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PA OPINION

Digital accessibility is an opportunity, not a burden

When we talk about accessibility in digital, we mean making sure those with impairments to vision, hearing, mobility or cognition can use a service. It’s no small task to make digital services accessible, and the demand for it is huge. In 2016, the most recent figures available, the UK had 6.1 million people with impairments that affect the way they use the internet. Those same people had an online spending power of £16.5 billion. Given that 80 per cent of customers with impairments spend their money where they have the easiest journey, the opportunity for accessible apps and websites is huge.

Accessibility is a route to major growth

With so many people needing accessible services, it’s easy to see how catering for them could drive significant business growth.

Reaching a growing older audience

We’re all aging constantly. This brings benefits like wisdom. But it also brings downsides as our body and cognition begin to fail us. Our eyes are prime examples of this. As our eyesight worsens with age, we appreciate accessibility features more like adjustable font sizes and high-contrast colours. With an aging population, it’s estimated 24.6 per cent of the UK population will be over 65 by 2050, many more of your users will depend on such accessibility. And they are highly active online, the proportion of adults aged over 65 who shop online has trebled since 2008, rising from 16 to 48 per cent in 2018.

It’s also important to our clients. We worked with the Care Quality Commission on more than 100 user research sessions to maximise accessibility of the digital services we were developing. We explored the needs of people with movement-related disabilities, visual impairments, cognitive impairments, dyslexia and learning disabilities. This showed us how to design digital services for adult social care, improving the lives of thousands of people.

Reaching those without accessibility needs

Making services accessible to everyone is so important it’s now a crucial factor in where websites appear on search engines like Google and Bing. Search engines more easily tag and read accessible sites, meaning higher rankings and preferential treatment that makes it easier to reach customers.

Making services accessible is about more than money

Despite the clear opportunities organisations can seize by making accessibility a priority, we often see it treated as an afterthought or last-minute consideration. That’s a problem when there are major drivers of accessibility beyond the organisation’s bottom line.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from direct and indirect discrimination. Premier League football clubs have fallen foul of this for not providing wheelchair access to stadiums. Around the world there are laws preventing discrimination against those with all forms of impairment. While regulators are yet to vigorously apply these to digital services, it’s only a matter of time before the focus moves to online services. In the US, for example, Netflix, Disney and Target have all faced lawsuits for poor website accessibility. A lawsuit for discrimination and having to pay damages and penalties isn’t something anyone wants. In the UK The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) have twice initiated legal action against companies, both settled without being heard by a court.

Beyond the law, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (known as WCAG 2.0) show all organisations how to make services accessible. These are guidelines put together by an independent organisation, and supported by the biggest digital names, because of nothing more than a moral obligation to serve everyone equally and lead the web to its full potential. Not signing up to the same moral ethos could damage a brand’s reputation.

Accessibility is a team effort

Brilliant design alone won’t achieve accessibility, it needs a shared product vision that all team members can buy into. Developers, for example, need the skills to create the clean code that produces the most accessible sites. Because of its importance, we teach accessibility to all digital roles during our graduate user experience session.

The journey to accessibility is surprisingly simple

There’s a big opportunity for those who are willing to make their services accessible, and we have three steps to ensure you meet your goals:

  1. Build accessibility into your designs from day one
  2. Ensure everyone in your team is aware of their role in accessibility and acts on it
  3. Test your service with people with accessibility needs.

By following these steps, you can ensure your services are accessible to everyone, letting you seize the opportunities so many are missing.

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