How COVID-19 Has Changed The Need For Website Accessibility
Whether we were prepared or not, COVID-19 pushed us all into an online world, relying heavily on the internet to work from home, socialise, and entertain ourselves. While this worked for some, this also highlighted the lack of access to vital services websites can serve for users with auditory and visual disabilities, the elderly, and other at-risk groups.
Within the space of a few weeks, hundreds of millions of us turned to the internet as our source of communication and entertainment. We were soon ordering shopping online, speaking to our colleagues online, and joining in Zoom quizzes with our friends. But what if it wasn’t easy for you to log on to order your weekly food shop if you couldn’t read the text on websites, or the flashing video caused you physical harm?
This was the case for many, with 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, including 19% of working-age adults, and 44% of pension age adults in the UK, showing the need for digital accessibility is not only important, but it’s critical.
Covid is bringing new users online
Come the start of the pandemic there were more users online than previously. Many of the UK population found themselves using web applications for the first time.
Take the elderly and online shopping for example. Those aged over 70, who were told overnight to avoid social contact and to stay at home due to the risks from COVID-19, were suddenly finding themselves being told to use online shopping if they could. According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK, peopled aged over 75 represent over half of the population who do not use the web at all, so it is likely that prior to the pandemic, online food shopping may have never crossed their minds and instead, it became a matter of necessity almost overnight.
While the over 70’s are a diverse group, and many don’t identify as ‘disabled’, many of this population encounter some form of access barrier to digital products. This could be the result of age-related impairments, such as declining eyesight, but might also simply come down to being unaccustomed to digital paradigms and e-commerce websites. For this group of the population trying out e-commerce for the first time, finding themselves on websites that have always been focused on digital accessibility, will help their user experience. This may include clear and consistent design, navigation and links, in addition to font resizing with minimal impact on page structure and appearance. These platforms that focused on usability and universal design are likely to have gained new customers, not just for the duration of the pandemic – but for life.
Where to Start with Accessibility
It’s critical for developers of digital products to take a step back and understand the sheer volume of accessibility changes that can be incredibly useful for able-bodied users. While accessibility may not be something you considered initially when building your website, there are a number of changes you can make to ensure your website can benefit everyone:
- Using clear and concise language will help those with learning and cognitive difficulties, as well as benefitting those who do not speak English as a first language
- Captioning for the hearing impaired is extremely useful for non-native speakers, and those who are hard of hearing
- Text-to-speech output for reading web pages for users with low vision
- Those with low vision may benefit from large on-screen buttons
- Having a keyboard navigable website that can be operated without the use of a mouse might be non-negotiable for an individual with a significant upper body motor impairment but will also be uniquely handy for someone with a sprained wrist or repetitive strain injury
- A simple mobile interface designed to assist those with a permanent motor impairment due to long-term disability
Hopefully, COVID-19 won’t last forever. However, there are many aspects that web developers should take into consideration to ensure that accessible websites benefit everyone, and these will hopefully will be here to stay.