Skip to main content

Digital accessibility removes barriers and unlocks the possible

Posted by Kate Morris on May 16, 2024 8:53 AM

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD); a day to talk, think and learn about all things accessibility.

The GAAD Foundation was launched in 2021 to mark GAAD’s 10th anniversary with the mission: ‘…to disrupt the culture of technology and digital development to include accessibility as a core requirement’.

The importance of digital accessibility

Digital accessibility is a chance to empower everyone to thrive online. In an increasingly digital world, accessing products, information and services online is not only a nice to have but a requirement. Accessibility removes barriers to that engagement by prioritising inclusive design.   

One billion people worldwide have a disability or impairment and keeping their needs in mind during the design process can ‘unlock the possible’ by freeing users to better engage with the online world. 

What is the online world like with a disability? 

Here at Web Usability, we have the pleasure of working with an experienced panel of testers who bring a range of lived experiences of disability to the table. This is inclusive of sight loss, visual impairments, physical impairments, auditory disabilities, cognitive impairments and neurodiversity.  Recently, I chatted with three of our panel members to understand a little more about the barriers that non-inclusive design can create.  

Unsurprisingly, the barriers are many, varied and may not be immediately obvious during the design process to those without the lived experience of disability. This is why user testing is vital.  

Kate Morris, Web Usability – hearing impairment (my own experience)

“I have a hearing impairment as a result of the loss of my high range hearing. This impacts how I receive and understand  spoken word and means that when accessing video or audio speech, I rely heavily on captions. Whether captions are included on a video can prove make or break for the success I have in engaging with it.” 

Adi Latif, Accessibility Consultant – sight loss

Accessibility Consultant, Adi, who has been blind since he was a teenager, is an experienced screen reader user and technology fan. Over the years he has sourced an amazing range of apps and tools that empower him to move independently around the digital and physical worlds with freedom and safety. However, that freedom can live or die by the quality of the digital design.

“It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand digital gives an independence to disabled people that’s never been possible before – its mind blowing! And then, it can be an endless source of frustration and the only thing in the way of your independence.” 

Luis Canto E Castro, EDI Consultant – physical disability

Luis is an EDI Consultant and accessibility influencer.  He has a Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which affects his mobility and relies on Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software to navigate online.

He says: “I often find that the quality of my digital experience is defined by the level of thought and testing put into the design. Good design should empower people to act independently, not place barriers in their way…It’s very frustrating when you know that something should take you 5 mins to achieve and because of inaccessible design it takes you 20 mins. You know, I am a busy guy and I only have a finite amount of energy to go about achieving these tasks!” 

Dr Sarah Burton-Taylor, Web Usability Director – physical disability

Sarah is one of the founding Directors of Web Usability. She has advanced Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and is a tetraplegic, wheelchair user. The advanced nature of her MS has resulted in the ‘clawing’ of her hands, meaning that manipulating a mouse and achieving a targeted ‘click here’ can be difficult.  

Her message to designers is clear: “Lack of precision is my greatest challenge…make the targets easier to hit!” She discusses the many times that she has had to ‘abandon a shopping cart’ in the face of a badly designed site. “If they make it difficult for me, I will go elsewhere – it’s as simple as that!”

Sarah also discussed her real-world experiences with hospital carpark touch screen technology: On steering myself up to the screen I found that it wanted me to input my car registration number, patient number, disabled badge user registration etc…With the clawing of my hands…impossible!” 

We will be exploring the experiences of our panel members in more detail over the coming weeks, so watch this space to learn more about how you can build services that work for real people. 

Taking an accessibility first approach to design and development  

Inclusive design requires you to think about the needs of minority groups from the outset. When it comes to digital accessibility, retrofitting it to digital services once built is a clunky, expensive and ineffective approach. It needs to be considered from the very start.  

The best way to do this is to build to the WCAG 2.2 standards and involve people with disabilities in your testing. This will help decrease ‘abandoned carts’, better engage existing new audiences and remove those barriers, creating a better and more inclusive experience for everyone.  

Web Usability’s accessibility experts can help your team to apply WCAG 2.2 guidelines to create inclusive and empowering digital content. Contact us to arrange an audit of your website.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to receive regular updates straight to your inbox.