Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fix the web

Fix the web interests me. I'm pretty impressed with the approach because even though web accessibility is a legal requirement there are a huge number of websites that aren't compliant with the basic standards let alone the more advanced requirements. I think their helpful approach will really go a long way to driving a more accessible web as there is one issue having standards and legal requirements but that doesn't mean anyone will understand them or even be aware of them. I wish them all the best.

However the subject of accessibility is fascinating from an overall customer experience angle. Let's look at some stats to get some context.
  • 2 Million people in the UK have some kind of significant visual impairment. That is one in 30!
  • 1 in 12 men have some form of colour blindness. In total 9% of the UK population suffer from some form of colour blindness
  • 21% of the UK population are over 60. That doesn't mean that they have some form of disability but a portion of these may have suffer from conditions that make certain activities a little more difficult.A simple example is that a drop down box is more difficult to handle than say a radio button group for those without 100% dexterity.
  • 3.4 Million people suffer from a disability which prevents  them from using a standard keyboard
  • 6 Million people have dyslexia
  • 8.6 Million people are registered disabled
sources :,
The doesn't include those with literacy issues or even those who'se first language is not English.

So here's the point. The number of people who will need to access your website in a different way is huge, it could even be as many as 48% of the population. But let's turn this on it's head a little. Instead of us worrying about the effort of building accessible websites, surely we should be focussing on making the customer experience for all our visitors optimal for their context. Chuck in mobile access and the difference in behaviour of say Gen Y & Z visitors and we have a phenominal opportunity to change our thinking into building websites that deliver the appropriate experience for our visitors.

To put it bluntly there is no longer a single online customer experience.

My point is this, if you are having to adopt a methodology that caters for the DDA provisions, the appraoches you take will enable you to adopt a methodology that allows you to present the appropriate Customer Experience across a wider demographic.

I have seen web developers/designers sweating over ensuring that IE 6 users are catered for when there was no accessibility provision in the web site. Fotrgetting the legal aspects the IE 6 user base was much smaller than those who would benefit from accessibility features. This is poor commercial thinking.

The other behaviour I have seen alot of is people taking a tick list approach to accessibility, using tools to check basic provisions in the policy which might mean that the site passes a standard, but it really doesn't  mean that the site is usable. A simple test is to install the web developer toolbar in Firefox and turn off JavaScript just to see how many sites just don't work anymore - a great example of developers putting sexy ajax features in and forgetting that not all users are allowed JavaScript to work on their browsers. The other really revealing test is to actually hear your web site when read through a screen reader, your site may pass acessibility tests but probably reads like gibberish and is therefore unusable for the visually impaired.

So in my very humble opinion:-
  • Stop thinking about accessibility as an imposition and extra effort and start thinking of it as a commercial opportunity
  • The practises required to provide accessibility in your website will allow you to be much more versatile with the experience to present to anyone i.e. if you adopt the principles you will gain so much more.
  • Don't just be compliant, compliance doesn't mean usable.
  • Accessibility shouldn't just be about the disabled it is about all customers