Is Accessibility really that important?

Is accessibility really that important?

This question of whether Accessibility is really that important is no doubt one you’ve either had yourself or heard someone else say. It may be the kind of question that drives you crazy as you’ve been battling to get your stakeholders to care about accessibility and the importance of considering the needs of those users.

It’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day today and for organisations who are still battling to get UX, and particularly User Research, into their process, starting another battle for Accessibility can feel like something that needs to be sidelined. Often, Accessibility practices get cut from projects due to either product teams not understanding the issues or budget concerns. However, you may be surprised at just how much Accessibility and good UX/Usability have in common and the amount of people who have Accessibility needs.

19% of adults are disabled

You can reasonably assume that around 20% of your users have Accessibility needs (the exact UK figure is 19% source). How old are your users? If they’re children this lowers to 8% but if they are older (pension age), this figure rises to 45%. So, how much Accessibility affects your users will somewhat depend on who those users are, but I’m sure you’ve been surprised by how large that percentage is. Most people think the figure is less than 5%.

You are also impaired (some of the time)

About one third of the population are temporarily impaired due to illness, injury or circumstance. On any day, that could include you, your family, friends, colleagues…

“When UX doesn’t consider ALL users, shouldn’t it be known as “SOME User Experience” or… SUX?” Billy Gregory, Senior Accessibility Engineer

Don Norman “What I see today horrifies me”

Did you know that the grandfather of UX, legend Don Norman, is now 83? With decreased eyesight and physical capabilities, he’s now experiencing the world as a user with Accessibility needs.

The number of active, healthy oldsters is large and increasing. We are not a niche market. And businesses should take note: We are good customers often with more free time and discretionary income than younger people.

Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster. Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. Labels cannot be read without flashlights and magnifying lenses. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world “I’m old and can’t function!” We can do better.”

Accessible users can be very profitable…

Older user using an ipad

7 out of 10 websites are not Accessible. Some figures indicate that it’s even more than this. This means there is a huge opportunity for you to capture this audience within your market. They also make for a very loyal customer. Check out this user quote:

“If I find a site I can use then I use it as much as possible; often even if I know I might be able to get things cheaper elsewhere. For example, I find it easier to have my supermarket shopping delivered and the best site I found to use is Ocado, so I use it. I know some things would be cheaper elsewhere but, well, the accessibility of the site and the app make it so easy why would I bother to look elsewhere when my experience tells me I’m likely to find problems.”

Top 5 things that exclude users

David Benyon author of Designing Interactive Systems, gives 5 reasons products often exclude users:

  • Physical – it requires too much effort or physical strength to use.
  • Conceptual – it is difficult to understand how to use it.
  • Economic – it is too expensive.
  • Cultural – users can’t understand metaphors regarding product interaction.
  • Social – on joining a group, users don’t understand the group’s social conventions.

You’re biased because you’re young

Most people working in digital, design and UX are young. There aren’t many of us who are pension age. And this creates a further problem in that we naturally assume that everyone experiences the world as we do.

In psychology, this is called the false-consensus effect or false-consensus bias. It’s a type of cognitive bias whereby people tend to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and typical of those of others.

Sound familiar? How many of us have been in meetings and heard ‘I would do this’ ‘I think…’ And there’s an assumption that because that person thinks or feels that way, that your users will too. After all we’re all humans right? We must all think and use things the same way. Nope! I’m afraid it’s not that simple or there wouldn’t be a need for UX specialists in the world.

Not everyone sees colour the way you do. Image source.

Use user research to make a difference

You need to ingrain an understanding of and empathy towards users and their behaviour within your organisation to get around this bias.

Often the quickest and easiest way to do this is to commission user research from an external agency. This is because, unfortunately, outside agencies are often taken more seriously (and viewed as experts) than internal employees (we know – we used to be internal employees). They also have all the tools and methods to turn things around quickly and easily.

If you are in the fortunate position to work for a company whereby you’re fully supported in conducting user research, then you’ll need to think about how you go about research with people who have Accessibility needs. The ideal way to go about this is ethnographic (at-home) research. You’ll be able to see the setup they use, both hardware and software and the settings they have in-place. You can also use a lab but you may not be able to accurately reflect the real world setup so the lab may be more suited for mobile and tablet testing, where the user can bring in their own device.

You’re breaking the law if you ignore Accessibility

According to the Equality Act (2010), Section 29(1):

“A person … concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) must not discriminate against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service.”

Therefore not providing a service to a disabled person that is normally provided to other people is unlawful discrimination. This applies as much online as it does offline, whether you’re a business or a government site, so having an inaccessible site is actually breaking the law. 

