Craig will cover some of the shortcomings of accessibility regulations and standards, how we design better products and services for neurodivergent people, and aim to broaden the conversations about the role of accessibility in user-centred design.
Hi everyone. My name’s Craig, and as Kevin said, I’m a product designer, accessibility specialist, and I used to be the head of accessibility at DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), which was interesting to say the least.
Just for transparency, I guess to start this off, I have ADHD, I have autism.
I guess, find me later if you want a really erratic conversation with little to no eye contact. But it’s worth mentioning this upfront because depending on how this goes, this talk might end up really erratic or really clinical depending on which side wins.
I’m going to be mentioning a few … It’s a bit about terminology I suppose.
I’m going to be mentioning things like neurotypicals, neurodivergent, and neurodiversity in this talk.
Neuro pretty much just means brain.
Typical means typical.
Divergence means not typical.
And neurodiversity is what happens when you get a bunch of us in a room together.
So you wouldn’t refer to a person as being neurodiverse, you’d refer to a person as being neurodivergent and then when we all get together in a big room, that would be neurodiversity. I guess it’s worth just mentioning this because I’m going to be using them probably throughout the talk.
And being non-typical is actually pretty typical.
Around 15% of the population they think are neurodivergent. The problem is that it’s really hard to get statistics because if you’re like me, you don’t get a diagnosis until you’re in your mid 30s and you go through life just assuming that you’re a bit different.
But the number of people is increasing due to better diagnoses. I guess if we made more than 50% of society, we would be neurotypical, but we are considered the divergent ones I guess.
If you’re comfortable, and only if you’re comfortable … I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But if you are comfortable, just raise your hand if you identify as being neurodivergent.
And I guess if we look around the room, we might have a slightly higher number given the event that we’re at but yeah, we’d expect to see around 15%.
And I think the reason for that is if you had a look around the room and you’ve seen all them people with your hands up, the next time somebody says,
“We don’t have any users that have accessibility needs”
just remember when you looked around the room and there’s a whole bunch of people here that actually do.
In the past, you probably wouldn’t know that you were neurodivergent unless you were diagnosed with a disorder.
And language matters.
If we look at all of these conditions, the autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, learning disorders, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia are all considered disorders.
And disorder implies chaos. It implies that you are not orderly or you do not fit.
But disorder relies on context.
So you could have a whole bunch of books in a library, you could organise them by colour, so they’re ordered.
Visually, there’s a definite order, but if you talk to the librarian, they’d say it’s disordered. So disorder relies on context a lot and I think that sometimes gets missed.
And neurodivergents have a very particular set of skills, and when I say they have a very particular set of skills, I don’t mean we all have the same particular set.
We all tend to have different skills that work together, but we are often very … I am particularly very passionate about a certain topic and I go down a rabbit hole on that topic and I know all about that topic.
And employers are starting to notice this. But I guess when we define people as being disordered or that they’re somehow broken, this element of it gets missed.
With the right support, the right adjustments, the right environments, then neurodivergent people actually thrive. And research has shown that we actually excel at specialist roles and we can outperform neurotypical peers quite a lot, but it’s when you badge somebody as being disordered a lot of that just kind of gets missed.
This is a quote from the Harvard Business Review, which reads,
“Many people with neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, dyspraxia and dyslexia have extraordinary skills including pattern recognition, memory and mathematics.”
But again, if we pay close attention to the language, although this is a positive spin, they’re talking about this in a positive light, extraordinary skills, but again, it’s neurological conditions.
Autism spectrum disorder. The stigma still bleeds through in the language. And there’s a thin line between exploitation and culture change. And I think this is something that we need to be aware of when people are looking to hire neurodivergent people more and more.
Sorry. This is a quote from the World Economic Forum, and again, the language is a bit off, but it says,
“Many of the world’s biggest companies are now actively recruiting neurodiverse workers in order to benefit from their unique skills and abilities.”
And at first glance, I guess you’re like, oh, yeah, great. People are hiring people like us. People are hiring people like me. But again, notice the language.
They’re hiring neurodiverse workers in order to benefit from their unique skills and abilities. Benefiting from our skills and abilities is cool, but what are we getting out of it? And hopefully that’s a work environment where our needs are met and we are fairly compensated.
