Digital Accessibility: Make the difference in your digital products
In wide terms, accessibility is the capability of accessing something, either a service, a benefit, or another. The most common is the physical sphere, for example accessing the city; there are rules that specify how an environment should be for people to access it. Accessibility has evolved over time, a long time ago people who had impediments to do certain things were not taken into consideration at all, they were conceived as people who could not act in society. Human beings have evolved and we have arrived at the model of accessibility we know today. A key moment occurred in the XX century, after the Second World War, when there were many people who had fought in the war and were left with physical or cognitive disabilities, so it started being considered as a medical issue and treated differently. In the XXI century a convention of human rights was established and the paradigm changed to a rights’ perspective, in which it is conceived that any person has the right to access and make full use of spaces, services and facilities, among others. The fact that we are all people and the condition of being a human being as everybody else is emphasized.
In digital products there are barriers for some people as in the physical space, for example a digital device in which interaction is mediated by an input device with a touch screen or an output device such as something visual, imposes barriers for those who have visual impairments, cognitive or motor disabilities (and that cannot operate something tactile). As stated by the Internet Society, if the appropriate Internet tools are available, people with disabilities can participate equally in society and make substantial contributions to economic and social development (Internet Society, 2012). Therefore, we must focus our efforts on providing alternatives for accessibility, which implies that messages in certain forms should be accompanied by messages in other forms, for example: if there is a visual message, it may be accompanied by an audio, or other type of message. There are assistive technologies, such as screen readers for people with visual impairments that translate the content being displayed into a voice. Another example may be if the person cannot use a keyboard and uses some other input device, the digital product should allow them to access it with a button with jumps through interactive elements to access the action.
Digital accessibility constitutes the process of making digital products, such as websites, applications, among other tools, accessible to everyone. It means making sure that every user will be able to access the same content and information, regardless of the impairments they may have. This may translate into a screen reader for a visually-impaired user or straightforward content and navigation for someone who has a cognitive impairment, among other possibilities. Digital accessibility includes web accessibility, which refers to the principle that websites and the technologies associated with them should be equally accessible for everyone, plus the accessibility of anything digital such as video, audio, electronic documents, animations, mobile applications, etc (Monsido, 2021).
Accessibility must be considered as part of the project from the beginning. Although in many developments it is something that is incorporated at the end if the budget is available, or just “to be compliant”, if the development teams incorporate accessibility guides and existing tools in their workflow, at the end of the road they will obtain more accessible products with minimal investment. In this sense, it will be important to look for specific skills within the team or consider specialized external support. Accessibility may be applied in different levels, the guide for digital products is the WCAG that establishes accessibility in various dimensions. According to it, there are three levels of accessibility: A, AA, and AAA. WCAG Level A is Minimal compliance, these conformance requirements essentially forbid elements that would make the website inaccessible. Websites that do not at least meet WCAG A are impossible or extremely difficult for people with impairments to use. Some WCAG Level A requirements include: no keyboard traps, navigable with a keyboard, non-text content alternatives, audio or video captions, meaning not conveyed through shape, size, color etc. alone. Then there is WCAG Level AA, that is Acceptable compliance, this conformance level is used in most accessibility rules and regulations around the world. To meet this level, the digital product has to be usable and understandable for the majority of people with or without disabilities. The meaning conveyed and the functionality available are the same. Some notable WCAG Level AA requirements include: color contrast ratio is, in most cases, at least 4.5:1, alternative text or a similar solution is used for images that transmit meaning, navigation elements are consistent throughout the site, form fields have accurate labels, status updates can be conveyed through a screen reader, headings are used in logical order. Lastly, WCAG Level AAA is Optimal compliance. This level makes digital products accessible to the maximum number of users, and makes their experience easy. While this level of conformance would be ideal to make the web experience truly equal for all users, WCAG explains that it is not recommended that Level AAA conformance is demanded as a general policy for entire digital products because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content. If a digital product caters to the elderly or people with disabilities, WCAG Level AAA compliance can help ensure that its audience can use it easily. This also shows that the brand or company is considerate of their audience and their needs. Since many digital products are not accessible, users will notice this extra level of care. Some notable WCAG AAA requirements include: sign language interpretation for audio or video content, color contrast ratio is at least 7:1 in most cases, timing is not an essential part of any activity, and context-sensitive help is available (Accessible Metrics, 2019). As well as levels, WCAG establishes dimensions of accessibility. Perceptivity means users can perceive everything in the interface, for example if they cannot see because they have visual impairments, they have to be able to perceive it somehow. Moreover, the digital product has to be Operable, which means that interactive elements that are part of the graphic interface are accessible so that the user can understand how it works. It also has to be Comprehensible, which implies that the content has to be in an appropriate and understandable language for the user. The last principle establishes that the digital product has to be Robust, which focuses on that the solution works on different browsers and devices so that it survives technological ups and downs.
