It has long been an expectation for businesses to make physical spaces accessible for people of all abilities, and improvements have been made.
Now the onus is on online retailers, where there is still a lot of work to be done, so we asked Hilary Stephenson, MD at user experience (UX) design agency, Sigma to outline how small businesses can make their website more accessible.
Regardless of what service a website provides, small businesses need to start thinking about their website accessibility standards.
In support of these standards, new UK government legislation requires all public sector websites and apps to meet certain accessibility standards.
Websites have until 2020 to fully comply with these new guidelines, but getting ahead of the crowd isn’t a bad idea. The aim of this is for digital platforms to be inclusive to all users – including those with disabilities.
To be truly accessible means making your website perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for all users. This includes people with visual, auditory, cognitive or motor impairments.
At a glance this might seem like a lot of work, however failure to take website accessibility seriously could lead to significant consequences for small businesses.
There are obvious financial risks involved in potential legal complaints, however small businesses should also be aware of the increasing ethical nature of consumers. Failure to accommodate all demographics of society can result in a reduction of customer loyalty and a negative brand perception – solely down to a lack of inclusion.
There are a number of easy ways to increase inclusivity and to also take advantage of the ‘purple pound’, which is estimated to be worth £212 billion, annually.
To make sure small businesses aren’t overlooking the in excess of one in five UK consumers with a disability, here are some tips on how to improve website accessibility and reduce customer exclusion;
1. Ensuring alt tags throughout
Simply adding the correct ‘alt text’ to images on a website will help visually impaired users, using screen readers, to gain a better understand of an on-page image.
A recent audit of retail websites by the Sigma team revealed it to be one of the most common oversights when it comes to accessibility.
There is often a lack of consistency with adding alt tags to a website, as content is added at different times. Content for short terms sales, for example, may lack the necessary UX design aids as it overlooked in the rush to share flash sales discounts.
2. Stop the use of small print
Making a website easy to navigate will help every user, ensuring key pages are not buried away and are easily accessed via menus and sitemaps.
More frustrating for users with disabilities is the use of small print on pages that contain key information, such as terms and conditions, returns policies or delivery options. Confusing and long-winded terms and conditions also make life difficult for those with disabilities.
Making text visible and the correct size will mean that it is given the correct priority when displayed, and a screen reader will be able to read it out.
Making sure these rules are set out in a website style guide will help maintain consistency across the website and implementation is correct every time.
3. Add in visual descriptions
Using narration to provide information surrounding key visual elements on-screen is important. Apple’s VoiceOver, or Google’s TalkBack, software are available for iOS and Android applications, and are invaluable when guiding those with visual impairments through the app or online experience.
Some users also use specialist screen reader software such as NVDA or JAWS.
4. Subtitles as standard
Recent research from Verizon Media found that the way consumers engage with video content is changing – 92% of people on mobile and 83% on PC view content with the sound off. Therefore, adding subtitles to videos will enable all consumers to get the message of the video content without having the audio enabled.
5. Keep an eye on colour contrast
Poor colour contrast on important calls to action, links or buttons, may result in some users missing content or functionality, and not getting the full benefit or experience of the website.
This is a common industry test in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which requires a certain level of colour contrast in order to make them distinguishable for those who are visually impaired.
There is a simple tool created by Cambridge Engineering Design Centre called Clari-Fi, which small business owners and their product teams can use to test the clarity of their images, and whether their website needs improving.
6. Considerate customer contact
It is important to provide numerous customer service options to cater for people with varying needs. Solely providing an email address or online chat for customer service enquires excludes those unable to use a digital device.
While only providing a phone number presents huge difficulties for those with a hearing impairment as they might struggle to speak with customer support.
7. Don’t desert customers via digitalisation
Digitalisation has countless benefits, however there is still space for some traditional marketing efforts. For example, paper tickets are invaluable for those unable to use a smartphone or simply those that just don’t own one.
However, small businesses which are completely paperless can exclude some people from attending events, as consumers are unable to buy or redeem tickets.
To avoid this and increase inclusivity, small businesses must keep communicating with customers both on and off line via a number of digital and physical methods.
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