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The need for inclusivity in digital marketing

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More than 11 million people in the UK are dealing with a debilitating condition.

We live in a world that is dominated by digital. In order to embrace and enjoy contemporary society, we need to connect with it. Those who cannot access the internet or digital devices due to poor accessibility might find themselves living on the outer edge of society. It can affect their ability to find work, connect with friends and family, purchase products and services, or access vital resources.

When people fall through these digital cracks, it not only affects the success of your website, but it alienates a large audience that could easily be captivated by your inclusivity.

Why do you need to think of inclusivity in digital marketing?

Disability is a term that covers a multitude of conditions from the physical to the neurological. With 11 million people in the UK having some sort of critical illness or debilitating condition, it is a large demographic (about 18%) that deserves to have the same digital opportunities as the rest of the population.

In fact, only 17% of people were born with their disabilities, so a lot of the time it is a case of adapting one’s life to their condition, meaning the disparity between their able-bodied digital prospects and their current ones will be more noticeable.

Now, if you were to exclude a 10% of your demographic for any other type of difference (e.g., hair colour, skin colour, religion), you’d find yourself in very hot water. However, thinking of how best to give people with a disability fair and equal access to your website, and by extension business, just doesn’t seem to be of primary concern for many.

A recent press release from the government’s Office for Disability Issues stated that in spite of “90% of brands claiming to prioritise diversity and inclusion, only 4% consider the needs of disabled consumers.”

Where do you start on the path to better accessibility?

Outside government websites, there are no official laws about maintaining a disability-friendly website. However, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination by anyone providing a service, which a website surely does, and that service providers of all kinds must make “reasonable adjustments” in order to ensure accessibility by disabled people. If they don’t, they are likely to end up in court.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from W3C suggests a number of techniques aimed at improving usability for blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech issues, photosensitivity and certain cognitive disabilities. However, as is so often the case, without a legal requirement forcing their hands, some businesses just do not consider these best practices.

It’s not to say that businesses deliberately ignore disabled users; it’s more that the loudest voices make the most noise. But the UK’s disabled population is likely to spend £80billion per year, so it is not a demographic to be ignored. Unfortunately, what companies claim to do versus what they actually do leaves a shockingly large chasm.

So, where does a business start if they want to make a change?

Well, creating a website that works for everyone is the first step to ensuring the UK’s diverse population all enjoy a business or brand equally – and it starts with development. Let’s break it down into a few categories:

Blindness and poor eyesight

Text-to-Braille or text-to-speech software has existed for a while, but if a website lacks a basic textual equivalent to the visual site, then this data can’t be passed on accurately.

Mobility issues

For people that cannot use their hands or do not have the motor skills needed to operate a mouse, a website is inaccessible unless it can be navigated with a joystick or keyboard only.

Deafness and hearing impairment

The internet is highly visual but with video being such a huge part of digital these days, without transcripts, sign language or closed captions, any audio-input will be lost on people who are deaf or hearing-impaired.

Cognitive disabilities

Brain injuries or learning difficulties can lead to issues with memory, problem-solving and attention span. Businesses can ensure people with such conditions absorb website information by keeping readability at a simple level and ensuring easy navigation between areas.

Of course, this is just a tiny list of the thousands of conditions that can have a direct influence on a person’s ability to take in and engage with information presented online.

How accessible is your business?

One of the most important parts of making a move towards a more accessible website is to audit the current one. There are many tools that can be used to check whether a website is compliant with accessibility laws and whether there are gaps that need to be filled by content and layout changes to can improve usability.

It doesn’t just stop at the website though; promoting better advocacy within teams is the key to ensuring that everyone is a) represented and b) included.

So much of digital marketing is based on learning – learning habits, behaviour, the meaning behind the data. But, if such an enormous group of consumers are unable to engage with a business online, data becomes skewed. The potential not just for improved revenue, but a better ethos surrounding inclusivity, should be enough for businesses to elevate their offering. It is no longer okay to be doing just enough to get people with disabilities on a website, brands need to engage them and represent them as well.

Jasmin Dreher is head of digital at Gravytrain

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