An Introduction to Accessibility

Insights
Vika van Tuyl

by Vika van Tuyl
27 March 2020

4 mins read

When we think about how to make something accessible in the world around us, we tend to imagine a physical space and how easy it is to reach or enter that space.

If you’re reading this coming from the ‘world of building digital’ in healthcare or government – whether that’s developing a website to guide people on how to lead a better life, or building a service that enables someone to actually do what’s needed of them to be a good and law-abiding citizen – it’s a very similar way of thinking.

Accessibility is therefore about making your digital service work for as many people as possible. Quite often, however, there’s an assumption that ‘ticking’ the accessibility box only relates to helping people with disabilities.

This is completely valid – but making something accessibility friendly can benefit everyone else too.

Content that reads well

Going back to the physical world around us – if someone didn’t have usable wheelchair access to a building this would be wrong, right?

Again, the same should apply to your digital service.

This is also where effective and empathetic content can build bridges.

Why is this important? Take a screen reader. This can be a crucial tool for people that have very limited or no sight. Carry out a Google search for the meaning of ‘accessible’ you’ll be met with terms such as ‘approachable,’ ‘ available’ and ‘friendly.’ These meanings can be applied in striking the right tone in your service’s content so that screen readers are effective. This can speak volumes (quite literally!) to the user that might need to actually ‘hear’ to enable them to complete their task using a digital service.

Dunbarton council: bad wheelchair access

Image of bad wheelchair access
Image is taken from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/14/60-metre-wheelchair-ramp-britain-great

Why should I care?

If you work in a digital public sector role, it’s the law if you didn’t already know! All digital services are required to meet accessibility standards and publish an accessibility statement, this always appears on any websites published after September 2019 but older websites have until 2020 to comply.

Microsoft pointed out in their Inclusive design toolkit, there are many different kinds of impairments. Some can be temporary like breaking an arm, some can be situational like trying to order a drink in a loud bar or carrying a baby. Others are permanent like being deaf, Blind or having one arm

Some of Microsoft's inclusive icons

Image of design inclusive icons
Image is taken from
 https://www.microsoft.com/design/inclusive

If you give everyone the same opportunities regardless of their ability, you’re on the way to building a service without barriers that would otherwise affect the quality of their life – and preferably in the easiest and most helpful way possible.

What can I do to help?

We’ve listed some accessibility quick wins when building digital services:

Use alternative text.

Probably the biggest accessibility mistake is still the lack of – or poor alternative text, found on images. Be as descriptive as possible in your alternative text.
What alternative text would you give this image? ‘A picture of a dog’? Or something like ‘a day time photograph of a happy german shepherd on a beach?’ Better alternative Text can also help with SEO – a double bonus.

A day time photograph of a happy german shepherd on a beach

Image of a German Shephard standing on the beach by the water on a sunny day
Image is taken from
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Shepherd

Colour contrast. 

Always check colour contrast even if using colours you believe to be safe for contrast issues. There are lots of free, useful tools for colour contrasts like webAIM contrast checker.

Use semantic HTML.

For example, take an H1 HTML tag. The element itself has some information about the type of content it contains, so for someone using a screen reader it would read the element as ‘Heading level 1.’ A bit confusing.

Overall accessibility is about including everyone no matter their background. Thinking about accessibility every step of the way when designing your digital service is super important.

When designing a service, could you put yourself in the shoes of how a user feels with a particular accessibility need?

Hopefully, this blog has given you some insight into what accessibility is on a high level and gives you a new way of looking at how you think about the internet.

To find out about Difrent’s accessibility services, get in touch today info@difrent.co.uk

While you’re here, check out our video on where Difrent stands on accessibility…

Written by
Mark Wright, Difrent’s Interaction Design
Designer with dyslexia. Passionate and driven to make the web a better place for everyone.
@mrkwrght

Emily Colman, Difrent’s Content Designer
Committed to helping people that might face anxiety when making crucial life decisions using a digital service, by creating content that’s clear, concise and most importantly, human.
@emsico

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