The UK government required that all public sector organisations make their websites accessible by September 2020. Now that public sector websites must be accessible, what does this mean for the private sector?
Internal vs. External Accessibility
Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring that people with certain impairments and/or disabilities can use the web, whether that’s internal usage (digital workplace), or external (audience-facing public website). Whilst internal accessibility refers to the needs of those within your organisation, external accessibility refers to the needs of external users, often through your website.
More specifically, web accessibility ensures that everyone can ‘perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web, and that they can contribute to the web’ - W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).
Web accessibility is important for several reasons. Firstly, 13.3 million people in the UK have a disability, if web accessibility is not a priority for your business, you may be excluding these people and limiting your reach without realising it.
Why Internal Accessibility is Important
Considering that over 2 million people in the UK live with sight loss, and nearly 20% of the UK have hearing loss, internal accessibility should be a core part of your organisation. Your company has a duty to acknowledge, understand, and accommodate every employee’s needs. Digital workplaces enable greater collaboration, communication, and efficiency between employees and team members. If these platforms are difficult to use for some employees, it could negatively impact overall productivity. Overall, creating an inclusive digital workplace environment is a fundamental part of establishing a positive experience for all staff.
There are several benefits to an accessible intranet:
- The intranet is often used as a base for other internal systems. If your base is accessible, not only does it make other systems and sites easier to reach, but it also sets best practices and standards for all secondary systems and sites.
- Overall user experience will increase as every member of staff will be able to access all of the information and perform tasks to the best of their abilities
- Productivity will increase as a result of your staff feeling listened to, understood, and those members with disabilities being able to input and collaborate more effectively.
How to Achieve Internal Accessibility
According to W3C, there are 4 main areas of disability that should be considered for accessibility. These are:
Including reduced contrast sensitivity, colour perception, and near-focus, making it difficult to read web pages
Including reduced dexterity and fine motor control, making it difficult to use a mouse and click small targets
Including difficulty hearing higher-pitched sounds and separating sounds, making it difficult to hear podcasts and other audio, especially when there is background music
Including reduced short-term memory, difficulty concentrating, and being easily distracted, making it difficult to follow navigation and complete online task
If your intranet is built using the Microsoft technology Modern SharePoint, it will automatically be engrained with best practice WCAG 2.0 accessibility. Microsoft front-facing technologies are designed to ‘meet the needs of people around the globe with abilities’. They have recently launched a 5-year plan to reflect their commitment to bridging the disability gap, ensuring that their products will continue to follow and surpass internal accessibility guidelines.
If you’re unsure whether your intranet is accessible, here’s our little checklist that you can use to check:
- Make sure your content publishers are trained in accessibility in order to minimise any issues
- Build understanding by demonstrating how difficult inaccessible pages are to use for some people
- Create simple cheat sheets for your CMS and explain best practices for content
- Attend workshops and seminars to build expertise
- Limit the use of poorly designed attachments (such as graphs) and PDFs
- Check out our whitepaper for our content-specific tips, such as alt-text, colour contrast, and keyboard accessibility for all functions.
- Research 3rd party tools such as screen reader and narrator capabilities to go above and beyond for your staff.
Why External Accessibility is Important
External accessibility is of course similar to internal accessibility but is more focused on websites and public-facing digital spaces. Public-facing websites often are used to drive engagement and initiate future points of contact, sales, and business. Due to this, they generally speaking have higher rates of interaction. Considering that over 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning difficulty, and nearly 2.5 million people in the UK have a manual dexterity issue, it is crucial for your website to have optimal accessibility standards, as you could be limiting your engagement drastically.
External accessibility is important because it improves overall user experience and satisfaction, across different devices, and for users of all age groups/backgrounds. The web is crucial for education, government, health care, recreation, and more. Good accessibility can enhance your brand, drive innovation, and extend your reach. If that isn’t convincing enough, equal access and opportunity to a diverse range of people is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
How to Achieve External Accessibility
Some aspects of external accessibility are fairly simple to understand and implement, however, some solutions are complex and require expertise. No wonder only 10% of websites actually meet accessibility standards!
We recommend cross-examining your website against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a first step. These are recognised internationally as a standard for building and maintaining external accessibility.
At ClerksWell, we cross-examine our client’s websites against WCAG 2.1 AA principles, and several other 3rd party tools to develop an accessibility review. This is always a good place to start, as it alludes to current errors and future improvements.
Here are top tips for quick fixes:
- Identify & fix formatting issues (create page templates and structures for clarity)
- Ensure your accessibility does not negatively impact your usability (keep updating your IA and site navigation)
- Integrate 3rd party accessibility tools to provide:
- Screen reader
- Styling customisability (text, font, size, colour etc.)
- Automatic translation
- Ensure that your content is accessible for keyboard-only users
- Make sure your developers are using valid HTML and best practice in code
Summary & our services
The benefits of both internal and external accessibility are clear to see. Your brand will reach wider audiences, your business will be inclusive, your employees more productive, and your customers more engaged. Both are equally important, and both are achievable with our help!
At ClerksWell, accessibility is a priority, and we’ve become somewhat experts in it (check out our work with Smart Energy GB). We put our knowledge of building and designing accessible and user-friendly websites into 4 key services:
- Assess and Review
- Content fixes
- Developer fixes
- Web Accessibility Software
Engaging with your target audience is a priority goal for most organisations. Therefore it is essential to understand the key concepts which underpin this mission, such as User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX).
Website design and development is a constantly evolving and innovating field both in terms of the practice and the solution it produces. Therefore, we've made a 2021 look back on the top trends we've seen and expect to see in the web world!