Inclusive design helps everyone

A great way to think about Accessibility is to view it as Inclusive design. Design that helps everyone.

Kat Holmes points out in her book Mismatch, that all of us have Accessibility needs. We all experience situational and temporary problems. “When outside in the sun, the text message that just arrived is unreadable: wouldn’t it be nice if the display, whether cellphone, watch, or tablet, could switch to large, higher contrast lettering? Are elderly people handicapped? Maybe, but so is a young, athletic parent while carrying a baby on one arm and a bag of groceries in the other (and perhaps trying to open their car door). Almost anything that will help the elderly population will end up helping everyone.”

Challenge yourself!

As part of World Accessibility Awareness Day, the team have a number of challenges for you to try so that you can feel what it’s like to use things from the perspective of someone with Accessibility needs.

Go Mouseless For An Hour

Enlarge Your Fonts

Check for Sufficient Color Contrast

Check Order of Elements

Surf The Web With A Screen Reader For An Hour

See more info here.

Sources to improve Accessibility

There are lots of guidelines on the internet for how to begin improving Accessibility through design. There are some good tips on interaction-design.org and BBC GEL. You will also find some top tips from experts at our recent Accessibility and Design event:

Accessibility and Design: UX Crunch Manchester – Top tips from the BBC, Anaplan and AbilityNet

One day you will have Accessibility needs. Whether they are physical, cognitive or both. There is no denying the ageing process! Design with empathy for those who experience these issues every day right now and design for your future self.

Other articles you will like:

I wrote the book on user-friendly design: What I see today horrifies me – Don Norman

Interaction-design.org What is accessibility?

Understanding the user-centred approach to accessibility

Global Accessibility Awareness Day website

Accessibility and Design: UX Crunch Manchester

Accessibility and Design UX Crunch Manchester

Is Accessibility important? Is it worth the investment? Accessibility was the topic for our speakers from the BBC, Anaplan and AbilityNet at UX Crunch Manchester. Why is it important? Because accessible users make up a much bigger proportion of your users than you think and only 3 in 10 websites are accessible (there’s an opportunity for you right there!).

Accessibility is not just disabilities. It can include older people, people who wear glasses, eye conditions, dyslexia, reading and writing difficulties, and lots more.

Key Takeaways

Here are key takeaways that our speakers recommend to make your User Experiences more accessible and inclusive:

BBC (Emma Pratt Richens)

Colour accessibility

– Put people first

– Use familiarity

– Give control

– Offer choice

– Add value


AbilityNet (Abi James)

How would your users feel?

– Create an accessible colour palette and pattern library

– Include accessibility in your requirements for interactive elements

– Consider now discoverability and affordances will be experienced through different modes and senses

– Include disabled people in your user research (if you need user research, get in touch with @keepitusable)

– Ensure projects set clear responsibilities and expectations for accessibility as well as champions


Anaplan (Mark Boyes-Smith)

Personas accessibility considerations for your users

– Identify ways you can brig accessibility discussions in line with UX

– Get to know your users, their impairments, their environments

– Build personas so that everyone can understand your users

– Create a single source of truth for colour palettes, typography, layouts, interaction states and affordance patters.

Keep It Usable would also add:

Keep It Usable - sponsors of UX Crunch Manchester

– Include accessible users in the design-research process so you walk in their shoes

– Test your designs in the user’s environment (at-home ethnographic user testing is your friend for this)

– Test your designs with the user’s own technology rather than using a lab with an unfamiliar setup

– If you don’t have any budget to test with users use tools that are openly available (screen readers, Sketch plug-in, impairment glasses, etc)

Try out these challenges!

It’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day tomorrow (Thursday 16th May), so here are a couple of challenges for you:

– Use your website with only your keyboard. Can you do it? 

– Imagine you have poor eyesight and zoom into your website. How does it look? Can you still use it?

– Try out a screen reader on your site. What is the experience like?

Understanding the user-centred approach to accessibility

Accessibility is defined as the matching of delivery of information and services with users’ individual needs and preferences in terms of intellectual and sensory engagement with resources containing that information or service, and their control of it. Accessibility is satisfied when there is a match regardless of culture, language or disabilities.

Why should you care about accessibility?

Since the online environment is an extension of the physical one, there is nothing more effective than a metaphor with the offline world to understand how crucial accessibility online can be for your business.
Imagine you are running a flower shop; the business is going pretty well, the shop is in a very good and central location, easily accessible from the main street. A lot of people visit it every day, attracted by the colourful window display with fresh flowers, the enticing aroma and your brilliant customer service. Inside the shop, flowers are tidily organised and labels with names and a clear description are provided. You tend to stay in the shop, ready to help your customers.

