Accessibility: how accessible is your website, really?

Interaction Design | 08 October 2015

For those of us fortunate enough to enjoy a fully healthy life, the question of accessibility may not even be immediately discernible; and yet, this matter will quickly come to the forefront of any website, service or product you intend to design or make available, and it is always taken into consideration in our work process, here at Hi INTERACTIVE.

Why is accessibility so important?

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
It is not really up for debate that one of the most compelling qualities of the world wide web is its universality. Universality in this respect is almost synonymous with accessibility, i.e., the quality of being readily and easily accessible to all users. Despite the fact that the web was designed and conceived to work with all people, it can also have its own barriers, derived from poorly designed websites, technologies or tools. Gravitating around the notion of accessibility is the concept of inclusion vs exclusion: just think how government or institutional websites can be exclusive or inclusion and can consequently become another tool of exclusion or inclusion for citizens. Not for nothing, even the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, as a basic human right.

Why your business and your users need accessibility

For a website to have full accessibility, any user, in any device, regardless of any possible handicaps, must be able to navigate and browse through without any restrictions. (If this same line was applied to buildings, for instance, just imagine how many would not be considered accessible). When mentioning disabilities, please bear in mind that it is not just people with physical disabilities who may be excluded: senior citizens or people living in rural/remote areas or in third world countries, can also as easily be victims of exclusion. Several brands from ‘the physical world’ have, throughout the years, developed their own set of techniques to accommodate the needs of their esteemed customers. Two excellent examples come from British soil and show how important it is to make everyday objects (and everyday websites!) as accessible as possible.

Barclays’ debit card: a case for better accessibility

For people who are visually impaired, using a debit card can often times seem like a daunting prospect: just imagine browsing your whole wallet and barely being able to tell the difference between all your cards. Barclays Bank decided then to invest some time and money figuring out a way to make debit cards more accessible: in this particular case, the key was visibility for the user. Through several tests and trials and with feedback from their own clients, Barclays was able to attain an accessible debit card, featuring bright colors and an arrow indicating on which direction the card should be inserted in the ATM machine. You can watch the endearing video of the whole process here.

Tesco gets an ‘F’ in accessibility

Back in 2000, giant supermarket chain Tesco realized that its website was not accessible to the visually-impaired. Aware that this exclusion also reflected poor business practices, Tesco committed to present a new, redesigned and more inclusive website. One year later, in 2001, the new website was unveiled and it proved a very wise investment: profits from online sales grew 30x in 2002-2003, compared to the previous year. Not bad, for a website which got an ‘F’ on its first review.

Web tools for accessibility

There are whole strings of guidelines for accessibility of course, but this is a very small preview from W3, highlighting a couple of steps which can be taken to make your website more accessible:

  • Provide alternative text for images: people who cannot see and use a screen reader that reads aloud the information on a page will find image information inaccessible, unless alt text is provided.
  • Keyboard input: Some people cannot use a mouse, including many older users with limited fine motor control. An accessible website does not rely on the mouse; it provides all functionality via a keyboard. Then people with disabilities can use assistive technologies that mimic the keyboard, such as speech input.

There is no need to be labelled as the bad student in accessibility: Drop us a line and, togheter, will be make your website more inclusive.