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How to design an accessible and inclusive digital service

When construction companies are looking at ways to make buildings accessible, there are dozens of considerations.

Building ramps. Ensuring plenty of accessible parking bays. Easily-readable signage. Spacious layouts for places like toilets and reception areas. Companies take several steps to ensure anyone can use the building, regardless of a disability or condition.

As we enter an era where digital services are becoming more prevalent, the same considerations now need to be taken online. When designing a digital service that’s accessible and inclusive, every potential user must be considered.

So – how do companies such as 6B ensure that digital services cater to everybody?

First of all, let’s delve into the definition of what we mean by accessible and inclusive…

What do we mean by inclusive and accessible services?

Design decisions need to emphasise and understand user diversity, otherwise you can exclude a whole raft of people on ethnic, disability or internet access grounds – that’s how inclusive design is defined by the University of Cambridge

According to official government statistics, there are over 11 million people with a long-term illness, impairment or disability in the UK. As tech specialists, we need to make sure that all these users are catered to, and receive the same brilliant online experience as everyone else.

For designers, it affects a whole host of elements. They must factor in multiple facets – including tone of voice, language, colours and many more – to ensure the maximum accessibility of products and services.

But while inclusive design focuses more on the processes a designer should follow, accessible design is targeted more towards the outcome of a website or app.

Can a person with visual impairments read your text?
Can people who live in rural areas get onto your website with slow signal or old technology? If not, why not?
And how will you improve this?

To give you an idea on how to create inclusive and accessible digital services, our team point towards the Microsoft accessibility toolkit – it’s a great resource for designers who want to boost their skills in this area, but also for companies wanting to understand more about how they could improve.

It outlines five practises that all designers should consider when building a website or app. These include:

Get orientated: Equip yourself with everything you need
Frame: Learn from different points of view and apply these to the bigger design picture
Ideate: Come up with ideas, explore any potential problems, and figure out how a human being is meant to interact and behave with your design
Iterate: Build and test prototypes of your inclusive design
Optimise: Review what you’ve done from every angle and find ways to measure the success of your design

It’s also vital that designers consider a user’s personal characteristics and situations, their digital capabilities and their access needs too.

Looking at the full picture, teams must demonstrate how a service is built where assistive technology can be used, but other circumstances must be considered. These include:

a person’s location – if they’re trying to use your services in a noisy or sunny location, or if they are in a place with slow internet connection
health – they may have broken their arm or suffer with any number of conditions
equipment – they may be using older technology
project-dependent characteristics – things like age, gender, race, religion, etc

What are the legal requirements?

Making sure your website, app or product is inclusive and accessible is now a legal requirement.

This was embedded into UK law post-Brexit, under the European Union (EU) Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications.

Then there’s the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (known as WCAG 2.1) – another internationally-recognised set of standards that all designers should adhere to when building websites or apps.

Plus, there are the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. These specifically address the standards that public bodies must adhere to, while the Equality Act 2010 also provides obligations where services are accessible for all.

What minimum standards need to be achieved?

For a lot of services, disabled people should be included in user research, so that you can fully assess the requirements needed. Your service should work on the most commonly used browsers and have an accompanying accessibility page to explain how accessible your organisation’s service is.

Before a project even begins, you need to think of the demographics and where possible pain points might be for different users – which is why we take Discovery stages of our projects so seriously, providing a deep-dive into user profiles and user testing.

It’s important to be aware of unintended bias or inadvertent exclusion, using data from current employees, as well as your potential customers, to frame how you might solve a specific problem.

Different stages of your project will need different types of attention too. For example:

At Discovery & Alpha: Learn more about your users and what they need. You may even start thinking about how to prototype for your design to be accessible and what your assisted digital support offering may look like. You should also involve disabled people in your user research, to show assessors how much you’ve considered this.

At Build: Your services should meet level AA of the WCAG 2.1, which means you’ll need to carry out an internal accessibility check as a minimum. As part of a service standard assessment, assessors will need to know how the check was done and who conducted it, whether automated tools were used, what the check uncovered, and whether any changes were implemented as a result of the check. A sample of pages such as the homepage, content pages, interactive tools and PDFs can be given to demonstrate accessibility and inclusivity. All pages should be tested so that people can use different browsers and potential assistive technology.

Beyond: There should also be a plan to demonstrate continuous improvement and support, showing how the service will continually look to make digital services accessible and inclusive. 6B also carries out UX audits, which are a typical method to uncover any usability and accessibility issues and recommend valuable changes.

What do 6B’s experts say?

6B’s new Head of Design Phil Millward utilises a resource called Stark to ensure the digital service 6B offers is accessible and inclusive.

It’s a great tool for checking client-supplied brand guidelines or generating a product from scratch.

“Design inclusivity is part of the fundamental structure of any design,” he said. “It’s no surprise that there are hundreds of products out there that can help assist when it comes to making the correct choices when implementing the foundations of a design.”

Sharon Oni, 6B’s UX designer, also says readability is essential in providing an accessible and inclusive digital service. “Readability is important because it helps with how clearly a visitor can understand a piece of information even at different learning abilities. We want to avoid discriminating against people.”

Sharon also uses the Microsoft accessibility toolkit to improve accessibility and inclusivity, with the following considerations firmly in mind:

  • Include a contrast checker for legibility
  • Information hierarchy to arrange elements or content in order of importance
  • Add alternative text to images
  • Screen readers can read content aloud
  • Screen magnifiers can enlarge your content
  • Voice recognition software for user generated content
  • Ability to translate for users accessing from different countries for a more global outreach
  • Progress bars or reading time to let users know how far off they are to the end of a blog or page
  • Link related articles to help visitors navigate our site and find what they are looking for

Do you need accessible and inclusive digital design help from the experts at 6B?

 

Our design expertise ensures that all our products, including apps, websites and bespoke software, consider all inclusivity and accessibility implications.

Get in touch with us today to find out more.

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