Charities have an obligation to provide an accessible user experience across their websites and other digital communications. So where do you start?
In many ways, digital technology is a great equaliser. Never before have so many people had access to so much information and means of expression, and as the coronavirus pandemic has shown, it has the power to bring people together and help unite us in the face of crisis. But there is a different side to digital where it can also serve to highlight inequality – a ’digital divide’ where certain groups of people are met with barriers to engaging with that world.
Arguably, charities have a social responsibility to create solutions that work for everyone and help eliminate the barriers that keep people from accessing the privileges of digital. That’s why inclusivity and accessibility should be so fundamental to any digital product or service they deliver, be it a website, app or any other type of digital tool. ’Accessible UX’ should be one of a charity’s core values – so what exactly is it?
UX or ’user experience’ – This is what a user experiences when they interact with a particular digital product. Put simply, UX design is important. Entire job roles and industry fields are built around it. Its goal is to create easy, efficient, relevant and all-round pleasant experiences that make people want to engage with service and keep them coming back.
Accessibility - Accessibility means a service that can be used easily by everyone, and where the designer has considered any potential obstacles to using it. This has to include people with hearing or sight impairments, movement impairments, and cognitive impairments like autism or a learning difficulty.
According to Scope, there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK. That’s around 19% of working-age adults, rising to 45% of those 65 or older.
This doesn’t include the many people who are not registered as having a disability but who may be temporarily experiencing a condition such as recovering from an injury or a stroke; or are living with some kind of impairment such as dyslexia or colour blindness that might affect their understanding of digital information.
If you had staff or volunteers working on a digital system, you’d listen to them and identify reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs. When designing a public-facing service, the principle of user-centric design applies. Best practice as set out in the Charity Digital Code states you should take the time to listen and empathise with your audience’s needs, whether through focused user testing with a select group of beneficiaries or making use of the data that you have on your audience.
However, there are some basic guidelines that are recognised as the best starting point. These recommendations are called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and The UK Government uses these standards as a requirement for all web content and digital services it creates.
The basic principles should be applied whether your charity is building something from scratch (like a website or a mobile app) or considering an existing platform on which to build your service (for instance, a Facebook group, a pre-built chatbot interface or a Zoom session for service users). While you might have different levels of control over the UX of these tools, they all have one and need to be accessible. These guidelines allow you to identify earlier on in the process if your services are not accessible and fix them, or find a different platform.
Current WCAG standards are based on 4 design principles:
This means making sure users can recognise and use your service with the senses that are available to them.
This means, for example, providing alt text on images, captions and transcripts on audio and video, proper contrast between the text and background, and making sure the service works with assistive technologies. The full list is here.
Speaking of assistive technologies... to have digital services that are ’operable’, you have to make sure users can find and use your content, regardless of how they choose to access it.
For example, consider the different ways people might interact with your content, like:
To meet the ’understandable’ principle, you have to make sure everyone can understand your content and how the service works.
We’ve recently covered ’readability’ and tips on making your content clearer and easier to read, but for the full guidelines go here.
For a service or product to be robust, you must make sure your content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents. This one is slightly more technical mainly comes down to compatibility, and making sure that the code within your product can happily speak to the code within any assistive technologies and browsers.
What’s in this article isn’t a comprehensive WCAG policy checklist, but these principles cover the basic ’lenses’ through which you should look at the accessibility of your digital services.