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1st Nov, 2022

Jack Ireland
Jack Ireland
Job Title
Content Marketing Executive

In 2020/21 the Family Resources Survey indicated that there were 14.6 million disabled people in the UK alone. And according to Purple those with disabilities and their households have a spending power of £274 billion a year. For this reason, ensuring your products and services are accessible and able to be used by people with disabilities, employees and customers alike, makes good business sense. 

With the competition to sell products and services is continuously rising, the importance of digital accessibility remains critical for companies that wish to grow, develop and, most importantly, be inclusive. 

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is when a business helps to give people with various disabilities unimpeded access to their services, products or functions across the digital sphere – meaning they can be used by as many people as possible. 

To be digitally accessible, companies are encouraged to create an equally accessible online environment for employees and customers with disabilities. This should be no different than creating an accessible physical store or office. 

So where should businesses start if they have little or no understanding of accessibility requirements? The Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organisation for the internet, has created Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) providing recommendations for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines are based on four principles: 

  • Perceivable: users must be able to perceive the information on the website.

  • Operable: users must be able to perform all interactions the website allows.

  • Understandable: users must be able to understand the content of the webpage and how the user interface works.

  • Robust: users must be able to access the content with assistive technologies.

A 2022 study by non-profit organisation WebAIM found that 96% of one million analysed homepages violated some aspect of the WCAG, including low contrast text, missing text alternatives for site images, buttons without associated text and empty or broken links. 

Digital accessibility technology

Digital services can provide an entirely new level of independence to people with disabilities, and businesses should first explore how they can improve their customers’ and employees’ digital experiences, understanding where the barriers are. 

For example, a person who may not be able to visit a bank due to a physical disability can complete monetary transactions using an online banking app. Furthermore, closed captioning of videos can help deaf and hard-of-hearing people understand what is being said, while audiobooks turn text into speech to assist blind or partially sighted people. 

Improving a website’s ability to become more digitally accessible can be challenging without the correct software or other technological tools. To remove that stress, businesses should consider implementing tools to help boost their site’s accessibility. These tools range from: 

  • Accessibility testing: the ability to identify a website’s usability with suggested recommendations for improvement. 

  • Closed-caption software: helping users with hearing impairments effectively consume video content and other audio-based media on a website. 

  • Image alternative text: allowing users to understand images and infographics that screen readers can’t read. 

  • Colour checkers: enabling users with visual impairments such as colour blindness or low vision to customise a website’s colour, contrast and lighting to suit their needs. 

  • Keyboard navigation: ensuring a website can be fully accessible and operable using only a keyboard. 

Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought

Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought or left until the last moment. According to a report by accessibility company Hassell Inclusion, more than a third of organisations surveyed launched digital products without conducting accessibility checks. On top of this, 36% of product managers weren’t aware of their responsibility for ensuring digital products are accessible. 

By thinking about accessibility in advance, a lot of time and resources can be saved, while it also speaks volumes about a company’s commitment to inclusivity, diversity and customer value. Modifying accessibility can be stressful and extremely difficult, so taking a well-planned approach will ensure a more practical service which can be appreciated by a larger userbase. 

Digital accessibility services help customers who may struggle to utilise products and services without them. Not having accessible websites or applications means businesses will not only lose customers, but people with disabilities will be denied the chance to have a meaningful experience with the brand. 

When it comes to accessibility in recruitment, digital platforms are often the first step of the process. During the application process, as well as onboarding, induction and training, employers need to consider different conditions varying from sight and hearing impairment, to reading and motor difficulties. If digital platforms are alienating a wide pool of the workforce at the application stage, an organisation could lose out on talent.

The importance of language

It’s important to plan for multilingualism, different language types and tone of voice when thinking about digital accessibility. 

People with visual impairments may use screen reader software while browsing the internet to help consume the text on each page. Unless otherwise instructed by software tools, screen readers often assume that all the text on the page is written in the user’s default language.  

Screen reader software will pronounce words correctly if they are indicated in the page code. Try to ensure the language used on a website is simplified so the content is accessible to as many people as possible. 

Plain, simplified language benefits all users, including people with cognitive disabilities, low reading literacy, and those who are encountering an unknown topic. For websites and web applications, people need to be able to find what they need, understand what it is they find, and use that to find solutions and accomplish tasks.

Providing visual support

With people increasingly using their smartphones to consume and purchase products and services, there has been a large rise in the use of video and images on social media to promote a company’s assets. 

That said, more and more content is being consumed without sound. On LinkedIn, 79% of videos are watched on mute and that number is even higher on other social platforms. This reiterates the need to subtitle and use closed caption content. Providing subtitles and transcripts for video content will help people who are hard-of-hearing, who may not have English as their primary language and the non-disabled users whose preference is to use subtitles. 

Users who are unable to see images depend on alternative text, which is a short description of the image. Whenever possible, use alternative text that is succinct, so it communicates effectively with the user without burdening them with excessive amounts of detail that’s not always necessary. 

The benefits to employers

Digital accessibility is a key element of promoting diversity in the workplace and implementing a proactive approach should play a fundamental role when attracting and retaining talent. 

Alongside creating a positive and diverse workplace culture, having a sound understanding of digital accessibility can also attract like-minded jobseekers, while boosting employee morale, heightening brand awareness and increasing productivity. 

To ensure accessibility doesn’t hinder business, companies should consider conducting compliance checks and internal audits on digital platforms. While it may seem like an added challenge in a competitive business market, ensuring your company is accessible for all users, external and internal, is crucial for prolonged business success. Accessibility software and tools can lessen the workload needed to communicate with people with disabilities and guarantee that a high-quality service is provided. 

Being great at digital accessibility isn’t just about having a great website, it’s about the entire user journey. This ranges from social media to the recruitment process and employee onboarding, to digital tools used in internal communications and company messaging. The aim of digital accessibility is to create a better user experience for all, so plenty of time should be spent thinking about the needs of the customer and how they can best interact with a business online. 

Demonstrating a responsibility to digital accessibility is the mark of an organisation that prioritises diversity, equality and inclusion. Before too long, it will be expected of every organisation in order to make the digital world a more accessible place for disabled employees and customers.

If you are looking to recruit the next great professional for your team, get in touch with your local recruitment specialist today.