Senior Accessibility Analyst at Digital Accessibility Centre Mike Taylor discusses maximising technology to be both usable and accessible, and how to make it work for everyone
Digital Accessibility Centre otherwise known as (DAC), is an organisation which tests apps and websites to ensure compliance with web standards. They do this by employing testing teams of a wide range of users with various access requirements, such as users who are blind, who have dyslexia, low vision, and limited mobility to name a few. DAC’s team of accessibility analysts, trainers, technical support staff and web developers use the accessibility options found in many devices to test the everyday tasks that a user would carry out and provide a comprehensive report to their clients to help make an app or website more accessible for users who have additional access requirements.
The uptake in digital technology
Due to the recent pandemic which swept the world, we have all had to use technology in a different way. Many people worldwide have had to use technology to work, maintain contact with family, friends, colleagues, or doctors, and learn new software in some cases. Home-schooling has meant an increase in online learning platforms, and virtual timetables as many parents take up the position of teacher until normality resumes. It could be argued that never before have we relied on the technology around us so much. Many people have also started to use websites or apps for maintaining fitness at home, as well as keeping entertained and accessing apps to maintain a good positive approach with regards to mental health and a good home to work-life balance.
For users who have specific access requirements, such as the use of voice activation, magnification, or screen reading software for example, the technology is only fully usable if it is accessible. During previous articles, we have discussed how the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are used to develop accessible content. During recent events, the ability for people to access and use accessible information such as text in a web page, or apps has never been so important.
What do we mean by the terms of usable and accessible?
As is the case often with technology, accessible and usable will mean different things to different people. The ideal scenario, of course, is that an app or software can be both usable as well as accessible. However, in some instances, just because an app is easy to use for one group of users or accessible to another, does not mean that it works for everyone.
A chat app may be designed with a clear structure of where the various tabs and buttons will lead to when selecting them on a touch screen device, so could be viewed as being easy to use. If the app requires that users tap a button which is very small though, it can cause huge problems for users who have limited mobility. Using the same scenario, an app may be fully accessible but highly complex in its use case. Using this example, people are likely to look for a different app which provides a better overall experience.
The 2 worlds of accessibility and usability: How can they integrate?
As we all use technology more than ever before, following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) and maximising technology will enable content to be more accessible in particular now when people need it most. Ensuring that both text content such as documents and software I.E: Apps and similar items are designed with ease of use and accessibility in mind, will go a long way to reaching this goal.
The best way to reach as many users as you can is to test, ask for feedback, and engage with your end users as much as possible when a problem area is identified, and a fix is required. It sounds obvious, however spending a huge amount of time building and structuring content and then users struggle to understand or access the offering, would be frustrating for all concerned. Including fixes for accessibility is possible as some issues may not be identified until something has gone live, however it is easier to do at the start of a project rather than near the end if possible. It is important to understand at this point that accessibility is often an on-going process, so things will be fixed as new issues occur often from a software update, or a new component added to a Content Management System (CMS), so the on-going feedback from end users is always vital as much as possible.
How do we get feedback after maximising technology?
In previous articles, I have described how the EU Accessibility Directive requires on-going monitoring and testing to maintain an acceptable level of accessibility. While the UK is no longer in the EU, the directive is being integrated into UK legislation moving forward post-Brexit. The guidelines set as part of the directive mean that it is important to provide among other things, the ability for users to contact someone to report issues which cause problems accessing digital content.
Implementing the directive and maintaining a policy of providing an easy method of being contactable, means that users will be able to get in touch and report any problems. The same can also be said for all aspects of digital content. Organisations that can be contacted and who actively engage with users to test, and look at how problems can be fixed, will be rewarded with not just fully useable and accessible content. Users will (and do) promote not just negative, but positive experiences of accessibility after maximising technology. If your content is accessible and can be navigated, understood and viewed on various platforms, and if your organisation is viewed as being approachable, this will gather momentum through not just word of mouth, but social media posts and online forums respectively.
*Please note: This is a commercial profile
Editor's Recommended Articles
Must Read >> Introducing the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC)
Must Read >> Digital accessibility: What’s hidden in our devices?