August 24, 2018
We live in an era of rapid digitalization. New web pages, tools and systems that make our lives easier are created every day. There has been a lot of attention on user experience and user friendliness recently, but can we be sure that our digital products are truly inclusive and accessible? How can we ensure that our solutions do not exclude certain groups of people?
Several initiatives aim to impose certain minimal accessibility requirements and guidelines, or provide a legal foundation. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a great example of a W3C initiative that intends to increase the understanding of website accessibility.
Naturally, most of us probably think that the main target group for accessibility issues is people with hearing and visual impairments. This is certainly a big group – according to research by Fundacja Widzialni, 23% of people in Poland have some kind of disability. However, there is more to web accessibility than disabilities. If we count elderly people, mobile device users, newbies to the internet, people of different nationalities with varied language skills, and users of legacy systems, the group affected by inaccessible content may cover as many as 80 million users across the European Union, Fundacja Widzialni reports.
That is why in addition to accessibility for people with disabilities, WAI is fighting for equal rights for everyone who uses the internet. Many websites do not support the specialised surf devices service used by disabled people, and other issues include slow internet connections, portable devices (for example PDAs and mobile phones), and old computers with low resolutions and text browsers. It is surprisingly easy to omit these factors and leave large groups of people behind.
In some countries, it is a legal requirement that public websites are fully accessible. Norway, one of the precursors for accessibility of public websites, now also require private businesses to follow accessibility guidelines. They are supported by UK, Australia, Switzerland and USA, all of which work on imposing accessibility laws for both the public and private sector.
NoA Ignite has delivered projects where accessibility was a major requirement from the customer (you may want to check our case study for RUTER). To make sure that we are up to date with the recent requirements and can support our customers, some of our employees attended special training sessions recently. Still, many digital project briefs still do not include accessibility requirements. This is confirmed by Chief Architect Miroslaw:
“Our customers rarely ask us to deliver fully accessible products. That is a pity as accessible solutions appeal to a broader target audience and increase revenue for our customers. We often need to educate them on the possible benefits.”
Following the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) even if they are only used partially will bring extra benefits. Just using appropriate contrast settings can facilitate reading on mobile devices in full sunlight, while the correct structure of the HTML markup will improve SEO. These areas are definitely worth a deeper look.
The training sessions provided by Fundacja Widzialni broadened our knowledge on how to create accessible websites and how to test existing sites for accessibility. One of the training sessions was held by a trainer who is disabled himself, and this was a real eye-opener. Katarzyna, a front-end developer, was surprised to find out just how many websites are difficult or impossible to navigate for visually impaired people who rely on screen readers:
”When we tried to use the reader for navigation, we were totally confused. We didn’t know where we were on the website and we couldn’t find the information we wanted – not to mention that it was impossible to fill in the forms!”
Natalia, a front-end developer and the one who requested and organised the training, underlines the value of being guided by a disabled trainer:
”I will never forget that, and I am so motivated to fully follow the WCAG standards now – not only because of legal requirements, but simply to create products and services that can improve somebody’s life, making sure that they can access information and feel included.”
The training was primarily aimed at front-end developers and focussed on specific uses of ARIA attributes and HTML elements. Nevertheless, a mixed team of developers, designers and content specialists participated, and they found the training very useful. Our UI designer Ruta confirmed that it will be so much easier for her to understand what and how to design in way that can be implemented by developers, and eventually accessed by the end users.
Pawel, a Content Management Specialist, was able to figure out a few less obvious reasons, like the ability to be read by indexing bots (for SEO) and staying up to date with the current trends for voice controlled devices and concepts like Google Home. The training helped him understand the connection between SEO and accessibility and how important it is to create content, apps and websites that make the world easier and accessible for all.
The key takeaway from the training is that to make our digital solutions accessible to everyone, we have to think about users with different skills and devices, not just disabilities. Accessible design does not necessarily require us to learn something new or complex things – it is strongly related to what we already know. We do however need to use our creativity, and remember that our content and applications should be readable from multiple perspectives.