When websites and web tools are properly designed and coded, people with disabilities can use them, but as is evident in so many websites which we audit, due consideration hasn't been given to accessibility in any stage of the process.
Andy Hall is Scope’s Head of Digital Inclusion, and as he explained to us, there’s still so much more work to be done around the subject of accessibility and digital inclusion.
Thanks for your time Andy, for those that perhaps aren’t aware, just how important is accessibility?
We know that around 20% of the population has a disability of some description, and that an even greater percentage, has what we call, a “temporary or situational disability”. So, that could mean a broken arm, or, if a parent is carrying a child.
According to a recent Click-Away Pound Survey, around 71% of disabled people who experience difficulty with a website, will click away from it, and may never use it again. So our question is simple; how can this be right?
Now, there’s a commercial driver behind it all, but there’s also a reputational driver too.
We are an organisation representing disabled people, and believe that we need to be fully accessible, irrespective of the disability. We believe that everyone else should be too.
What kind of mistakes are made when it comes to accessibility and website design/development?
First and foremost, accessibility is not considered at the earliest concept stage, and it should be.
The accessibility experience, what we call AX, should be an integral part of the user experience, UX.
A lot of organisations look at accessibility at the very last stages, literally just before they launch it, by which point it’s about 100 times more expensive to fix.
We’re trying to raise awareness by working with colleagues and suppliers. We work at the design stage, when it’s still basically just a drawing on a piece of paper, and ask; how does that function from an accessibility point of view?
Another area for consideration is that there’s a real fear of asking disabled people, what they want from a site.
So many organisations are not disability savvy, and we’re very often met with the “we don’t have any disabled people coming here” approach, which is then of course reflected on their site.
We have worked with some organisations that would like to do it, but just don’t know how to get going with it.
How can education around accessibility improve?
There needs to be a cultural and leadership shift within an organisation. It needs to come from the top and by this I mean commissioners, directors and whoever is responsible for making the overall decisions.
If they’re aware and pushing accessibility, then they’re setting the bar at that height for the culture of the organisation they’re representing.
The knock-on impact is that the brand will be fully accessible, and because people see this is coming from the top and that they’re the ones driving it, then it filters down and through the whole company.
Before we even talk standards and coding, my first port of call with anyone who knows very little about accessibility, is to get them to put their mouse to one side, and ask them if they can tab their way around the website.
Find out where you want to go, and when you hit the enter key, does it take you there? It doesn’t matter if it meets the WCAG standards or not, because if it doesn’t work, then the customer leaves the site.
A good example and one for people to check out, is the BBC and the exceptional work Professor Jonathan Hassell has done.
What can you tell us about Scope’s commitment to accessibility?
Our commitment to accessibility goes right the way through our website and by this, I mean things like the accessibility statement.
We go through an accessibility testing regime every three months and we publish our statement, which includes our known problems, so we basically confess to them before they’re found.
By doing this, you’re being honest, the public have seen you know about it and you’ve not only told them when you’ve found the issue, but critically, what you’re going to do to resolve it.
How can organisations raise awareness about accessibility?
A lot of organisations don’t realise that they have a lot of expertise already internally. There’s a lot of people already employed who are disabled, and organisations don’t know who those people are, where they are, and what they could contribute to user testing.
Digital inclusion must come across in numerous strands. It’s no good having all beautiful white twentysomethings on the website. Mix it up with ethnicities, gender, and everything else. Do we have someone on the site with a disability? If you live long enough, you will be disabled, so it’s not that far-fetched.
I think that a culture of talking about equality, diversity and inclusion within an organisation helps, and as we’ve already discussed, this should come from the very top.
Looking into your accessibility crystal ball, what might we see in the future?
I think what we’re going to see is a considerable change in augmented reality (AI) products. If you’ve got an iPhone, download a product called “seeing AI” from Microsoft. It’s free and does incredible things such as reading text and identifying bank notes and people. I think we’ll see more of this type of thing introduced in the coming months and years for sure.
The other shift with regards to accessibility is the move by users, to non-traditional methods, to access information.
For example, one guy we’re talking with is working on something where speech isn’t required to control smart home devices like Amazon echo, you just need to breathe for it to recognise your command. It’s amazing, it really is.
I’d also like to see more mainstream companies and people who’ve grasped accessibility, doing more shouting about the subject to the broader population.
Examples like Barclays do a fantastic job in a variety of areas, but a lot of other places are delivering it quietly and I’d really like to see more places taking about it openly to the general population, because when that happens, people follow trends and decide that they would like a slice of it too.
Accessibility isn’t just the built environment and wheelchairs, ramps, stairs, and so on. It’s everything we interface, and that’s often lost.Keep an eye on our site throughout July for more news and information about accessibility.