Now, think about the same flower shop, but imagine that in front of the main door there is a big step that prevents access for some of your customers. There’s no window to showcase your flowers and you turn off the light to save money. In the shop, no labels or descriptions are provided and flowers are randomly arranged. Moreover, you tend to stay in the back of the shop so your customers struggle to find you if they need help with something.

Poor Accessibility UX Design

That’s exactly what happens when your website is not accessible.

The context in the UK

48% of the UK population could potentially have problems accessing your website:
  • Disability affects 19% of working age people in the UK
  • 9% of the UK population have some form of colour blindness (1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women)
  • 4% are visual impaired
  • 12 million are over 60 years old; that is the 21% of the entire population
Accessibility context in the UK
Disability on the internet includes things like:
  • Problems with sight
  • Problems using a mouse or keyboard
  • Problems with hearing
  • Problems with reading and understanding
But web accessibility also helps people who:
  • Have a slow internet connection
  • Have a small screen or unusual device
  • Can’t listen to sound at work
  • Use an old web browser or operating system

What are the benefits of having an accessible website?

Web accessibility protects your website against demographic changes and opens your business to everyone with an internet connection.

People with disabilities and special needs have spending power (disposable income of £50 billion per year) and the benefits of a website accessible to everybody are:
  • The website will be higher in the search engine: SEO and accessibility go hand-in-hand because websites that are inaccessible to users with disabilities are also inaccessible to search engines. One of the most powerful elements of SEO is creating machine-readable content. This is content that can be read by humans as well as assistive technologies, like screen readers.
  • You won’t incur legal fees: according to the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) and Equality Act 2010 service providers must not discriminate against disabled people and an equal access to public or private services should be guaranteed
  • Increasing conversion: an accessible website will be more usable for all users not just for people with disabilities. Good usability and a positive user experience on your website will increase conversion.
  • Your brand will gain a positive image.

Which guidelines do you need to follow for developing an accessible website?

WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) defined in 2008 is an internationally adopted technical standard; the guidelines explain how to solve many of the problems that your users with disabilities face on the web. Although, WCAG 2.0 is not an all-inclusive list of issues that users with disabilities might face, they are internationally recognised standards.

WCAG 2.0 has 12 guidelines that are organised under 4 principles:

WCAG-2 Guidelines for Web Accessibility
Perceivable Perceivable
The principle of a website being perceivable is about the senses people use when browsing the web:
  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content
  • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning
  • Make it easier for users to see and hear content
Operable
The actions people take when browsing:
  • Make all functionality available from a keyboard
  • Give users enough time to read and use content
  • Do not use content that causes seizures
  • Help users navigate and find content
Understandable
Your website must use clear terms, have simple instructions and explain complex issues:
  • Make text readable and understandable
  • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes
Robust
A robust website is one that third-party technology (like web browsers and screen readers) can rely on. This minimises the risk of your users relying on technology that cannot correctly process your website:
  • Maximise compatibility with current and future user tools

WCAG 2.0 are organised into three levels of conformance:

  • Level A – the most basic web accessibility features
  • Level AA – deals with the biggest and most common barriers for disabled users
  • Level AAA – the highest (and most complex) level of web accessibility

Starting with Level A is a great way to make progress and begin helping out your users. Level AA is the standard many governments are using as this level targets the most common and most problematic issues for web users.

How can you test if your website is accessible?

In the WCAG 2.0 a list of universal guidelines are presented, but what we clearly know is that it can be difficult to universally define the usability of a website. A website or an interface that is usable for one person, might not be for someone else.

Some websites were found to perform extremely well in usability evaluations with disabled people, yet did not meet certain WCAG lines.

A holistic approach to accessibility is necessary to develop an accessible website. Experts claim that ‘the key measure of a digital system is whether it fits it’s context of use: whether the people for whom it is designed can use it with acceptable levels of usability, for the tasks that they need to do, in the social setting in which these tasks take place, using the technologies they have available.’

User requirements can be grouped into several categories, including:

User characteristics User characteristics
The abilities (and disabilities) of the target users including perceptual, cognitive, motor, and linguistic abilities.

Domain requirements Domain requirements
The tasks that need to be supported, group, social and cultural dynamics, communication patterns, environmental factors, and so on.

Tech requirements Technological requirements
Such as availability of hardware and software and the availability of plug-ins.

Performance requirements Performance requirements
For example, task success rates, task-completion times, satisfaction ratings, and quality of task output (e.g. comprehension outcomes in an e-learning environment).

These requirements have a cultural context in which they have to be considered in order to be meaningful. The holistic approach to accessibility is based on social inclusion rather than on the principle of universal accessibility.

