Digital accessibility and inclusive design – critical to your digital transformation journey
Digital accessibility and inclusive design are two essential components of the digital journey. Based on my experience with clients, I feel that it is also one of the least understood aspects of the digital roadmap.
What is digital accessibility and inclusion?
Let's begin by defining accessibility and inclusion in the digital space. Digital accessibility is the degree to which a digital product, service, or device can be used by as many people as possible, including persons with disabilities. Digital inclusion is also a related concept. It refers to the section of target users who have access to digital products and services — taking into account disability, accessibility, social factors, and connectivity.
For illustration, to make digital products accessible, we must consider people with partial or full blindness or limited mobility. To create products or services inclusive, we should also think of those who may not have consistent internet access. Our objective must be to design and develop technically accessible, equally usable, and configurable interfaces that work with assistive technologies such as screen readers, speech recognition, magnifiers, and cognitive accessibility aids like the text to speech.
Why should we care?
Have you ever come across a poorly-designed web form where the "Submit" button is difficult to find? Imagine how difficult this is for people with impaired vision or color blindness. The webform would become completely inaccessible.
Let's say you are a web developer and creating a website in English, but mistakenly typed <html lang="FR"> instead of "EN" in the HTML tag. Imagine a sight-impaired person trying to access the site using a screen reader. The screen reader will interpret it as a French website and may read English in a French accent or even translate it into French, rendering it useless.
These examples illustrate the problems of designing and developing digital solutions without considering accessibility or inclusive design principles. It is equally applicable to mobile apps, desktop applications, and other digital or physical user interfaces.
The implications for enterprises
As organizations progress on their digital journey, digital inclusion and accessibility should be part of their key priorities. However, in the absence of "shop-floor to top-floor" alignment, inclusion and accessibility can become an ad hoc activity. It is imperative for leaders to incorporate digital inclusion and accessibility priorities into the corporate strategy to provide the required impetus for adoption by all product and service teams.
Once an organization has enacted a digital inclusion and accessibility policy, it can adopt specific standards and frameworks.
Who sets the standards and guidelines?
Several international conventions and legislative bodies focus on accessibility and inclusion. The UN Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) works to make persons with special needs full and equal members of society. The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) provides education and certifications.
In addition, digital accessibility and inclusion are addressed by the UK Equality Act, the European Accessibility Act, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and France Law N° 2005-102.
The most authoritative work is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a global body responsible for setting standards and guidelines for the Internet and other digital applications.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set out technology-agnostic success criteria. These set of success criteria are proven, testable methods to measure accessibility. The latest published version of WCAG has three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA.
Level A sets a minimum level of accessibility to realize broad accessibility for most scenarios. I recommend AA conformance for all of your digital interfaces. AAA is the highest level — designed to meet the needs of people with limited motor control. However, level AAA may be unattainable in a cost-effective manner for most corporate content. Therefore, I believe it should not be mandatory for an enterprise's digital products or websites.
Moving from strategy to execution
Professional training and user design workshops are two fundamental ways to make digital products accessible. All product design efforts should include the perspective of individuals with special needs. If such individuals are not available, their requirements can be simulated in user workshops.
Also, all digital teams should be trained on the W3C guidelines. Moreover, depending on their role, team members can acquire expertise in particular aspects of WCAG guidelines. For example, web developers should focus on making webpages compatible with assistive technologies. QA testers and UI/UX experts should gain expertise in validating conformance with WCAG success criteria and checkpoints.
Every organization is in a different phase of the digital journey, but digital accessibility and inclusion must be part of the digital roadmap — from strategy to execution.
Based in Toronto, Canada, Manish Jain is a Director in the Digital Consulting space. Currently, he is helping a global vaccine manufacturer in its Industry 4.0 program. Earlier, he has headed the Sales Strategy & Operations at Atos|Syntel.. With an MBA in Strategy & Finance and 14 years of experience in technology strategy, architecture, design, and development, he has served clients in multiple industries. He is passionate about customer experience & digital technologies, and believes that the customer should always come before technology.