Businesses should be aiming to prioritise inclusive design to create seamless and compliant experiences for all users.

Yet more than 97% of the pages evaluated by WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) in 2021 were found to have WCAG 2 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) failures.

A survey published on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which coincides with initiatives focused on ensuring websites, mobile apps and electronic documents can be easily accessed and navigated by the broadest possible user base – catering for the needs of people with disabilities (PwD) such as blindness, low vision, auditory challenges, mobility challenges and neurodiversity – examined the extent to which companies prioritise accessibility. More than two-fifths (43%) of the respondents rated it as a top priority, with another 36% saying it was important for their business. 

Overall, two-thirds of respondents agreed that digital accessibility is a higher priority this year than it was last year. That said, only one-third said their organisation’s website meets WCAG standards, and of that group, only 14% said they meet AAA, the highest level.

Real users add real-world experiences 

Businesses are fully aware of the need to improve digital standards, but they lack the in-house expertise and resources they need to build high-quality, fully accessible experiences. They need additional input and support from real users, ideally PwD, to fully understand how their products perform in the real world and if they meet accessibility standards. 

How else would web designers or engineers be able to design a high-quality product for people about whose lived experiences they know very little? 

In fact, two in five respondents to the aforementioned survey said they have either limited or no in-house expertise or resources to test for accessibility on an ongoing basis without external help. Meanwhile, 30% said that, while they have some expertise, they could use more. 

That said, all digital channels should provide an inclusive experience for everyone, regardless of ability. Inclusive design relies on adopting a human-centric approach to software development. It should be about much more than simply adhering to accessibility guidelines; it should cover every aspect that could affect an individual’s ability to use a product or service. 

This approach will ensure that inclusivity begins at the design stage and continues through ongoing real-world testing, in which real feedback is gathered from real PwD. Ongoing inclusive testing is essential to ensuring that every step of product development or the customer journey is fully accessible to all users.

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Recognising and removing common flaws 

The most common accessibility flaw is screen readers working incorrectly. For example, a person with blindness cannot complete a form to create an online account if specific button text is missing, and the screen reader is prevented from helping navigate the process beyond that point. 

Other common accessibility flaws include poor colour use which excludes people from seeing or understanding text or instructions properly. Other typical problems are videos that are missing closed captions or audio descriptions, issues with keyboard navigation, and poor user experiences with zooming to increase text size. 

The value of accessibility 

Many businesses recognise that neglecting accessibility can result in legal risks, but full digital accessibility offers additional business benefits beyond risk mitigation. Back-end development that supports accessible design has the potential to boost search engine optimization, make automated testing easier, and generally improve the user experience for all customers, including PwD. 

Plus, developing and releasing products that are accessible and inclusive to the greatest number of current and future users is also good from a broader business perspective.

Whether it’s to minimise the risk of regulatory non-compliance, for greater business benefits, or purely for empathic reasons, organisations shouldn’t underestimate the importance of usability and accessibility in their products. 

There’s a clear need for businesses to carry out inclusive testing with real people, including PwD. Only by consulting with real users and asking them to test its apps, web pages, and devices can a business be confident that its products are as accessible as they should be.

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