Ten Minutes with Ten10: Why is accessibility overlooked?

young woman using a smartphone with accessibility assisting technology

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The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are international standards for websites to meet to ensure that everyone can read, interact with, and use every website they interact with. But recent reports estimate just 2% of websites are meeting these guidelines – bad news for the over 14 million people in the UK that have a disability.

Hear from Ten10 Principal Consultant Charlotte Hayes as she explains why so many businesses overlook accessibility, how much revenue they’re losing by not making it a priority, and what some of the most important elements of web accessibility are. Just listen to the bite-sized podcast or read the transcript below.

Charlotte, thank you very much for your time today.

Thank you, James.

Let’s just jump straight into it. The first question I have for you might be a little bit of a broad one. But why do so many businesses out there seem to overlook accessibility and not really make it a priority?

Yeah, so that’s a really good question. I think businesses in general don’t see it as a priority. They maybe look at it as more of a costly exercise, and think they should add a little bit of accessibility on to the end of their user experience, just to check that it is actually accessible. I think part of that is the fact that they don’t really know what ‘accessibility’ is. They need to get a little bit of knowledge from people to understand the real impact to people that have disabilities and why they really need to get their product or their website validated before it goes out to live customers.

I think it’s a bit of they don’t see it as a priority, but also that they just don’t understand the impact of it to people in their daily lives.

That’s an interesting thing you mentioned: that people would bolt it on afterwards, is that something that you often find when you’re chatting with people? That there’s so many things to consider that web accessibility is kind of tacked on right at the end to try and get as much as possible, but it isn’t in ingrained from the start?

Yeah, I think a lot of clients that come to us do put it right at the end of testing. They’ve gone through their rigorous testing of functional and user experience. And then they come to the point: ‘oh, we need to make sure that it’s against these web content guidelines’. So they come to us at the end to say “can you just check and do an audit against our products?” Now, really, what they should be doing is thinking about it when they’re designing their product and their website upfront, so that they can see when they’re building it, and they’re not making the same non-compliance areas. They need to think about that every time that they’re building something and not just think about it at the end.

You also mentioned that some people would see as a bit of a costly exercise. And I found that an interesting way to phrase it because my next question for you was: how many customers out there are businesses isolating if they’re not making their products successful?

Indeed. They are losing out a lot more versus what they will be paying for an audit just to get it checked. There’s such a thing is the purple pound, which is the spending power of disabled people and their households. That’s currently estimated at £274 billion pounds. So really, businesses are losing approximately £2 billion a month in ignoring the needs of disabled people. If they’re not taking into account and doing that audit for their product, this is what they’re losing. One in five people of the UK population can’t use a site due to disability so it really needs to be more of a priority in a business’ eyes.

One in five customers – it just is an incredible amount. When you consider how much work would have gone into thinking of an idea for a product (or a service), how it should function, testing it, how many checks it will go through and then almost instantly, you lose 20% of your potential customer base.

Yes, and digital and technology play a pivotal role in in society at the moment and it’s just getting used more and more. Everyone’s using it. Internet browsers, it’s such a common thing. Why should it not be accessible to everybody? For example, you know, grocery shopping online, people need to have that way. And it’s becoming more and more common to buy food online. People who are disabled should not be prevented from doing so. I believe that some supermarkets are looking to amend their site and improve their site for these people and now they’re getting about £13 million more sales because of people coming back who know their site is more accessibility friendly.

I wondered if we could finish on what some important elements of web accessibility and whether there’s anything out there that people would actually be surprised to hear is getting in the way of their ability to stay accessible to their customers.

There’s quite a few common areas that people aren’t looking at – they’re overlooked to think that people can access their site. People that have issues with sight, so low contrast, not being able to see properly. Some of the little changes on your site are in terms of contrast, and foreground/background colours. Just a little change in that would make a massive difference in people coming back to that site and bring repeat custom.

Other things that people really miss out on are images. Most websites have images and descriptions on their page, they use it for products to decide what the image is about. Sometimes those images are missed out by screen readers – they’re read out by the letters or the numbers that are in the image name, rather than actually the description of the image. And there’s a lot of images, for example, on retail, on other areas that you might go and purchase items on product descriptions. They are a real must when it’s coming to looking online and buying online.

There are lots of people who just can’t see websites and they rely on tools such as screen readers to make sure that, whatever they are looking at and pointing at, they can read through a website. For example, the BBC website. They have really great headers and structures within their site, which a screen reader can use. They can tab across all the useful headings that they can read about. So it’s not necessarily just thinking about how you design the site but it’s also about the structure of the site to make sure that tools such as screen readers can be accessed across the site.

Other things that you could use to think about our mobile devices. We obviously know that people access the internet and products and apps on mobiles and are more frequent and are used for downloading. Having a little look at the accessibility that’s built in on your mobile device and making sure that they can be read out across the websites as well, that’s becoming quite an important topic.

Lastly, people might not be able to use a mouse so what they tend to do is use a keyboard solely to get to a website. For example, they may want to tab across the screens to get to some useful areas. If they get stuck and the tabbing isn’t in a structured order, they may be really confused within the site.

Things such as these can just be really easily put into website design right at the beginning. That would be really useful for being able to an all-inclusive society. Everyone should be able to be comfortable and happy and confident to be able to go to any website and access all areas of it.

That’s terrific. Thank you very much for your time, Charlotte. And that’s some really useful information that I hope everyone will take on board.

Thank you very much, James.

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