Accessibility - some myths dispelled

By Jennifer Fuller | 30/11/2016

What is accessibility and why is it important?

Accessibility ensures people with disabilities, whether they are cognitive, physical, visual or auditory can interact, navigate and contribute to the Web. A more accessible website not only supports the basic needs of everyone when accessing digital content but also provides equal opportunity, access and personal development for those with disabilities. Accessibility also makes the web more inclusive for people with temporary or progressive conditions, for example changes in ability or access needs related to aging or debilitating injuries.

A vast number of websites have barriers to access and this makes it difficult (and sometimes impossible) for those with disabilities to use the Web. We work with a variety of different clients to help improve their accessibility and ensure they are providing an improved and inclusive service to their users. We take the time to research and understand the needs, motivations and behaviours of our users and our project stakeholders. We think it's important to design and build products that are rooted in an understanding of the people who are going to be using them.

Much like Sigma, People for Research – who launched the #MakeTheWebAccessible campaign earlier this year –  have focused on promoting digital inclusion. Being experts in participant recruitment for usability testing and user experience research, they regularly engage with disabled people within their community of participants, but the feedback received is not always what they hoped for. To quote one of their visually impaired community members, who is also a blogger and overall regular technology user, “if I were to highlight all the issues I face when online, I would end up writing a lengthy novel”.

So if we know this is important, why is it that so many companies out there that don’t take accessibility seriously? Why don’t they invest in making their websites accessible?

Accessibility presentation by Chris Bush

Myths and misconceptions about accessibility

With over 80 million people affected by disability in the EU alone, it’s surprising that there are still a number of companies not willing to invest the time and money into making their sites accessible for all their users. This might be because there are a number of misconceptions about accessible websites floating around the Web and through the hallways and boardrooms of all kinds of companies.

Accessible websites are ugly

Making content available and accessible to users with different capabilities, skills and devices doesn’t mean the site needs to be boring and ugly. The visual appearance of any site is in fact defined by style sheets; therefore, the accessibility itself should not impact the visual design. Examples of websites with great visual design that are accessibility compliant include:

- Apple.com
- Citizensadvice.org.uk
- Artscouncil.org.uk

It must be the long list of requirements relating to accessibility that puts people off. However, looking at these examples, I hope you’d agree an accessible site does not need to be ugly.

Web accessibility and compliance is expensive and difficult to implement

Adapting your site to become accessibility compliant may seem expensive in terms of investing in design and development changes, as well as investing in usability testing to better understand your users. The long list of requirements may seem daunting to comply with but this doesn’t need to be a costly venture. The key to making content accessible is to assess the requirements of those with different skills and limited devices when designing the user interface and the content. If you were building from scratch it would cost the same amount to build a website that was accessibility compliant or not. Amending an inaccessible website may take further investment, however the benefits in the long term are substantial as accessible sites are cheaper and easier to maintain and cater to a wider audience. 

Web accessibility only caters to small % of the population (and has no other benefits)

It’s a common misconception that web accessibility only caters to a small percentage of the population. I wouldn’t call 80 million people in the EU a small number; however, everyone experiences some sort of disability in their lives, even if temporarily. It’s a fact that we are all getting older and at some point or another start to lose our dexterity, hearing and sight. So to say that an accessible site doesn’t cater to you is simply untrue. And if it doesn’t help you now, it certainly will later on. The secret is to design for the 5% and your website will end up being accessible for them and the other 95%. This presentation from Elizabeth Buie gives some great advice on what to consider, how we will all benefit and what you can do to help if you're a web designer or developer:

http://www.slideshare.net/wearesigma/older-adults-are-we-really-designing-for-our-future-selves

Web accessibility has strict requirements

As previously mentioned, the number of requirements can be daunting for anyone to adhere to but if followed, these guidelines provide long-term benefits to any site. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organisations around the world, with a goal of proving a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organisations, and governments internationally.

WCAG 2.0 has 12 guidelines that are organised under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA. Though these guidelines may be strict, they are important to provide an all-inclusive service to your customers.

Make accessibility work for you

Make accessibility work for you: don’t be boring, be flexible and inclusive for all of your users. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are over 10 million disabled people in the UK, representing around 15 % of the population, and approximately 200 million of those people have visual impairments. This doesn’t include older users, or those with ‘softer’ impairments such as arthritis, whose needs are growing but are not adequately catered for by very many organisations in both the public and private sectors. Companies are waking up to the fact that, even setting aside the moral and ethical argument for inclusive digital services, it does not make commercial sense to isolate such a sizeable part of the market.

Take a look at the presentation given by Sigma’s Head of Experience Design, Chris Bush and the founder of the Molly Watt foundation, Molly Watt on ‘How to Design and Develop in an inclusive way’[i] for more information on the importance of designing with accessibility in mind. 

[i] http://www.slideshare.net/wearesigma/how-to-design-and-develop-in-an-inclusive-way