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13th November 2018

Accessibility and the online world: What needs to change.

Over recent years, organisations have made a commitment and a conscious effort to be more inclusive. By doing that, they have become more accessible; whether it’s by installing gender neutral toilets, implementing audio descriptions in the cinema or employing members of staff dedicated to assisting those who need help, however, there is still a long way to go and with so much of our lives being online, this world needs to be accessible too.

Today marks Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day, established to recognise the importance and needs of disabled consumers and promote inclusive shopping. According to disability organisation, Purple, nearly one in every five people in the UK has a disability or impairment, and over half of households have a connection to someone with a disability. Their collective spending power – the Purple Pound – is worth £249 billion to the UK economy but in 2016, inaccessible websites and apps accounted for an estimated £11.75bn in lost revenue in the UK alone; however less than 10% of companies have a dedicated strategy for targeting disabled customers.

While organisations have focussed on the bricks and mortar; the physical accessibility of ramps, toilets and lifts, their websites – are actually not always that accessible to a lot of people.

I recently presented to the Birmingham Sight Loss Council, which brought to my attention just how much more could be done and as a marketing communications agency, we need to be the ones to do it; to instil into our clients and the websites and campaigns we develop that they have to be accessible for everyone.

Josh Feehan, Engagement Manager at Birmingham Sight Loss council told me that as a young man, he likes to have a bet on the football but he’s unable to because none of the apps for the betting companies are accessible. Straight away they’re losing out on his money because of the way they’ve designed their applications.

He also informed me that signing up to a website can be difficult and off-putting. While he understands that websites need to take your details, he is unable to use the captcha tool which checks whether you’re a robot or not. There is an audio captcha option, but Josh says it either sounds like a slurry drunk person – really unclear or it’s so fast, it’s hard to remember what they said, so he ends up giving up.

Due to the design of a website, so many companies who only have an online presence are missing out on a whole consumer group. While like anyone else – disability or no disability, some people prefer to shop online and others prefer to go physically into a shop, but according to Josh, clothes shopping online is difficult and offers really poor descriptions. He knows he could save a lot more money if he shopped online but doesn’t feel confident in what he’s buying and is also nervous about the returns process. This is surprising as you would have thought that the advancements in technology would have brought convenience and safety to people and particularly people who have disabilities, so it’s a real shame that this is not the case.

When building a website or designing a campaign, companies and the agencies they employ need to think about these principles from the start and ask themselves, ‘can everyone use this?’ It needs to be thought about from day one, in the planning stages rather than retrospectively trying to fit around it as that won’t work. Any good business should understand the benefit of including disabled customers and not make it harder for them to find work, spend money online and in store, and enjoy a drink or meal out. Like with anything else, good service and a good user experience earns loyalty and people will keep going back.

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There are some simple things that companies can do to improve their website’s accessibility and the Birmingham Sight Loss Council’s check list is the following:

  1. Does the keyboard provide access to navigation, in particular the tab, arrow, and enter keys without the use of a mouse?
  2. Using the keyboard for navigation, does the cursor move in a logical flow or order?
  3. Do all elements (links, radio buttons, text boxes, and drop down menus) work when selected?
  4. Is ALT text provided for all non-text elements?
  5. Are captions provided for multimedia elements?
  6. What is the colour contrast like?
  7. How easy is it to find contact details and address or location?
  8. How easy is it to find upcoming events?

Not only does having an accessible website benefit a wider audience of people, it also benefits you as a company, as it increases your audience reach, it demonstrates your dedication to social responsibility and it improves SEO. Your site will have lower bounce rates, higher numbers of conversions and less negative feedback as it offers a better experience to a greater number of people, in turn this will increase your brand’s reputation.

So make sure you’re not excluding a percentage of the population from fully experiencing your brand through your website and make the most of that purple pound – not only because it’s good for business but because it’s the right thing to do.

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