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Making the digital world more accessible

Insight Published on 25 April 2022

UCM Master's student Amy Tasker is completing a work placement as a Trainee UX Designer at PDMS.

In her first blog, she explores the importance of the digital world being accessible for all to enjoy.  

Intro

The digital world is growing at a rapid pace with new websites and mobile applications being released daily. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the application of some of these technologies come into their own through necessity rather than through choice. 

If you cast your mind back to the fairly recent lockdown periods when we were not allowed to leave our houses. People video called friends and family to interact with one another.  We realised the value of being able to find information (or food deliveries!) from anywhere by using just a mobile phone. We used online games, chat, and emails to maintain an emotional connection with our personal networks.

Yet sadly, this has not been possible for everyone. For people that have a range of disabilities, this constantly changing digital world can actually feel very isolating because the way we use the software and hardware is not always as inclusive as it could be.

Accessibility for all

Now imagine that you live alone and do not have any form of technology (phone, tablet, laptop, computer etc). There is no way of connecting to the internet and communicating with anyone outside of your own household. You would soon start to feel very lonely and isolated right?

Well, that is how it can sometimes feel to live with a disability that limits the way that you can interact with and use technology. I am one of more than 14 million people in the UK who have a disability of some description.

My most evident disabilities, which I have due to childhood Meningitis, include;

  • Vision impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Mobility impairment
  • Autism

Now compared to some others, I have it a lot better than most: growing up around technology and completing a degree in Applied Computing has meant that I have been able to explore and find different ways to make hardware and software work for me. For example, due to my mobility issue that affects how I can hold objects, I find it easier to use a touch screen or trackpad rather than a standard computer mouse. I also find it difficult to use virtual assistants. Although voice recognition has helped massively, they still aren’t perfect, and if I’m using a new device, it currently takes a lot of time to get it working properly.

But not everyone with a disability finds something that works for them. They might need to use screen reading software, specially adapted devices, or other technologies in order to interact with the digital world, which can often be at their financial cost.

This is where the cracks start to show

To see what it is like to use a screen reader - load your favourite website and activate the built-in screen reader on your browser. Then try and navigate the site with your eyes closed, using only the audible feedback from the screen reader, and the keyboard. You will most likely find it quite difficult to navigate your way around. 

A 2021 analysis of over 1 million of the most visited homepages found that 97.4% of those analysed had detectable accessibility issues.

Sadly, this statistic is representative of how many people forget to consider disabilities. During my personal education, I have experienced people who view designing for accessibility to be a waste of time. They could not be more wrong.

In 2021 there were over 1 billion people around the world living with a disability 1 - this equates to roughly 15% of the world’s population and this number is expected only to grow. 

But if we look closer to home - in 2019-2020, there were a total of 14.1 million people living in the UK with a disability. It is estimated that the disabled population had a total spending power of £274 billion in 2020 2  - and this could be costing UK businesses up to  £2 billion a month by ignoring accessibility needs 3.

Shouldn’t the government do something?

Although it has not been particularly well-communicated, the UK Government has now put Public Sector Regulations in place, in line with internationally-recognised standards to try and ensure all new public service websites in the UK meet the minimum levels of inclusivity.

However, ironically the standards themselves are not always easy for everybody to understand, partly because they deal with technical information about websites, and partly because they’re written and presented in an academic format.

In the Isle of Man, the requirement is covered by the Equality Act but is less specific about the steps to take in order to make accessible services.

But is this enough?

The short answer is no. In fact, it is one of the reasons  I have started studying for my MSc in Business Entrepreneurship, with a focus on Digital Accessibility.

During my time with PDMS, I am looking at possible solutions that could be used to help develop more inclusive websites and reduce the number of websites and services that do not meet the minimum criteria for accessibility. But this is a topic for another time...

Sources

1 Disability and Health (WHO)

2 Family Resources Survey

3Purple Pound Survey

Topics

  • accessibility
  • Web Development