7 principles for creating inclusive digital experiences
Did you know that a shocking 98% of websites are not meeting web accessibility standards? To help organizations learn more about creating accessible digital experiences. we've been teaming up with industry experts to create lots of informative content on the topic. In our webinar on Inclusive Marketing, Ceri Balston, Head of Digital at Scope shared 7 key principles based on learnings from their own web accessibility journey, and we've outlined them for you below...
1. Get the right team together from the start
Before you begin to map out how to make your website more accessible, you’ll need a team. It’s important here to fill in any gaps within your own organization and seek external partners where required. At Scope, we knew we would need a web development partner to help us implement changes to our website, as well as someone who could help support us on any challenges along the way - so we partnered up with Aqueduct (now part of the Flipside group) and Hassell Inclusion. They shared our vision for design and accessibility - and that’s key when picking a partner.
2. Upskill your employees
Accessibility isn’t just up to one person, it’s the responsibility of everyone in your organization - your project and product managers, designers, developers, copy writers, and testers, to name a few. Put a training plan in place, using partners to deliver training, to make sure every employee understands their role in improving digital inclusion - it’s vital for success.
3. Embrace inclusive design
Great design can combine with great accessibility to create a fantastic user experience, and one that is legally compliant too. So embrace inclusive design! To do that, you must talk to end users throughout the entire journey, and that includes four key phases:
- Discovery - the planning and research stage as your team discusses what your website should include
- Design - the drafting up of initial wire-frames and page layouts
- Build - the implementation stage where your website starts to take shape
- UAT (User Acceptance Testing) - time for testing of the final ‘live’ site
At each stage, sit down with diverse end users and get their thoughts and feedback to see what works for them - don’t wait until the site is live and it’s time for UAT. Throughout each stage, also carry out internal testing and gain expert reviews at key check points, such as when your final plans are drafted up at the end of each phase. It’s also a good idea to have an external auditor check for legal compliance and conformance to the WCAG guidelines.
4. Carry out a content review
When thinking of inclusive design, don’t forget about the content. Carry out a content audit and take into account user journeys - can they be simplified? What about the language used - is it easy to understand? Review and decide what content is no longer needed, what content should be rewritten, and what new content is required - and put a plan in place to implement the agreed actions. Then, look at the architecture of information - review the site menu, navigation and layout. Can the information be found easily? At Scope, we were able to cut down 1700 pages to 450 easy-to-read and easy-to-find pages - it’s really helping our users to find what they need much quicker.
5. Make accessibility accessible
AX = UX! Accessible experience and user experience goes hand in hand. If your website is accessible, you’re creating a really good user experience too. And this is where the whole digital ecosystem comes into play. As well as your main website, it’s important you don’t forget any smaller micro-sites that you might have. All digital assets across your ecosystem should be designed and maintained to the same standards.
6. Maintain with an ‘Accessibility Framework’
That brings us on to the key question - after all the hard work in getting your website up to a good standard of accessibility, how do you maintain it? And, how do you make sure maintenance occurs throughout the whole digital ecosystem? At Scope, we knew we needed to put a framework in place that would guide our employees, so we created our own with six pillars of digital accessibility...
Pillars one to three: Procurement - Development - Training
The first three pillars are about getting it right the first time - if you’re creating something new then these are the key things you need to think about.
This stage is about information seeking. You need to make sure you ask the right questions to get everything you need to know from the very beginning. If you’re working with a partner, ask them about accessibility so they know it’s part of your vision and you can plan to cover any gaps.
This stage is about getting it right during implementation, and that involves testing. In the same way that testing is vital throughout the redesign of your website, it should form a core part in the development of new digital assets. So, as they’re being implemented, make sure to test each element for accessibility. For example, test new designs, prototypes, and page builds for accessibility.
To empower your employees to ‘get it right first time’ continue with training across all your teams so everyone understands their responsibility in the process.
Pillars four to six: Manual testing - Automated testing - External audits
The last three stages are about quality checks and assurance - when any new part of your digital ecosystem is created, it should be tested for accessibility against the WCAG guidelines.
Every employee should ensure they fulfill their role in line with the WCAG guidelines. At Scope, all of our digital team is trained, and we have two employees trained at an advanced level to manually check assets against the guidelines. At this stage, it’s worthwhile to carry our accessibility testing with end users too.
As well as the above, it’s good practice to use a testing tool to highlight any issues, for example broken links, problematic PDFs, and the use of Plain English.
Finally, for any key digital assets, such as a website that receives a lot of traffic, have an accessibility partner carry out an external audit.
7. Accessibility statement
Lastly, as you continue to improve accessibility, publish an accessibility statement on your website, so your visitors will know where you’re at in your digital inclusion journey. Be open, honest and transparent about where you are and how far you still have to go. Accessibility is a journey, and you’re always going to be trying to do better. So, don’t be afraid to highlight your challenges - it’s actually a good thing to be able to show that you’re committed and are working hard on fixing the issues.
If you would like to hear more from Ceri, check out our recorded webinar on Inclusive Marketing, where he shares more about their accessibility journey at Scope.
About our guest contributor
Ceri is Head of Digital Experience at Scope, and co-founder of ethical and sustainable fashion startup Baobab Avenue. He’s also held roles as Head of Marketing at esure and Sheilas’ Wheels, and Head of Conversion at the UK’s fastest growing online travel agent, Love Holidays.
At Scope, Ceri is committed to delivering inclusive and accessible digital experiences on Scope’s own platforms. And through its The Big Hack initiative Scope is sending out a call-to-action to the tech community and businesses to recognize the value of their disabled customers and strive to implement an inclusive customer offer.