So why am I telling you this?
Because accessibility regulations and standards are getting better, and we’ll see that in a lot of the talks today.
I think we’ll see that in a lot of the work that people are doing in this room. But a lot of people still don’t understand why it’s important or some simply just don’t care.
So I want to talk a little bit about going beyond the accessibility regulations, and I guess if that’s what I’m going to talk about, that’s probably where I should start is looking at some of these.
So strap yourself in because I am going to cover the regulations and standards at a high level. Don’t worry if you get a bit lost. We all do.
Even in my role as head of accessibility, I was constantly googling them and looking them up and asking ChatGPT to explain a certain part of the regulations to me as if I was 12, because they’re really complex and they’re knitted together in a really weird way that isn’t always easy to follow.
So I don’t expect you to take all of this in, but I need to just whizz through the regulations in order to then talk about what’s beyond them.
So if you work for global corporations, if you work for American companies and stuff, then you have the Rehabilitation Act, you have Section 508, and you have the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Section 508 and the Rehabilitation Act are the same thing.
Section 508 is section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, but for some reason people refer to it as a separate thing.
Basically in America, if a business is a public place, whether it’s digital or physical, then accessibility is expected. But what that actually looks like is open to interpretation.
There’s a really good documentary on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is produced by Barack and Michelle Obama. It’s on Netflix.
It’s called Crip Camp. It’s a really good documentary to see what people had to overcome in order to get some of these regulations in place.
The name is a bit controversial, but it’s an attempt by the disability community to reclaim a derogatory word, which was used around about the time that these things came in, but it’s definitely worth a watch. It’s a really good … I guess, a really good fly on the wall as to what actually happened in city hall and things where people were just camped out in corridors to try and force people to change regulations and things. It’s really enlightening.
In the United Kingdom we’ve got the Equality Act, we’ve got the Public Sector Equality Duty, and the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, which is a bit of a mouthful.
But these are the things that we look at when we talk about accessibility.
The Equality Act is massive in scope. It doesn’t just cover disability. Disability’s in there, but it’s just one of nine protected characteristics so there are others like race and gender and religion.
The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations is a very explicit way to measure the accessibility of mobile apps and websites. They all tie together, but basically they all feed into one another and ultimately it’s whether you look at the very bottom where we’ve got the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations … God, that is a mouthful. If you look at that, it’s a lot more narrowly scoped at websites and mobile apps. The Equality Act’s much wider, but they all tie together.
But accessible and inclusive are not the same, and this is a really important point to take away.
So even if you are looking at the Equality Act and you’re just focused on disability because you work in accessibility, all things need to be accessible, you can still fail to meet the Equality Act with a badly worded question about race or gender.
So we’ve seen services before, digital services in government, which thankfully didn’t go live. But we’ve seen it before where people come and they go,
“Oh, it’s accessible. It passes WCAG 2.1.”
And then they’ve literally got a screen which says what is your gender and it’s got male or female.
Well, you’re still failing to meet the Equality Act, although this works with a screen reader so just be careful of those kinds of things.
There’s a really good book called Design Justice, and it’s a really good book to broaden your thinking on just looking and beyond accessibility and looking at some of the other situations that can arise from …
If you just focus on one thing, sometimes you’ll still leave people in the margins in another scenario.
And finally, we get onto Europe.
Europe has the EU Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act.
Basically any EU member state has to adhere to these. And because the UK was still in the EU when the EU web accessibility directive came in, then we do have to adhere to it.
The European Accessibility Act is new. That came in 2019 when we’d already left, so it doesn’t apply, but we’ll talk about that a bit in a second.
But the idea with this is that … So when we look at the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations in the UK, that was the UK’s way of meeting the EU web accessibility directive.
So they harmonised legislation if you like. It’s like if you meet one, then you also meet the other, and that’s the way that it was set up.
So you in your own country, you can release your own regulations, you can say we’re going to go beyond what the EU wants. We’re going to be better, we’re going to be more strict. But you can’t drop below that EU standard. You can’t be worse than the collective.
