Accessibility is a key feature of any web or app design strategy. New government accessibility regulations in the UK mean that all public sector websites created from 23 September 2018 must be accessible. Mobile applications must be accessible by June 2021.
Design is a crucial part of any website or app. Too often we see organizations getting carried away by aesthetics and seeing accessibility as a small goal, when in fact there are a lot of features that need to be considered! Especially with 1 in 5 people in the UK considered to have some kind of disability.
In this article, we’ll explore accessibility requirements; why they are important; the benefits of accessibility; and the features to consider to become more accessible online.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is the design of products, devices or services that can be used by as many people as possible. This includes people with disabilities, such as impaired vision, motor difficulties, learning difficulties or deafness.
This means more than simplifying the design. Creating an accessible platform means considering all aspects and making sure your brand is adaptable to those who need it. Making all functions flexible, including your content, design, navigation, and layout, is essential to creating an accessible platform.
Why is accessibility important in the public sector?
Public sector organizations (government-run services) are affected by regulations, as these essential services must be accessible to all, including people with disabilities. For some services, those who need them most may have difficulty accessing them online or through an app.
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Benefits of accessibility
The main benefit of a successful accessible platform design is making your app or website accessible to everyone, but there are many other benefits.
- Avoid discrimination: If your website or app was built to help everyone, then you’ve created a platform that doesn’t discriminate. Most businesses don’t deliberately discriminate against individuals, but some organizations just focus on the visuals rather than the fundamentals. This is of crucial importance for public sector organizations. By focusing on design, they can exclude specific functions or communication methods that are vital to ensure access for certain groups of people. Creating a platform that is not only compliant with regulations, but also adaptable to meet individual needs, will avoid discrimination.
- Brand reputation: An accessible website or app can boost your brand’s reputation as it will attract a larger audience which will ultimately generate more traffic. Likewise, accessibility can set you apart from your competition because it shows that you are accommodating to all users. It can be a beneficial marketing tool for your organization.
- General friendliness: By having an accessible platform, you increase usability for ALL users. In the process of developing an accessible design strategy, you will discover usability issues that you may not have experienced initially. It will also benefit those who access your content via mobile, as well as an older, technologically inexperienced audience who may struggle with public sector services online. These are the users who will seek to adapt the functionalities of your platform to facilitate its use.
Features to take into account
Let’s talk about what you need to do to meet guidelines and how you can create an accessible design strategy.
Here is a list of items that need your attention:
- Arrangement: Make sure you have a clean and simple layout. A cluttered design can be confusing. Users need to be able to react to the size of features, making them larger when necessary, so having a responsive layout is essential.
- Color: A well thought out color scheme is necessary to help those who may be color blind. Don’t just rely on color to identify key elements of your interface. If so, include text to help these areas so that all users can fully interpret the displayed information and navigate smoothly.
- Navigation: Clear indicators and short workflows allow smooth navigation. Buttons should be consistent, especially prompts to action, and clearly labeled. Menu bars and search fields should also be positioned in a similar format to logically guide users through your platform smoothly and without confusion.
- Keyboard accessibility: Consider those who are unable to use a mouse. This means designing the site in such a way that users (if necessary) can navigate using only the keyboard. For example, using various buttons including arrows, space bar, and enter. This is especially important for people with mobility difficulties.
- Messaging: The messaging must be carefully considered. Some users may have difficulty reading, so you need to think about formatting the text. Speak in simple English, don’t use long sentences or paragraphs, and avoid italics and uneven spacing. Also consider the color and the font, is it readable?
- Audio and video: Interactivity should be included, where appropriate, in any design strategy. It is important to remember that the inclusion of audio or video requires the use of accessible features, especially for public sector platforms. Users should be able to pause / stop, adjust volume, and control closed captions. Subtitles are also a good idea to accommodate deaf users as well as to include text versions of audio files. Keep in mind that new public sector regulations will not affect live / pre-recorded audio and video released before September 23, 2020.
Test, test and test again
Once you’ve set clear goals and designed your accessible platform, the next step is to test. There are different approaches to doing this, including automated accessibility tools that will help you spot errors, although there are also some simple steps you can take on your own before investing in these tools. For example, unplugging your mouse and browsing the site using only the keyboard will help test keyboard accessibility and increase your text size by up to 300%, will show you if your platform is accessible to the visually impaired.
Another method of testing is human trial and error. Test the platform with your target audience, people with disabilities and non-disabled, and see how they react to the content. They will be able to prove if an accessible feature is not working. You can then go back to the features that didn’t work and think about alternative solutions.
To sum up
Inaccessible public sector platforms affect millions of users across the disability community and prevent them from using public sector services online. Everyone has the right to use the internet independently and it’s the job of the designers to help make that happen.
As we’ve learned, there is a lot to think about when it comes to accessibility, however, don’t view the new regulations as a constraint. Take the opportunity to reach a wider audience and create a positive brand that can relate to everyone.