A user-centred accessibility approach will entail both evaluating your website with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and testing the usability directly with disabled users. This approach emphasises the importance of the user and on satisfying his/her requirements.

In times of increasing complexity and reliance on technology, it is important to ensure that what is being gained is increased quality of life and that “by designing with the disabled in mind, we can create products that are better for everyone.” Inclusive Design

Need help or advice?

If you’re curious about any of the above and how ux can help you to create a more successful product, contact our experts for free, friendly, no-ties advice.

Other posts you may find interesting:

What is User Testing?
5 user tests every Product Manager should commission

References
Sloan, D., Heath, A., Hamilton, F., Kelly, B., Petrie, H., & Phipps, L. (2006, May). Contextual web accessibility-maximizing the benefit of accessibility guidelines. In Proceedings of the 2006 international cross-disciplinary workshop on Web accessibility (W4A): Building the mobile web: rediscovering accessibility? (pp. 121-131)
Ford M. & Nevile L, 2004, “Issues enabling support for Multi-locational Accessibility“, IDABC: Cross-border E-Government Services for Administrations, Businesses and Citizens Conference’, Brussels, February 2005.

Guest Interview: On The Beach Head of Design

Keep It Usable On The Beach interview
This months Keep It Usable guest interview is with our friend Fritz Von Runte.
Fritz is the Head of design for our client On The Beach and we had the great pleasure of working with the team on a recent project.
Fritz Von Runte“I would go to the lab with Keep It Usable in the morning, and in the afternoon I’d be writing tickets to change things – in the best Agile practice.”

Could you tell our readers a bit about your background and your role at On The Beach?

I started my career in Art Direction almost 20 years ago, working for the advertising industry. I was always interested in “New Media” and eventually I decided to shift my career, to focus on web. Then, 7 years ago I made my masters in User Interface Design and specialised in UX.
At On The Beach I wear a couple of hats. I’m the head of a design team of four professionals. We try to maintain a certain design language throughout the company, with consistence and on brand. It’s a tough job because it’s a big company, with many colleagues, many requests, and many design problems, all in need of our solutions. Plus, it’s one of the most successful online travel agencies in the UK market. It’s a massive responsibility. I am also responsible for designing the experiences our users will have, not only in the web but also offline, via our flight and hotel vouchers, and customer documentation, for example.

What does your typical day involve?

I have a very busy schedule, but there’s a certain framework that I try my best to fit it. We’re Agile, so every morning we have the Design stand-up where we communicate what every member of the team is doing at the moment and discuss the flow of tickets. We also have Agile stand-ups for all other projects, most of these involving the Design Shop (as we call our team), so one of us must be there to update the other teams. I try to schedule all my meetings in the morning so I can use the afternoon for research and design.

How important is UX at On The Beach and why is it valued?

On The Beach has been around for almost 8 years and it grew very rapidly. A couple of years ago they began to understand the need to pay more attention to the experiences and the usability. I was brought on board as the first designer focusing on the UX, we had a good six months changing the culture to accept and understand a bit more about this need. But, to be honest, this change was painless and smooth, as the directors were (and are) open to new solutions that could improve the website and our client’s experience. We have a lot of room to develop, to research, and to propose new ideas. It’s a wonderful place to work and it’s a thrill to be doing UX design at this moment in time at a company like On The Beach.

You work to an agile development process. Why and how does UX fit into this process?

I guess that is the biggest challenge. Agile is awesome but historically it tends to treat design and the experience as something frivolous or secondary. One of my goals is to raise awareness of how better it is to deal with usage challenges from the start instead of doing it rapidly and then having to re-do it. On the otherhand, when we are testing and prototyping, we use Agile principles and it works really well to prove (or disprove) assumptions from a very early stage, without having to spend much time in development for example.

What tools do you work with?

Primarily with paper and pencil – it’s how everything starts!. Then I move to a PC. I find it easier to talk to the network and to other technologies with a PC. But, we have all sorts of platforms in our team; Windows, iOS, Ubuntu, Android…
When it comes to software I use many different ones. The whole Adobe suite of course – and I mean the whole suite! I’ve used Visio in the distant past, then I moved to Axure and Balsamiq, but because of the dynamics here at On The Beach I now mainly use Illustrator for my low-fi wireframes as I’ve accumulated an extensive library of symbols and actions… 🙂 Plus a lot of on-the-fly coding on the console and notepad, and also other online tools like UXPin, Litmus, JSFiddle, etc.

Mobile app vs responsive web design vs mobile web – what are your thoughts at On The Beach?