And we mentioned the European Accessibility Act. It is new. It’s the first time it’s specifically aimed at private sector organisations.
So everything I’ve talked about till now has been public sector, and now they’re actually for the first time aiming at private sector. So it applies to things like we’d come to expect like mobile apps, websites, digital services. It also applies to eBooks and office documents, so digital products. But this time it’s looking at physical services as well, so like transportation and physical products like ticket machines and kiosks and ATMs and those sorts of things.
So the deadline for … Sorry. That went really loud there. The deadline for the European Accessibility Act is 2025, but there’s this thing called Article 32, which probably extends it up until about 2030, which sucks but at least it’s coming in.
So yeah, if you work in the private sector, this is something to pay attention to because although we’re in the UK and Brexit complicates the UK’s position, the European Accessibility Act cannot be enforced by the EU in the UK, but we may choose to adopt it anyway.
So the UK, there’s still a strong push for accessibility in this country, and historically when these things have come about, the UK have been … They’ve been up there.
The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations came in quite quick after the web accessibility directive. There’s a strong push to do this so there’s a chance that the UK might just adopt it anyway because it’ll make things easier.
And it’s looking like the European accessibility Act’s pretty strong. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t be here. Just it won’t be enforced or automatically because we’re not an EU member state.
But even if it doesn’t come in, if we don’t end up with the European Accessibility Act being enforced, it’s still a requirement under the Equality Act of 2010 to make reasonable adjustments.
So you’re not exempt from doing accessibility, and it probably makes sense just to work to the European Accessibility Act anyway because it will make more sense. It’ll be a lot easier to adjust, and it’ll be a lot easier to be specific about how accessible things are.
Reasonable adjustments is a bit more subjective.
If you voluntarily adopt the European Accessibility Act, it means that you will automatically meet your obligations for reasonable adjustments.
So like I said before, reasonable adjustments are quite subjective.
Sometimes there’s a bit of to and fro as to what is reasonable. But if you meet the European Accessibility Act, if your website’s 2.1 compliant and all of this stuff, that will count as a reasonable adjustment so it makes that bit a bit easier.
Products and services will probably look inferior to European competitors in a few years time if you choose not to do it because Brexit means that you don’t have to do it.
Everyone’s going to be looking at European competitors products who are mandated to meet these standards, and then your product’s going to look trash.
So if you work to the same standard, then you’re still competitive.
I guess in 2025, there’s not going to really be much scope for ableist product.
And finally, I guess it makes it easy to expand into the European markets.
What a lot of companies will do, this is my prediction anyway, is they’ll not do anything. They’ll say,
“We’re too small. We can’t afford to do accessibility so we’re not going to bother.”
They’ll do really well. They’ll scale up and then they’re stuck. They can’t go any further because Europe’s like,
“We don’t want that trash.”
And you’re then going to have to do all the work anyway, so you may as well do it upfront.
That’s my interpretation of it anyway.
So yeah, the regulations are complex, but their intent is simple.
We can probably drill it down into we must not deliberately or accidentally exclude anybody. We must actively work to be as inclusive as possible, and we must provide an equal level of service to everybody.
And as complex as the regulations are, this is what it boils down to.
We need to do better. We need to make sure everyone’s included and as complex and as messy as the regulations are, this is what they’re trying to get at.
Just quickly cover accessibility standards because they’re slightly different.
In Europe, we’ve got the very accessibly named EN 301 549.
This really grinds my gears every time I’ve got to say it.
EN 301 549. Super accessible name.
The European standard for accessibility requirements in ICT products or service or information communication technology.
It’s a set of standards. It’s a way of being able to directly measure how accessible something is.
The regulations will tell you what happens to you if you don’t meet the standards. It’ll tell you all of the legal stuff around it like what’ll happen, who the enforcement bodies are, that kind of thing.
But the standards are the way that you actually measure the accessibility of a digital product, for example.
Then we have WCAG or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
These are the ones that everyone’s probably heard of. This is an international standard I guess from a technical standpoint.
It’s the standard that everyone seems to have adopted, which is good because it means that they’re all the same.
Section 508, the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, EN 301 549, they all use WCAG as their measure if you drill into them enough.
