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GUEST COMMENT Inclusive digital design: why we must make it a priority

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Design for life: ecommerce needs to be accessible to all – and that means careful design
Design for life: ecommerce needs to be accessible to all – and that means careful design
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Digital commerce has to be accessible to all – and that means the disabled... and there is much to be gained for everyone if you get it right

Hilary Stephenson, managing director of user experience (UX) agency, Sigma
Hilary Stephenson, managing director of user experience (UX) agency, Sigma

In today’s digital-by-default society, inclusive design has never been more important. From healthcare to food delivery, many of our regular, day-to-day tasks are now completed online. Overall, this makes people’s lives easier and more efficient. However, those with ranging abilities are often left out; unable to use these platforms (and therefore access the services and information they need) due to poor design practices.

 

It’s a particularly relevant issue following news of a landmark case won against Domino’s Pizza – which must now take steps to ensure its mobile app is fully accessible to all. Similarly, a lawsuit was recently brought against Beyoncé’s official website, stating that it was inaccessible to people with visual impairments.

 

Whilst both of these examples highlight a specific problem relating to sight, there is a vast number of ranging conditions that must be accounted for when designing for digital platforms.

 

The commercial benefits of inclusive design are obvious. It is estimated that thousands of businesses could be turning away the custom of as many as one in five people by being inaccessible to people of ranging abilities; a loss of up to £11.4 billion.

 

Brands must remember that the ‘purple pound’ doesn’t just refer to the spending power of those with disabilities. It also counts friends, family and carers – all of whom can’t (or won’t) use the service of a company that excludes people with impairments. As such, retailers that proactively make themselves open to all can expect to gain in traffic, profits and even brand reputation.

 

Perhaps most importantly, accessibility is incredibly important to everyday quality of life for the 13.9 million people in the UK who have a form of condition. Inclusivity is therefore not just a commercial obligation, but a moral imperative.

 

How to make digital platforms fully accessible?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that inclusionnot only applies to the organisation’s audience and service users, but also to its employees. Nationally, 10% of working adults are without essential digital skills like communication and information management. Inclusion therefore extends to making digital products and apps user-friendly and inclusive to those working for businesses, as well as those using them.

All customer-facing businesses must meet the accessibility standards outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, however, in reality, it’s about more than that.

 

Retrofitting accessible features to try and make websites, apps or other digital platforms fit for purpose is often not enough; companies must go back to basics to ensure that they are designing and coding inclusively, from the ground-up:

 

  • Invite users with ranging abilities and needs to take part in usability sessions throughout the design process. This will help assess how effective certain features are and highlight areas that need to be improved.

 

  • If a customer has a physical or motor impairment, websites should keep typing to a minimum, make clickable interactive elements large without demanding precision, and should be designed with mobile and touch screen in mind.

 

  • For those that have impaired vision, websites should use a readable font size and a combination of colour, shapes and text, while ensuring to publish all information on web pages as opposed to other document types such as PDFs.

 

  • Customers with sight loss often use screen readers to consume content, so it’s important to structure your page clearly and consider that not everybody uses traditional devices like a mouse to navigate.

 

  • Those with autism require websites to use sentences written simply and in plain English – avoiding figures of speech and idioms. The colour scheme should be simple, and layouts must be consistent and uncluttered.

 

  • For customers who are hard of hearing, or fully deaf, provide access to subtitles or transcripts to accompany videos, content should be broken up with sub-headings, images and video, while complex layouts and menus must be avoided.

 

  • Constrain choices and actions so that people aren’t overwhelmed by too many options.

 

  • Make content easy to understand. Try to use language that people use day-to-day.

 

  • Consider the digital skills of those accessing the website or app, to remove any barriers to engagement. Ask them for feedback regularly.

 

  • In navigation, give people quick routes to the information they need, and minimise the number of steps needed to complete an action so that people can achieve their goals quickly and easily.

 

Staff training

All customer-facing employees should be trained to be fully welcoming to all; nobody should be made to feel “impaired” or “disabled”. Customer service is important for all, but people with ranging abilities may feel anxious about asking for help, so a friendly tone is incredibly important for making people feel comfortable and fully catered for. This ‘welcome’ can mean the difference between a customer becoming a loyal fan or never wanting to use those services again.

 

Enrolling employees onto courses, such as the National Disability Authority’s (NDA) e-learningmodule is a quick and easy way to do this.

At a minimum, staff should be trained on:

 

  • Outlining what language they should use when talking with or about people with varying disabilities.

 

  • Explaining how employees can improve their own practices to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.

 

 

A long road ahead

Overall, while some businesses are doing a fantastic job, there is still a long way to go before the UK is a completely welcome place for all. Unfortunately, many companies want to do more but just haven’t made their accessibility policy a priority.

 

The Domino’s ruling is an important one – and will hopefully help to shine a light on how vital inclusion is to the millions of people across the country navigating life with ranging conditions every day.

 

Sigma helps organisations to design products and services with their intended audience, test their apps and websites with users, and train design and development teams in accessibility.

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