other to read text and see images on a mobile device, as opposed to asking if you have a visual impairment.

Q: Can the handheld self-scan technology be easily adapted to a sound read out, or through an earphone, or as an phone app, but only as one adjusted for VI? I can see that an open app may be difficult to keep up to date with stock and offers, but the scanner used by staff may need little adjustment to be user friendly for VI. I think the staff ones have naturally differing capability from the “public” ones and again those used by in-store staff "shoppers for others” may be different yet again. So variety is possible!

If this is referring to SmartShop then there is a SmartShop app for IOS and Android phones which you can then use with the accessibility features available through the operating system - for example, VoiceOver on an iPhone and TalkBack on an Android phone.

Q: I'd love to know what the film about the tech giants that you mentioned is now, I'm intrigued...!

The Social Dilemma 

For additional information read answers to frequently asked questions about AbilityNet webinars.

Date of webinar: 
6 Oct 2020 - 13:00