A very big thank you to Lucy Pullicino, Inclusive Experience Ltd, for taking the time to write this blog for the 3rd day of GSM Career’s Digital World Week.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Director.
I became a digital accessibility consultant to raise awareness around the common usability barriers that disabled people experience when using digital services, and educate designers and developers on how they can make websites and apps more accessible to disabled people.
There are four main disability categories;
- Motor: Disabilities that affect movement, dexterity, coordination, stamina and strength of limbs and/or joints
- Vision: Disabilities that affect clarity and strength of vision
- Cognitive: Impairments that affect information processing e.g. the ability to read, understand, comprehend, perceive and understand information
- Hearing: Disabilities that affect the level and ability to hear the sound(s)
When I worked at the BBC, producing content for the website, I was always interested in the feedback we received from users; reporting various likes, dislikes or difficulties that they were having using areas of bbc.co.uk. Instead of enjoying the website, some users were feeling frustrated because they were struggling to access and use the content.
I became particularly interested in the usability challenges experienced by people with disabilities. The web can be very empowering for some disabled people; enabling them to participate in activities they might not ordinarily find easy e.g. shopping or socialising, by removing some of the accessibility barriers presented by the physical world. However, the virtual world also presents its own set of accessibility barriers.
For example, users who are deaf are not able to enjoy online video content that doesn’t have subtitles, while users with poor vision, colour blindness or Dyslexia may be unable to see certain colour buttons or read the text content because the font size is too small, the text colour is too faint or there’s just way too much of it in one big chunk.
People with severe disabilities often use assistive software and devices to enable them to access the web. For example, Screen readers are used by people who are blind. They tell the user about the structure, function, layout and content of a website or app by reading it out to them. People with severe motor impairments such as Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy or Rheumatoid Arthritis may use a keyboard or speech-to-text software, using their voice, to control the computer rather their hands to control a mouse.
However, if a website or app is not designed or built with the diverse needs and abilities of users in mind and they are not made to be compatible with a range of assistive devices, disabled users will be excluded from using that product or service.
Tim Berners-Lee intended the web to be accessible to all and to ensure this he, with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), put together the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). They defined web accessibility as;
“people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to age.”
WAI developed a set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG2.0) for designers and developers to follow to help them make their website and apps as accessible as possible.
The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Equality Act (2010) have since defined websites as public product or services, and states that it will be considered indirect discrimination for a service provider to apply “a provision, criterion or practice” which is discriminatory in relation to a person’s disability I use the WCAG 2.0 to feedback from usability testing with disabled users, I help digital product development teams to understand the needs of disabled users.
Screen readers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_reader
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/