Responsive is a terminology that I don’t really subscribe to. There are two ways to see this issue. Firstly, like we all used to test our websites, years ago on different browsers and systems, and get charts of usage of monitor sizes and resolutions, we now should make sure this product performs well in all possible environments – the mobile, the tablet, the internet tv, the laptop, etc, in all browsers and all systems. Nothing has changed – the game is just a bit harder now.

Secondly, different products have different needs and different platforms have different needs. The very first version of Tetris I’ve ever played was called Nyet. Tetris is a classic game that existed in any possible platform, even portable ones like Gameboy. Have you tried to play Tetris on the mobile? It changed the whole dynamic and usability of the game. So having a webapp whose functionality is the same on different platforms, but with some adjustments to the grid depending on the screen size, is not something I take for granted.

I always challenge the concept of mobile apps, for different reasons. I don’t think it’s always the best way to serve your product to a client. I have a parallel career as a DJ and record producer, and the music market is flooded with Mobile Apps. I don’t see it as a great tool to serve content. I see it mainly as a badge on your mobile screen, saying to the world and yourself that you’re are a big fan of artist or band xyz. I think mobile apps – the ones you download, and that updates itself when you’re connected to the wifi – are more interesting when your product is a tool and that you think the user will use it enough times to justify its download and space on screen and internal memory.

With On The Beach there are two main factors that made us not to choose this route. Firstly we are so dynamic when it comes to software development, making at least two deploys per week, that an app from us would be constantly updating, and that wouldn’t be the best experience for the user – think Acrobat Reader, when was the last time it didn’t tell you it needs updating? 🙂 The second reason is accessibility. Although we have a significant number of customers choosing us as their online travel agent more than once a year, plus all the people that come back from their holidays and come to us to book their next ones – and that would justify an On The Beach app as a tool – we wanted to use our efforts and energy on something that would serve everybody. For example, users coming from Google or Bing, a link on Facebook, a suggestion of a friend or a specialist site like Trip Advisor (that sends us hundreds of users every day). Instead, we made an entirely new website, just for the mobile, that you don’t need to download or upkeep. It’s there for anyone with a connection and it works really well.

On The Beach Tablet and Mobile websites

Describe an example of the work involved from design through to implementation?

I think the design process is the same on every branch of design. From designing a chair to a party flyer, from a shopping cart experience to a car. We have an idea, then some high level analysis, then research, concept, testing and finally wireframing. Then back to the research.

How important is research to OTB?  How did the Keep It Usable research feed into the agile development process and how did the feedback help to shape the software?

Research is fundamental to my work and to the company. We are constantly analysing data and testing the best way to do everything. When it comes to our mobile website we did extensive research, and Keep It Usable was a major part of it. We had instant feedback on certain features that are paramount to the mobile experience. I would go to the lab with Keep It Usable in the morning, and in the afternoon I’d be writing tickets to change things – in the best Agile practice.

What are your favourite UX-related resources?

I have way too many bookmarks, rss and twitter feeds, but I think the benefits from other people or companies experiences come from knowing the whole case. This is why I love to go to meetings and talks, I’m very active at #NUX, and I try to go to all UX conventions I can. It’s a good way to get to know people in the industry, but mainly I do it to hear the cases straight from the horses mouth. A button being small or big, positioned left or right, its colours… it doesn’t mean anything without data, without knowing the purposes and goals that were briefed.

Would you like to work with us?

Keep It Usable help many different kinds of companies to understand their users. We conduct research with real people and design interfaces using an evidence-based approach; every element has reasoning.

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Keepitusable work with broadcaster on accessible development techniques

is your tablet app easy to use?

User experience design and user research agency Keepitusable, experts at creating highly usable and accessible interfaces, have been working with the BBC on the use of accessible development techniques.

Ricardo Ortega, co-founder of Keepitusable, said: “The tablet and smartphone markets are now growing faster than PCs. People expect applications to be easy-to-use more than ever before. Those companies that invest in great apps that engage their customers will be the ones that excel in the next few years.

Creating a great user experience is incredibly difficult because human beings are complicated and unpredictable. Software and websites are often very comprehensive, so creating something that is simple to use and intuitive is ironically complex.

The importance of accessibility is often an undervalued part of the user experience. For companies such as broadcasters, their audience range can be incredibly varied, accessing services from many devices. So ensuring good usability and access for assistive technology is vital.

Businesses, such as e-commerce, often see accessibility as unnecessary or are uncertain of the benefits it can bring. But focussing on accessibility for your tablet or mobile app, website or software means a lot more visitors will be able to become customers.

In a few years the number of mobile devices will DWARF the number of PCs

This article was published in Creative times.