A staggering 98% of homepages from one million popular websites failed to meet legal accessibility standards, research by WebAIM concluded in February this year.

With around 14 million or 20% of people in the UK living with some form of disability, this leaves a huge number of users unable to fully utilise digital platforms and products, if they are able to at all.

Ceri Balston, Head of Digital and Kristina Barrick, Head of Digital Influencing at Scope, a prominent disability equality charity based in the UK, spoke on day two of the Festival of Marketing 2019. They shared some practical tips outlining how brands can transform their online accessibility.

Optimising your digital products for better accessibility can drastically enhance the experience of those with disabilities who would otherwise not have been able to use or navigate them. From an ethical and legal standpoint, it is important that brands make an effort to improve in this area.

It also makes sense from a business standpoint. The purple pound (spending power of disabled households) is currently estimated at £249bn/year. Brands can also benefit more broadly by making these changes, whether through better SEO ranking, improved UX or higher traffic.

So, now you know why to make the change, here’s Ceri and Kristina’s advice on how to do it.

1. Start simple

Tackling digital accessibility issues can be daunting, particularly if brands haven’t seriously considered them before. It typically requires quite an overhaul, not just when it comes to a brand’s platform and content, but also its design thinking.

However, Balston stresses, you can begin with the small stuff. Clearly displaying contact details on a website is one of the simplest ways to ensure customers can flag up usability problems. Over time, the feedback gathered will flag the most major pain points throughout the customer journey.

Another example is to take a look at the use of alt text on any uploaded images. “Close your eyes and think about the text next to the image,” Barrick advises, “Put yourself in their shoes”. If the text does not adequately describe what is in the image, the description needs to be reworked. Just don’t make it overly descriptive because this can become confusing or irrelevant to the user.

Kristina Barrick speaking at the Festival of Marketing

2. Partnerships

Invest in the advice and guidance of accessibility consultants and work closely with them, Balston recommends. Drawing from his experience with Scope’s own internal re-platforming, he continued that being non-compliant to legal standards would be a “reputational risk”. It would be just as damaging to any organisation claiming to be enhancing accessibility to miss the mark.

3. Internal change

Similar investment should be made to provide training to internal staff including copyrighters, designers, developers and testers. The brand team will become self-sufficient in the creation of accessible content and a more considered approach will be adopted in the longterm.

4. Inclusive design

“Disabled people are disabled by design. It’s not their condition that disables them, it’s design,” Barrick maintains.

Embrace inclusive design and “actually practice it,” adds Balston. Engage with a disabled audience and listen to what they want from your content, rather than simply complying to the ‘official rules’. Ask your accessibility consultants for their expert opinion, too.

Most importantly, this feedback must be collected throughout the development stages, as it’s cheaper and easier to make alterations during the design process than when the platform is finished. Even when it is complete, continue testing your products on an external audience to ensure you continually improve.

5. Content

Carry out a content audit and review every bit of it, the team at Scope advises. Ensure that writing is concise and in plain English (after all, the average reading age of the UK population is that of a nine year-old). Images should be accompanied by alt text, and infographics should be simple to decipher and just as easy to find on a website or app.

Balston elaborates that the Scope website reduced its content from 1,700 to 450 pages of easy-to-read content after its re-platforming. The digital team then set about applying the same principles to their other microsites, such as the kids’ website Mindful Monsters.

He recommends a similar approach for other brands – begin improving your main platform before tackling smaller platforms and microsites.

6. Making accessibility accessible

Starting with good UX leads to great AX (accessibility experience), says Balston.

He hopes that, soon, the term ‘AX’ will come to mind as naturally as ‘UX’ does in the context of web development and content design. Certainly, everyone will benefit from the extra consideration for usability, and could even improve SEO as a result of factors like adapting content for screen readers.

7. The pillars of accessibility

According to Balston, there are six pillars of accessibility which are divided into two categories:

‘Getting it right first time’

  • Procurement
  • Development
  • Training

‘Checks and assurance’

  • Manual testing
  • Automated texting
  • External audits

Once you have reached the ‘checks and assurance’ stage, calculate the accessibility risk factor (of a page or website) by multiplying the number of visits by the number of changes made. The higher the resulting number, the higher the risk factor and these will need to be treated as a priority.

Take a look at the pillars of digital accessibility in more detail below:

Scope's Pillars of Digital Accessibility

8. Be Transparent

Nobody’s perfect, and brands need to be honest about that. Including an accessibility statement on your website, app or platform is a great way of letting users know the steps you’re taking to improve their experience.

It’s unlikely you’ll cover all the bases when it comes to optimising digital products for a diverse audience, but if brands are transparent it’ll open the doors to constructive feedback from consumers. Be open to this feedback so you can constantly improve, Balston adds, “and let users know you’re taking accessibility seriously.”

Additional tips and useful tools

  • Emphasise the importance of accessibility to senior management at your organisation.
  • Create internal guidelines for marketing departments so that accessibility is kept in mind.
  • Get to know the 2010 Equality Act.
  • Check out the Government Digital Service.
  • Keep testing your website and products and ask for feedback from those who are disabled.
  • Use the tools, advice and resources available from Scope’s Big Hack, which is launching soon.

Undertaking improvements to accessibility can be a massive task, particularly for brands who produce lots of content. However, I think we can agree we could all do a lot better to ensure our digital products can be consumed by a diverse audience.

Website and mobile app accessibility is a priority after Supreme Court ruling