, Ewelina Czarny Nov 25, 2020

Accessibility is as important in the digital space as it is in the physical

Today, it is almost inconceivable that a shopping center or public building would not be adapted for those of varying levels of accessibility. Fortunately, various measures, regulations and guidelines that have existed for many years have ensured this. It is now high time that we give the same effort digitally as we expect it to be done physically. Fortunately, national and international regulations will contribute to digital solutions being even better adapted in the future. But what does it really mean to have a universal design?

Accessibility and universal design are simply about avoiding the exclusion of anyone from accessing your services. Digitally, it is about good design; clear and precise texts, and user-friendly services. It is about treating everyone the same and giving them equal opportunities regardless of their abilities or circumstances. Your users have different capabilities concerning language barriers, visual disturbances or impairments, cognitive challenges and disabilities. This means that some of your users differ in how they navigate and gather information. For non-sighted users, for example, a screen reader is their way of acquiring your content. This means relaying on their tool for navigating the site. The user must remember the information the screen reader reads out and then navigate to the correct content. Navigation without visual aids is therefore cognitively demanding.

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Others only navigate with keyboard and are therefore reliant upon how you have categorized and marked your content. They may see where they want to go but have no other choice than to follow the predefined route. How patient would you be if you had to push through all the articles, social media buttons and contact information before you could put your new PlayStation 5 in the shopping cart? A website that is not based on accessibility thus creates unnecessary barriers for some of your users and can ultimately lead to the user giving up before they have found what they wanted on your page. The result is that you have made it very easy for them to seek out your competitors with more accessible services.

How to get started with universal design

By following the principles set out in WCAG 2.0 for universal design, you ensure that your web pages are accessible for as many people as possible. WCAG 2.0 is a comprehensive document that describes detailed guidelines to ensure accessibility. The guidelines are categorized according to four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robustness. The principles are exemplified with 61 testable success criteria to check against your website. The success criteria are marked with three levels where a simple A shows the minimum requirements and AAA is the highest level. According to Norwegian law, you should meet all the A and AA criteria, which means that you must comply with 35 out of the 61 success criteria to be universally designed. Even if the implementation of the directive has been delayed for the time being, it will in all probability take effect sometime in 2021 and thus have a direct impact on digital solutions in Norway.

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How to test for universal design?

A good starting point is to a handy checklist, for example using The A11y Project. To check how your site scores against the success criteria, you can use both automatic and manual tests in combination with assistive technology in various test modes. Such as navigation using only the keyboard and through the screen reader.

It is also useful to use inspect mode so that you can see the code. Inspect mode is a part of Developer Tools, the tool that is built in the browser. Here you can see if images, headings, links, tables, and forms are correctly marked and named in the code so that you can navigate using the keyboard and screen reader. You can also install several tools to help you analyse your service, such as "Accessibility Insight, and “Web Developer".

We all need to get better

By ensuring that your services are accessible to all, you show good ethics and morals. Working with accessibility is not only an important social mission for your company, but also good business because it creates better user experiences and thus higher conversion. At the same time, universal design provides better structure, language, and content and thus also SEO. Universal design benefits us all, because the principles are based on a good user experience and accessibility of content. And if that was not convincing enough, by following the principles of universal design you also follow Norwegian law.