Digital accessibility: How to make your digital product inclusive?
What do we mean by digital accessibility?
When you think of accessibility, you probably think of parking spaces or restrooms for disabled people, ramps for wheelchairs, or special textures on the sidewalk for people with visual impairments. These are examples of how we make the physical world more accessible.
However, there are also online barriers that we need to remove in order to make it accessible for everyone. Digital accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.
Check out the website of W3C for more information about how to ensure your product is accessible.
Why is digital accessibility important?
An estimated 1.3 billion people – about 16% of the global population – currently live with some form of disability (WHO). This includes visual impairments, blindness, and deafness, as well as mental health problems and physical and intellectual impairments.
There are also large groups of people who have temporary disabilities. Imagine this: you want to navigate a website but you have broken your arm. You have an ear infection and can barely hear anything, but you want to check out a video. Or you have lost your reading glasses and can't read the small letters. Quite tricky, right?
Also consider what your experience might be like in certain contexts (called: situational or environmental disabilities), such as when your phone is in direct sunlight, when you use a small screen, when your internet connection is slow, or when you are in a place where you cannot use your audio.
Reasons to make digital products accessible
If you want everyone to be able to use apps, computer programs, and other digital products, it’s important to pay attention to digital accessibility. In our opinion, that should be reason enough. However, there are more benefits:
Set a good example
It is always beneficial to advocate for accessibility. Put yourself in your users’ shoes: how frustrating is it to not be able to use or have difficulty using everyday digital products? The more companies make their apps and websites accessible, the more normal it becomes. This encourages others to get started as well.
Accessible products reach more people
The main benefit of a digitally accessible product is that everyone, regardless of their disability, can use the site, app, or other application. This is not only beneficial from a social point of view but also economically: you simply reach more people. Individuals with impairments or disabilities make up a considerable portion of the world’s population with access to the internet.
The benefits of improved digital accessibility are not only beneficial to those with disabilities; it has the ability to improve and simplify life for all. Everyone benefits from simple and clear websites and apps.
Website accessibility can positively impact SEO
Website accessibility is not (yet)a direct ranking factor for Google. But there is considerable overlap between features that improve accessibility and SEO performance. In other words, taking steps to make sure your website is accessible to everyone can increase the likelihood of being found on search engine results.
Complying with the law
Digital accessibility regulations differ in various countries and may not always provide clear guidance on how websites should be built to ensure they are accessible. For instance, in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that all electronic information must be accessible to people with disabilities.
In 2025 the European Accessibility Act will come into force in Europe. This is international legislation on digital accessibility. For example, ATMs, financial services, and e-commerce companies (websites and web shops) must comply with this.
It is important to understand the laws and recommendations for accessibility for your own country.
Digital accessibility in practice: Where do I start?
How do you start with digital accessibility? In the following section, we share the steps we have taken to improve the Appical platform on this topic.
Step 1. Get familiar with the WCAG guidelines
When working on digital accessibility, you cannot avoid the WCAG guidelines. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines explain how web content can be made accessible to as wide an audience as possible. It is used by governments and businesses around the world and is widely regarded as the international standard for web accessibility.
There are three levels within the WCAG: levels A to AAA. WCAG 2.1 is the most recent version of the guidelines. You can use this as a checklist to test a website or app for digital accessibility.
Step 2. Use an Internal Tool: Visma Accessibility Maturity Index
Be sure to check if there is already a tool available in your organization to work in a structured way with accessibility. We use the Visma Accessibility Index for this.
This framework consists of 4 levels: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The levels consist of different requirements and support for accessibility. From the bronze level (basic support) to platinum (full support of WCAG AAA).
Our goal was to achieve silver this year (spoiler: we succeeded!), which among other things means providing a responsive design and keyboard support.
Step 3. Identify and solve problems
One of the most important steps for implementing digital accessibility is a self-assessment. That’s why we started going through the platform and started identifying and solving problems. We used the tool Asana to monitor our progress and to stay organized.
As a result, we hanged a couple of things on our platform:
- Enough contrast for textual and visual elements. Various pieces of text and icons were not clearly visible or readable. Therefore, we have worked on a clear contrast between text color or icons and background (contrast ratio to background)
- Support keyboard navigation. This is important for people for whom navigating with a mouse is difficult or impossible.
- Using descriptions, for example for buttons, videos, and images. Think of an (alt) text that describes what is on an image, so that the screen reader (or other assistive technology) of a visually impaired person can read it out loud.
- Structuring pages in a logical way. This makes your text better readable and the content easier to find.
Step 4. Our biggest challenge: customization
One of the advantages of our onboarding platform is that customers can personalize it. However, when it comes to digital accessibility, this is a challenge. Because we allow people to customize the platform, we don't have control over everything. Think for example of the styling of the platform: does the customer use accessible colors in their branding?
Sometimes you have to sacrifice your branding to make your product accessible, but ultimately it's more important that everyone can use your product.
Although we are not yet completely ready in terms of accessibility and personalization, we already have some solutions.
Our developers have implemented a contrast check. This way, a white color can automatically be made dark grey if needed. We also created two documents:
- A summary for customers of our changes regarding digital accessibility. We also explain here what we mean by certain terms, such as 'contrast'.
- A guide for our implementation consultants. This way, they can help our customers think about creating a digitally accessible product.
Step 5. View the results and determine the next steps
We are incredibly proud that we have achieved the silver level of the Visma Accessibility Index. And we are pleased to hear positive feedback about it:
"A new, blind employee told us the platform turns out to be accessible for blind people. Both online and on the phone, the buttons were well labeled, and everything was easy to find and read.” - De Rechtbank Den Haag
Of course, we hope to receive even more positive feedback from our adjustments. But negative feedback is just as important. You learn from this to continue to improve and - in our case - ultimately reach the platinum level! Cooperation with customers can also help. We collaborated with Deutsche Telekom, which has to comply with even stricter guidelines in Germany. If you have an international product, it’s good to check if it’s compliant in other countries as well.
In addition, making our platform accessible is an ongoing process: even when you create new features, you have to comply with the guidelines again. Our next steps are making the apps more compliant (these have different technical constraints and guidelines), going for gold this year, and keeping moving forward! What is your next step?
Takeaway: this is what we’ve learned about digital accessibility
Our main takeaway? Being aware of the criteria can help you make better informed and conscious decisions. And talking to other people with experience in disabilities is eye-opening. It'll help you understand how important accessibility is.
Making software accessible is the right thing to do, and if you begin with accessibility in mind, it’s easier than going back and building it in later. It’s also good engineering practice to keep accessibility in mind from the start.
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