Currently, there is no compulsion for sites to be accessible, since accessibility is much more mature in the offline sphere and in the online sphere, it is still grabbing shape. Making digital products accessible makes them much more profitable even though they may require more technology investment, especially if accessibility is part of your brand or company’s target audience’s needs. One of our recent clients, a renowned fast food chain company, contacted us because they aimed to make their site more accessible. They were afraid they could be sued because their site was not accessible. Even though the legal risks implied and the rising cases of lawsuits against websites not being compliant with ADA (American Disabilities Act), they are losing many sales because there are many people that cannot access their site, so the lack of accessibility is still harming their business. This happens to many businesses and is helping accessibility to earn its place, as there is a vast amount of people who want to buy products and services and cannot access them online. Although this may sound selfish, it is a reality that companies try to make their businesses as profitable as possible and avoid losing sales. And behind this there is an appropriate attention to their target audience, that in the past was not even considered. Even though it may part from a reason that may be seen as selfish, the consequence is still positive for accessibility to grow, especially online in which there is still a lot of space to grow. We are currently working with this client’s site to change it completely and make it accessible. The fact that accessibility is earning its place is also boosted by governmental or educational institutions, which is also permeating in the commercial area. This is very different among countries, the United States for example has the ADA (American Disabilities Act).
Accessibility is becoming more and more important. Firstly, it is a business opportunity, as just explained in our experience with our recent client, there is a big amount of users who need accessibility and are potential clients for all businesses. “Additionally, governments’ behavior towards this matter indicates that there will be more and more pressure for businesses to comply with accessibility standards”, explains Gustavo Sansone, UX Researcher at Onetree. Moreover, the coronavirus disease helped impulse Accessibility on the online sphere. “Many companies transformed their physical businesses into digital businesses. In the food area for example, and in many others, the digital part gained an important place” says Sansone. As physical restaurants or food stores were required, for example, to put a wheelchair ramp for it to be accessible for some people, Ecommerce sites require other things to be accessible. “The increase in Ecommerce sites as a consequence of the coronavirus disease made accessibility gain more importance” explains our UX Researcher. This can be seen in other observations and analysis: “As a result of the pandemic, more and more people, including those with disabilities, rely on digital products and services for work, shopping, banking, entertainment, and healthcare. But with nearly 20% of the population living with a disability, not everyone can access those services due to their inadequate design. That’s why digital accessibility is more important now than ever for any organization that provides digital products and services” (Monsido, 2021).
Internet Society. (2020, August 25). Internet Accessibility: Internet Use by Persons with Disabilities. https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2012/internet-accessibility-internet-use-by-persons-with-disabilities-moving-forward/
What are the Levels of WCAG Compliance? (2019, October 25). Accessible Metrics. https://www.accessiblemetrics.com/blog/what-are-the-levels-of-wcag-compliance/#:%7E:text=There%20are%20three%20levels%20of,A%2C%20AA%2C%20and%20AAA
What is Digital Accessibility (& Why Is It Important)? (2021, April 16). Monsido. https://monsido.com/blog/digital-accessibility