And the current version of WCAG is 2.1. I think 2.2 is expected this year, and I think 3.0, they’re looking at maybe 2030 onwards.
So it’s not like WCAG gets updated loads of times. Kevin (White) can maybe talk. He might have a little bit more insight as to when these things are coming in, but it’s not hard to stay up to date with it because they only update it every few years.
So they might change a couple of criteria here and there, but it’s generally you can stay up to date with it quite easily.
There’s also work WCAG-ICT, which is a slightly different version.
You don’t come across it very often, but if you look into EN 301 549 … I’m going to get really sick of saying that. But if you look into that, if you’ve got a product that isn’t a website or a mobile application, if you are building something like a kiosk or something, you might not be able to apply all of WCAG to it because there’s not a website and they’re the web content accessibility guidelines.
So WCAG-ICT will help you figure out how to shoehorn your product into them standards.
So you might not come across it, but it’s worth mentioning.
Like I said before, it’s like all of the regulations and all of the standards, if you go through them deep enough, you eventually get to WCAG.
The good news is first, I suppose is there is nuance in the laws and if you just meet WCAG you might not meet the laws, but you will be the majority of the way there because there’s a few extra things that you might have to do, but ultimately you will end up at WCAG at some point if you’re doing digital products and you go through all of that legislation.
Just to point out as well, WCAG isn’t technically mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act, but whenever there’s been court cases about it, they always use WCAG as the standard.
So when somebody gets sued and they’re failing to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, they will talk about WCAG and say why it’s failing to meet people’s needs.
So although it’s not specifically mentioned, it does get used and therefore I’ve included it in this diagram just for transparency.
WCAG aims to make all digital products perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. It has three levels.
So we’ve got A, AA and AAA.
I don’t know what they stand for.
Presumably accessibility or something. Basically they’re like levels one, two, and three, and they stack.
So you can’t be AA compliant if you have fails against A. You can meet all of A and then all of AA and then you’d be AA compliant.
If we’re honest, WCAG has two levels. And this is because the AAA criteria is not mandated, so everybody just inevitably ignores it. It’s not to say that we should do all of the AAA stuff.
I think even W3C don’t recommend trying to go for AAA across the board because sometimes there’s a bit of conflict.
For example, when I worked on gov.uk services, we got some teams where we’d go and give a talk about accessibility and then they’d get really enthusiastic about it and they’re like,
“We don’t want to do AA. We’re going to do AAA.”
And you can’t do AAA on a gov.uk service without changing all of the colours because they meet the ratios for AA, but they don’t meet the ratios for AAA so you’d have to start changing all of the colours.
And if you start changing all of the colors, it no longer looks like a government website and then nobody trusts it and nobody will put their details into it unless people will get their benefits then if you just went for AA.
So AA isn’t something necessarily to aim for, but what we should be doing is doing AA and then looking at the AAA criteria and assessing it against the users that use your service and trying to work out which ones we should implement to make things better.
And for people like me, a lot of the cognitive support is lost in the AAA criteria, which people inevitably never do.
So things like low or no background audio. Basically just don’t have piano music playing in the background of the website or something. Interruptions. Again, ADHD.
Things are popping up all over the place and sliding out and whatever. That’s distracting.
Location is being able to at any point know where you are in reference to the rest of the site. So if you’re on a page, do you know how many layers you’re nested in or which of category of pages that you’re in?
And reading level. Using super complex language because reading level is actually a AAA criteria. So you can have a website that’s AA compliant, it meets the laws, it meets the standards, and it’s full of technical jargon and it’s full of language which people don’t understand so your website’s technically inaccessible.
And these can apply to things like auditory processing issues, focus issues like mine, memory issues and language processing issues, or even where language isn’t somebody’s first …
Language isn’t somebody’s first language? Where English isn’t somebody’s first language. Then having a simple reengage makes things a lot easier for those as well. And these can be things like autism, ADHD, anxiety or dyslexia.
I used to work on the bereavement service when I worked in DWP and we found weirdly that bereavement can be an impairment.
We found people where they came into a user research session and they couldn’t concentrate, they couldn’t focus, they couldn’t complete the task because there was too much grief. And that was something that we hadn’t necessarily seen as being something that would be included in accessibility requirements, so to speak.
