In this article I hope to offer a practical 3-step way to address the topical issue of accessibility for all; particularly access to the technology and systems that are so integral to modern society. In truth what I will propose seems so obvious that I am concerned that I may have missed something.
The trigger was a talk I attended last night which I felt rather scolded most businesses for not designing their websites and systems in ways that made them accessible to all, thereby discouraging large numbers of potential users/customers and thus disenfranchising them. While the speakers were trying to educate and promote change I think they missed a trick.
The talk focussed on inclusion and started from the position that whether or not someone identifies a “disabled” - be it physical, emotional or neurological - we all process information differently, respond to stimuli differently and have different physical capabilities. As a result browsing a website will be easier for some than others, and maybe actually be impossible. The same can be true for a set of instructions or even simple information distribution.
During the talks I heard a huge amount of things that various people didn’t like, eg pop up windows distract those with ADD, dyslexics struggle with text on graphics, and with italics, people with poor fine motor control struggle with tightly packed buttons that need clicking, those with short term memory problems struggle when form filling prompts disappear once the user starts adding data/text, etc. The list of dislikes seemed to be endless while positive advice was limited to indications that Amazon and Ebay are good. I can see business owners who crave to establish differentiation seeing this as “dumbing down” their digital presence with the risking that ever site ends up looking pretty much the same.
As I said I felt rather scolded and unclear why and how I should try and changes things to address what is clearly a real issue.
On reflection the answer seemed obvious and I will share it now. It is based on the recognition that businesses already cater for multiple languages (a use who only speaks German could be considered to be excluded from a site that only used English) and for users’ preference of technology eg PC, tablet or phone - a site design that works on a PC rarely works as well on the smaller screen of a phone, hence “mobile” sites.
How do they do this? They design and build for the specific challenge then have both intelligent initial direction to the “best guess” right version and clear signposting to the alternatives. By way of illustration, if I am accessing a site from an internet address in Spain, there is a high chance that I will be taken initially to a site using Spanish, not English. That said there are likely to be prominent flag icons for other language versions of the site that I can easily navigate to. Likewise if I use a mobile phone, I will likely be taken to a site designed for the smaller device, but there may well be a option to access the “full site”. While not always used there is already a set of increasingly recognised icons that depict PC, tablet and phone.
So to my solution:
Recognise the differences, don’t try a one-size-fits-all approach for this.
- Develop and promote an icon that denotes “super-accessible” - nothing that will not offend or make users feel discriminated - maybe a Golden Rocket or Star or something more abstract.
- Develop, disseminate and support a set of guidelines and standards that capture best practice in accessibility, ie show people what they should be doing and help them do it, don’t just list what you don’t like.
This would likely include guidance on the location and use of the “super-access” icon on screens so that those that want it can find it easily. Likewise include an option within user profiles for those that prefer super-access and use this for initial direction.
- Develop some form of accreditation scheme that will endorse the sites that have adopted good practice along with something like a British Standards kite mark that can be displayed on approved sites.
So why not embrace the differences and help drive positively to better outcomes leaving the choice with both businesses to adopt the ideas or not and with any user/client to opt for the experience that suits them best. To my mind this is the more inclusive approach
So what have I missed? Can this work?