Digital accessibility is more important now than ever before. Businesses which have never been online or have previously only had a small presence are now entering the world of ecommerce at an unprecedented rate.

Getting online quickly is to be rewarded from an economic perspective. But many of these businesses have had no active thought of ensuring that their digital presence is accessible to people who use assistive technology, or accessible to those who have any number of other access needs, such as dyslexia or hearing impairments or autism.

Approximately 24% of New Zealand’s population has a permanent disability which can affect how they access technology such as websites and apps. Our population is aging and  often struggle with poorly designed interfaces, even more than the rest of us.

In addition, all of us at some point have had temporary or situational access needs. This is things like when you break an arm and have to use your mobile phone with your non-dominant hand, or when you try to do a complicated task online when you are exhausted, stressed and don’t know the website.

If a website or app is hard to use, or excludes the user because of the technology they are using, then many people will just leave and find another supplier who has a better website or app, one that they can use more easily. The money will just go elsewhere.

If the goods or services are really important, some users may find another way to access the service. They might ring the company, or have to rely on other people to help them. But call centres cost money for businesses to run and most people prefer to do things independently. Companies really should provide an equitable online experience.

It is highly unlikely that any businesses which have pushed to get online quickly over the last few weeks have purposefully excluded up to a quarter of the population by creating inaccessible sites and apps. But, if they have not considered accessibility or have implemented websites and apps that don’t have accessibility built in, then they will have likely excluded a large chunk of potential revenue, and shown little regard for those users with access needs.

So what can these businesses do when things are moving so fast and they don’t have unlimited cash or inhouse expertise. If you are a company that cares about people, or just cares about that extra 24% of possible revenue, then you probably need to start thinking about an accessible digital presence.

Here are six things you need to consider on your journey towards creating accessible websites and mobile apps.

Check procurement agreements

If you have commissioned a third party to deliver your website then take some time to review your procurement agreements when commissioning digital services. Include a clear statement about your product being compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as one of your sign-off criteria in any agreement. Also ask for evidence that it meets your requirements before you make any payments. Make sure that if any work needs to be done to fix the product that your third party covers those costs not you.

Employ an accessibility expert

No matter who created the websites or app, an independent accessibility review of your digital presence provides a baseline from which you can measure compliance and improvement. A review helps quantify what the level of compliance is, what problems there are and what needs to be done to improve. An accessibility expert can also help you fix any issues they find.

Include digital accessibility in your product roadmap

Once you know what is wrong with your digital presence you can then prioritise and start to make some changes. Some accessibility problems are relatively easy to fix but they make a big difference to people with access needs. Other things might take a bit more time, might need specialist help and might need to be scheduled for later. Incorporate accessibility changes into your product roadmap showing clearly that you are aware of the needs and are moving towards a goal of compliance.

Upload an accessibility statement

You might not be able to comply with all the accessibility guidelines immediately, but it is important to show that you want to get to that point. Include an accessibility statement on your website or app that explains that you are working towards compliance such as WCAG2.1 AA compliance. You can also invite constructive feedback if problems are found. This shows that you care about people, not just revenue ,and have a plan to improve.

Upskill your staff

Everyone on your team should be aware of the needs of all your customers. This includes people with access needs. It is worth investing in some training to help them be more aware both for the bricks and mortar stores and for the digital services. If you have an in-house digital team it also pays to invest in giving them the skills they need to incorporate digital accessibility as part of BAU.

Include people with access needs

There is an expression ‘Nothing for us, without us’ and it is important that we keep that at the front of our minds. When about a quarter of the population have permanent access needs it makes sense to include them in any user research or usability testing. People with access needs still want to achieve the tasks so can give great feedback across usability and accessibility.

For more information or for expert digital accessibility services, contact Access Advisors.