Every now and then, we observe a pattern and foresee a trend. When this happens, we write about it. In this article, we share 5 insights crucial for working with digital accessibility successfully.
Laws and regulations are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to digital accessibility. This reflects a larger societal shift towards inclusiveness. And digitization and technical advancements inevitably follow suit.
But while laws and regulations are clear, the solutions are not. Best practice examples are hard to find. It’s often left to those of us who work with communication and design to find a solution. So, the more we can support each other, the better.
Here we have boiled down our own experience from working with digital accessibility and added additional perspectives from a number of experienced professionals.
If you work in the public sector, in the private sector with public funding, or in the private sector but with public sector customers, digital accessibility is governed by law. In Sweden, this law is called "Lagen om tillgänglighet om digital offentlig service". It states that all public sector websites, apps and videos must live up to the standards defined in the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines", better known as "WCAG 2.1". Public sector websites must also contain an accessibility report, listing all known accessibility limitations. Also, visitors must be able to report any limitations they discover directly to the owners of the website, as well as to the Swedish authorities. Even though you might not need to know everything, you must know what is relevant to your role. It’s the law, not a recommendation.
Digital accessibility is equally relevant even if your organization focuses solely on the private sector. For starters, it’s highly likely that the above-mentioned laws and regulations will soon be applied more broadly. Especially if you work in finance, insurance, or similar industries. But even if you’re not legally bound, consider this: 20% of all Swedes have some type of disability. (The percentage is similar globally.) Can you afford to compromise when it comes to digital accessibility and effectively exclude such a large segment of your potential customer base? And, what if your competitors suddenly provide more accessible alternatives? Will your customers stay with you?
Design guru Dieter Rahms stated that good design should be understandable and unobtrusive, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a designer that disagrees. And what is understandable and unobtrusive is, of course, accessible. It’s also worth remembering that some of the best design solutions spring from accessibility. The remote control and the one-hand faucet, for instance, were both first developed as accessibility aids. But they ended up bettering life for all. Text messaging was first developed for mutes, video chats for the deaf, etc. The list is long. So, don’t think of digital accessibility as a hurdle. Think of it as a richer perspective - something that helps you take on someone else’s perspective. It’s a source of inspiration that will stimulate creative thinking.
The worst thing you can do is to run through an entire project first and then evaluate whether the results are up to par with digital accessibility. Inevitably, you find that they’re not, and will have to spend time and resources developing tacked-on solutions. Instead, get it right from the start and let it run deep. If you’re writing the brief, state that WCAG 2.1 is a requirement. If you’re the manager, make sure you budget for it. If you’re the project manager, plan for accessibility testing and user testing. If you’re a copywriter, write alt-texts from the start. If you’re a designer, consider WCAG 2.1 your canvas, not your frame. If you’re a developer, remember that digital accessibility applies to you too. Let it run deep. All the way to the end.
To communicate with people whose strengths and skills are different, you need to see things from another perspective than your own. As mentioned above, the law is clear, but there is no consensus on what works the best. The best option is to support each other. Look around, benchmark, talk to peers and network. Reuse what’s working and add what’s missing. Even more importantly, ask those you wish to communicate with. Remember that people with functional variations aren’t a target group in themselves. They’re 20% of each of your target groups. So, that’s how you put together your test groups. And don’t be afraid to be the one asking the questions. Sometimes a simple phone call to the right person is all that it takes to learn something new. Further reading www.digin.nu A useful hub for all things related to digital accessibility: events, videos, articles and much more. www.webbriktlinjer.se The official guidelines for how to develop websites, apps and videos for the public sector.