Exposing the myths behind the 7 sins of accessibility

Thu 8 June 2017

This story was originally published by Media Access Australia.

Recent conversations between Media Access Australia and some of the country’s top marketing executives have revealed fascinating insights about their perspectives on digital accessibility – and why unfortunately it’s still not considered a priority for most.

So what are the myths? This article addresses seven key objections that were raised from these discussions – the seven sins – and provides some compelling reasons to act in a positive and inclusive way, once each myth has been debunked.

A Marketing Executive’s perspective on Digital Accessibility…

Objection #1

We already have to design and test for mobile phones, tablets, different browsers and different social media programs, and all have different specifications. So implementing accessibility in addition to all of this is just too difficult.

You’re right – digital accessibility is difficult, especially to begin with. The vast majority of designers, developers and content producers have very little knowledge around digital accessibility, and implementing it involves learning a new skill-set. That said, once you have the skills and after a little practice, it becomes a whole lot easier.

So yes, it is hard. But, it’s worth it. Let’s explain why…

Accessibility is just as important as mobile compatibility

All of the other user needs are considered throughout the design and development of a digital experience, and different browsers, devices and platforms are hard to adapt to as well. So, why do many people invest the time and effort into these, but not accessibility?

Now, we’re not about to argue against mobile compatibility (that would be crazy), but consider these statistics:

The Australian Communications and Media Authority estimates that in 2015, 21% of Australians accessed the internet using their mobile phone only, never using a desktop or laptop computer. So, if your website is not mobile-friendly then you’re essentially disallowing this large group of Australians from accessing it.

Presently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that just over 19% of Australians declare some form of disability. So, if your website is not accessible, then you’re essentially disallowing around 4.5 million Australians from accessing it. That’s a lot of people.

And, while the popularity of mobile devices continues to grow, so does the number of people with disability, as our population ages. The Australian Network on Disability estimates that over 50% of Australians aged 65 and over have disability.

Hand holding an iPhone with YouTube icon on screen

Objection #2

Does it mean I need to make multiple versions of everything we do, one normal version and one accessible one?

Not at all. In addition to this being time-consuming and expensive duplication, ‘accessible alternatives’ are a poor solution for users with disability.

Accessible alternatives are not accessible

While this has been used as a solution in the past, the accessible website versions were often missing content and were not updated along with the main website. As a result of this, users with disability were unable to access omitted or up to date content.

Users with disability aren’t all the same

While this may seem obvious, it’s also important to consider that not all users with disability are the same. A user with a hearing impairment may require videos with captioning, however, this shouldn’t mean that they need to visit an accessible alternative text-based website which has been optimised for screen-reader users, disallowing them from accessing rich visual information.

It doesn’t need to be that difficult

Accessible alternative websites are ineffective, unsustainable and time-consuming to implement. Accessibility doesn’t need to be that difficult, and with a bit of extra forethought and consideration, any website can be accessible. While it is easier and more effective to consider accessibility from the initial website design and planning, accessibility can also be retrofitted in existing websites, usually with very little change to the website design.

Two women leaning over a computer

Objection #3

Implementing accessibility will limit my creative potential.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions around digital accessibility. The truth is: implementing accessibility is easier if you limit your creativity. But then again, mobile compatibility is also easier if you limit your creativity – but that doesn’t mean we should. Unfortunately for users, bland and boring websites have been the strategy of choice for many organisations in implementing accessibility in the past.

Accessible design can and should be beautiful

For the most part, accessibility is behind the scenes, in a website’s code. There are a few exceptions to this – a notable one being colour contrast. However, even colour contrast requirements are not very limiting. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) AA colour contrast requirements prevent the use of less than a quarter of all colour combinations.

Limitations drive innovation

As discussed in the article Why accessible design is better design, considering users with flexible needs throughout the design process can promote creative thinking and lead to better designs. This is evident in many of the ground-breaking designs of recent years, such as Siri and text messaging.

Hands holding a photograph of a river in front of a screen showing other blurred photographs

Objection #4

There is nobody making this stuff a priority. While I understand that digital accessibility would be nice, there is no financial incentive for spending the extra time and money required. Where is the return on investment for the client?

