Brand experience must be accessible to be truly universal

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In order to create real diversity, we need to look at what diversity really means

Often there is a focus on race and gender – both areas that are in need of attention and reform. But, as a Campaign feature earlier this week explained, disabilities, visible and invisible, must also be a part of any diversity plan in order to truly take advantage of diverse talent and to serve everyone in our global audience.

Digital accessibility is about universality, not disabilities, and although one in five adult consumers in the UK has a disability – the majority of which are not visible – providing equal opportunity access to all information and user experiences has got to be a starting point, not an add-on, to the digital experience.

Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, and we take that seriously at Digitas, where we proactively build it into our planning, roadmaps, and deliverables. We also make sure that accessibility skillsets sit across all our teams, from UX and designers through to developers and testers, reinforced by experience and principles.

In some cases where designing for accessibility requirements may not be achievable right away, accessibility widgets for websites are readily available and offer a great way into servicing customers quickly – so there is no excuse. Widgets are a temporary fix, however, as there are many complexities to consider, and designing for universality requires considerations inclusive of and beyond common impairments in sight, hearing, fine motor skills, learning disabilities.

Many adaptations benefit everyone. Who doesn’t want websites and apps that are easy to read, clearly laid out, simple to navigate and offer captions so that you can keep the volume down?

Equitable inclusion matters because, from little frustrations to big issues, a lack of universality can alienate your user base and prevent them from using your product. From a moral perspective, it’s also a central tenet of a purpose-driven strategy as we look to the future and reimagine, not just business solutions, but also essential services like healthcare and education.

Lockdown will hopefully have given some of us more empathy for those who are genuinely isolated and unable to easily pop out to the shops. The definition of vulnerable was extended to people who might never have thought about themselves in this way, helping to democratise the concept.

Digitas believes in making digital products (websites, mobile apps and other digital tools and technologies) accessible to everyone. We follow four principles of accessibility that help to keep us focused on increasing access, reducing friction, and creating greater brand advocacy from consumers:

1. Perceivable: users can recognise and use your service with the senses that are available to them. In practice, this includes providing text alternatives, clearer text, and not relying on colour coding to convey meaning.

2. Operable: users can find and use your content, regardless of how they choose to access it. Clear navigation and allowing time to consume content are the cornerstones of this principle.

3. Understandable: people can understand your content and how the service works. Make it clear, readable, and consistent.

4. Robust: ensure your content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents and works across all devices.

It is often complex and sometimes hard, but worth the challenge. By being empathetic and actively seeking out points of exclusion and using them to generate new ideas and designs, we are learning from diversity, understanding how to look beyond our own abilities and biases, and – hopefully – contributing to a more inclusive future that is accessible for all.

Digital accessibility is not about disabilities, it’s about universality.