The importance of offering digital accessibility options: Brock Fisher

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While many people can navigate the internet with ease, people with disabilities can struggle. Kolmeo Head of Strategy Brock Fisher examines the need for digital accessibility and how you can ensure your digital content can be used by all.

In broad terms, digital accessibility is the practice of making all your digital tools, such as websites and apps, usable and accessible by people who may have a disability.

Challenges such as vision impairment, colour blindness and deafness can all have a significant impact on a person’s ability to engage with and consume digital information.

It’s not simply a case of it being ‘nice to have’; it’s a legal requirement to ensure that your website is accessible, in the same way that building standards and codes require buildings in Australia to meet particular accessibility requirements.

Good business practice

In Australia, one in five people live with a disability of some form, meaning 20 per cent of the people you interact with in your business could have physical or digital accessibility requirements that need to be met.

When accessibility needs are not catered for, customers are three times more likely to avoid dealing with your business and twice as likely to convince others to avoid your business as well.

One in three customers with a disability report they’re treated less favourably than others, so there is a lot of potential for damage to your reputation.

People with a disability often find that their customer needs aren’t met by the businesses they are trying to transact with.

Real world examples

Gisele Mesnage was key to raising the profile of accessibility issues in Australia when she took on supermarket giant Coles, in 2014.

The invention of online shopping was a life-changing development for Gisele, who has been legally blind since birth.

Central to the frustrations that Gisele repeatedly raised with Coles were updates being deployed, which meant she was unable to select delivery times for her order, or that added such complexity to her ability to navigate around their website, that it could take her up to 12 hours to place a complete order.

The matter was settled, with a commitment on the part of Coles to ensure digital accessibility requirements were catered for.

Now let’s take colour blindness as an example.

Eight per cent of Australian males experience a form of colour blindness, with the most common type being red-green colour blindness, where telling red from green is difficult.

It’s common to use red and green on buttons in a general “stop or continue” type of principle.

However, without a text accompaniment to the button to outline what it does, a person affected by red-green colour blindness may not be able to tell the difference between the two buttons.

How does a blind person navigate the internet?

There are several ways, including using dictation software (like Siri), to navigate sites, along with refreshable braille displays, which convert text into braille and allow someone to read text with their fingers.

Probably the most common method is to use what is called a screen reader.

Screen reading programs analyse the layout and content of a website and provide a text-to-speech translation to a user.

In this way, users can click links and move from heading to heading, much like a sighted user may visually skim over content.

Website design is critical to the functionality of screen reading programs, and content must be coded with proper header tags.

Images that convey meaning must also be coded with alternative text, so

that someone using a screen reader can hear a description of what the image is conveying.

A quick accessibility checklist for your business

  1. Is your website coded correctly?

Do you know if your website has been coded with proper header tags, and includes image alternative text and clearly defined link descriptions to allow the use of screen reader programs?

If unsure, check with your web developer.

2. Does your website use a lot of pop-ups and carousels?

Pop-ups and lots of moving text and images can play havoc with screen reading programs.

They can make it impossible for a user to navigate around, understand where they are, or be able to go back or forward to where they want to be.

3. Is your website keyboard accessible?

Not everyone can use a mouse or a touchpad, so is your website able to be navigated using only a keyboard and shortcut commands?

4. Is your video content captioned?

We all know the popularity of video in real estate, but one in six Australians are affected by some form of hearing loss or impairment.

Helpful tools and resources

Deque Systems provide the “axe” accessibility tool and Chrome plugin for free on their website, which allows you to comb through your website and find any accessibility problems.

There’s also some great information and resources available on The a11y Project website, including a checklist that you can work through to understand if your website has any accessibility challenges that require attention.

Accessibility in the physical and built world is something that we’re generally all quite familiar with, and those same concepts and provisions also apply to the digital world.

Just as a business would ensure they have wheelchair access to their premises, there needs to be an awareness for all digital content providers that how the information is structured and formatted can have the unintended consequence of exclusion for consumers.

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