Often, the extent of the impact of digital inaccessibility is hidden. It’s not uncommon for users with disability to find a multitude of websites which are inaccessible to them. However, rather than bringing this to the respective organisation’s attention, it is far more common for the user to simply find a competitor website which they are able to access.

There is a financial incentive. You might just not know about it.

A recent study confirmed that 80% of online shoppers with varied needs will choose to purchase goods from websites with the least barriers; this is discussed in greater detail in the article, Inaccessible websites force many to ‘Click away’. The study estimates that the spending power of these users is £11.75 billion in the UK alone, which works out to be nearly $20 billion AUD.

Despite this, current thinking is that nobody is making this stuff a priority. While that’s unfortunate, and hopefully will change in time, it does present an opportunity for organisations to become digital accessibility leaders. The aforementioned study found that users with disability opt to shop with e-commerce websites which are accessible to them. As a result, organisations that invest in creating accessible digital experiences are likely to see an increase in patronage from the 4.5 million Australians who identify as having disability.

Accessibility will improve the experience for all users

As is discussed in the article, Everyone has Disability, all users needs vary according to context or temporary illness. Accessible websites combat these temporary and contextual limitations though presenting information flexibly, ultimately leading to an improved experience for all users.

Calculator, pen and paper

Objection #5

Why can’t we just have a Google translate like button that translates my page to accommodate the needs of people with disability?

If only it were that easy…

Implementing digital accessibility is a multi-faceted task that involves the cooperation of web designers, developers and content authors. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be automated as it is dependent on the website’s design and content. For example, whether an image requires alternative text is dependent on if the content author deems the image’s content meaningful or decorative.

However, there are a number of tools which can be used to make identifying accessibility issues easier. Software such as Powermapper’s Sortsite can identify code validation issues likely to cause problems for assistive technology, the Paciellor Color Contrast Analyser can be used to easily identify colour contrast issues and the tota11y web browser plugin can also be used to highlight a range of issues.

Some automated tools can also help make digital experiences accessible. YouTube’s automated captioning tool automated generates captions for video content. However, this tool is limited in its accuracy and requires manual error correction.

Female hands holding iPad with Google homepage on screen

Objection #6

There is no issue with compliance in Australia – no one is policing this.

For the most part, you’re right, yet the litigation landscape is changing. While there have been few legal issues raised in Australia up until the last few years (albeit because more and more settle out of court before a hearing) the number of class actions and lawsuits appears to be increasing, which is in line with world-wide trends. This is discussed further in the articles Website Inaccessibility Court Cases on the Rise and US restaurant chain has trouble on the menu.

What’s more, the implementation of website accessibility is still an obligation for Australian organisations under the Disability Discrimination Act and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. So if the business you work for, or work on, has a bricks & mortar operation selling products and/or services, and has a website linked to that business, then the legal onus is on ensuring no-one is excluded or discriminated against. And that is exactly what happens when a site is inaccessible to people with disability.

Man using motorised wheelchair completing a form as female carer smiles beside him

Objection #7

I’m not heartless, but why should I care?

Aside from the potential legal ramifications outlined above, making your organisation’s digital experiences accessible for all users is very worthwhile… for both an organisation and for people with disability. Ensuring accessibility reflects positively on a brand, and as most people are aware, that can equate to very serious money.

The benefits of prioritising accessibility is evident among some of the world’s leading retailers and solution providers, who have invested in not only ensuring experiences are accessible, but enhancing experiences to suit the needs of consumers with disability. This is demonstrated by tech giant, Apple, who are industry leaders in accessibility – ensuring that all products are fully accessible out of the box, with a range of accessibility customisations available and assistive technology pre-installed.

There are 4.5 million reasons why increasing your reach to include Australians with disability in your marketing plans and campaigns makes good business sense.

For more information…

You can check out the Media Access Australia services websiteemail the Media Access Australia team or call (02) 9212 6242. The team can assist your organisation with usability testing, annual web audits, digital accessibility maturity assessments, accessibility training and more. You can watch a short video on how Media Access Australia can make what you do online accessible. An Audio Described version of the video is also available.

Media Access Australia would also like to acknowledge the very significant input into this article from talented User Experience Designer, Heidi Laidler.

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