Open to all? Six steps to digital accessibility success

Jonathan Hassell, CEO at Hassell Inclusion, explains the must-take steps
Jonathan Hassell
Special needs users accessing digital content

Our recent report - An Immature Response? Why organisations are failing to build digitally accessible product and services – has revealed that that businesses aren't taking their approach to digital accessibility seriously enough.

As a result, organisations could be locking out a significant proportion of potential customers by not making their online products accessible.

This just doesn’t make good business sense – especially when the current cost of living crisis means that securing every sale is a hard-fought battle. In this difficult trading environment, businesses should be doing everything they can to ensure they are reaching and engaging with as many people as possible.

Failure to act

Instead, the report reveals that good intentions on digital accessibility are not being backed up by action. Just 5% of organisations deliver training in this area to all members of staff, and only 6% said they always check that external suppliers that make their websites or run their digital campaigns are trained in digital accessibility.

More worryingly, 35% of organisations involved in the study said they would launch digital products with known accessibility issues. Just 14% check that digital products created for them by external suppliers meet accessibility requirements, and almost half of organisations (47%) do not have a board member responsible for digital accessibility.

So, what can businesses do take to make sure they are 'open to all'?

Here at Hassell Inclusion, we believe there are six steps that will set organisations on the right path to digital accessibility success:

1. Recognise the value

The report revealed that most (62%) organisations aren’t understanding the benefits or measuring the ROI of digital accessibility and the value it can bring. From increased customers to a more loyal workforce, the benefits are significant. Measurement and tracking progress is key – it will drive success.

2. Adopt a strategic approach

Being great at digital accessibility is about the whole user journey. This requires a strategic approach to ensure that accessibility is ‘baked in’ to your processes and not seen as a tactical add-on. Otherwise you will always find yourselves having to retro-fix elements of your services that don’t meet accessibility requirements.

You wouldn’t neglect information security (ISO 27001), resilience (ISO 22301), environmental management (ISO 14001) or quality (ISO 9001). So why neglect accessibility (ISO 30071-1)?

3. Define responsibility and get senior buy in

Appoint a digital accessibility programme manager at a senior level to lead a project team that can own, run and report progress against your strategic plan. Ensure your plan includes adequate training as well as the creation and communication of policies and processes to embed digital accessibility as part of your organisation’s DNA.

4. Embed accessibility across your organisation & with all stakeholders

Great accessibility is only possible if the whole organisation is aware of it and actively ensures it is part of the design and creation of any digital product or communication. Key to this will be taking your wider supply chain – your external digital suppliers - on this journey with you ensuring digital accessibility is a key part of your procurement process. It’s worth doing an inventory of what can and can’t be controlled, to build a picture of what you can and can’t influence and change supplier to a more accessible one if you can. This will help prevent expensive retro-fixing at the end of a project.

5. Focus on user experience across all digital channels

Digital accessibility can mean different things for different people across multiple user touchpoints. Taking the travel industry as an example, customers will come into contact with a company through digital adverts, booking websites, ticket downloads, online check-ins and then through digital touchpoints at the airport, train station or ferry terminal. All of these things need to be accessible to ensure a smooth user experience.

6. Design for accessibility throughout your development process

The research shows that there is often an ad hoc approach to digital accessibility in the development of digital products. Organisations need to ensure it is embedded throughout the development process of all products, from websites to apps to social media and PDFs, and that they are regularly monitored, checked and fixed after launch. Make things inclusive by design.

Written by
Jonathan Hassell
CEO at Hassell Inclusion
November 30, 2022