So accessibility is improving, but there are still people left in the margins. And it doesn’t matter how small we make them margins, if we leave people in them, then we’ve still got a bit of a problem.
I’m going to talk you through some statistics, and these are a little bit sobering, but I think they’re useful to try and hammer home this point that it isn’t just about AA compliance.
There’s a common misconception that accessibility only affects a small number of people, and this often comes from this statistic, which is one in five people in the UK have a disability.
It’s the same number of people who have brown eyes.
There’s 22% of people in the UK have brown eyes. One in five people have a disability according to the office for national statistics.
Weirdly, it used to be blue eyes, but the demographic for eye color in the UK has changed in the last 15 years. I found that interesting. You might not.
The prevalence of disability rises with age.
So 8% of children, 19% of working age adults and 46% of adults over state pension age are considered to have a disability.
As we get older, I guess our bodies degrade and things get more difficult. It’s likely at some point one in two of us in this room will have a disability according to the statistics.
So I suppose if we change the world now, it directly benefits us later so there’s maybe a selfish element to this as well. And the official statistics do paint a bleak picture, but it’s actually far worse.
The definition and the threshold of what a disability is in the UK is not even consistent amongst different bodies who are collecting statistics and making the definitions up, I suppose, and then allowing people to apply for things like disability benefits.
So I suppose what it means to be disabled in the UK isn’t consistent depending on who you talk to.
So for example, under the Equality Act, if you get diagnosed with HIV, multiple sclerosis or cancer, then you are considered to have a disability immediately.
So you literally can walk out of the doctor’s office and apply for benefits and then you should get them.
But under the Office for National Statistics Data, you wouldn’t be included in that one in five people until your condition deteriorated to the point where you could no longer complete the tasks that they put in their census.
- So they’re looking very much at how far can you walk?
- Can you walk unaided?
- Can you shower yourself?
- Can you do these things that we expect you to be able to do?
And if you can’t, then you go into that bucket of one in five people.
So you can be in receipt of disability benefits like PIP (Personal Independence Payment) and not being that one in five people in the Office for National Statistics Data.
The next one is mental health issues. So mental health issues are an impairment. I wouldn’t say rarely, but they often don’t meet the threshold that’s required to be considered a disability.
So again, if you’ve got depression, anxiety, bereavement, like we just talked about, they all impair your ability to function. They all impair your ability to complete tasks.
They all impair your life in some way. But again, if you don’t meet the threshold that the Office for National Statistics is looking for, you don’t end up in that one in five people. And the lack of support in the UK for mental health issues is … Yeah.
There’s very little support out there and it’s getting worse. So if you want counselling on the NHS now, you’re looking at about an 18-month wait.
If you want an ADHD diagnosis on the NHS, you’re looking at about a six-year wait.
So the mental health support in this country is really bad. And it means a lot of people have slipped through the gap. They’re not included in that one in five people. They’re not thought about when we think about accessibility.
We’ve got non-visible disabilities so these are often missing from the data.
85% of people who have a visible disability also have a non-visible one.
And this just means you can’t see it. Non-visible. So things like ADHD often are non-visible.
Unless you’re literally eating blue smarties and climbing the walls, nobody knows that you’ve got ADHD.
I guess they’re less obvious. If you see somebody in a wheelchair, you can see that they’ve got an impairment. But things like autism and whatever sometimes fly under the radar.
And again, because the official statistics focus on how far you can walk unaided and things like that, then you’re not going to be included in the one in five people.
We also have hidden disabilities.
These are often sometimes used interchangeably with non-visible disabilities, but the difference is motive.
So you might have an impairment, you might have a non-visible disability, but you’re open to talking about it. You are open to saying, I have this, I need these adjustments.
These are my needs. A lot of people deliberately try and hide their disabilities because of stigma and unfair treatment, I suppose.
So if you’ve got a non-visible disability, you might apply for a job, you might write it on the form,
“Yep, I’ve got ADHD,”
“I need additional support. I don’t like open plan offices. These are all the things that I need.”
If it’s hidden, you don’t want to write any of that down. You are like,
“I’m just going to pretend that I’m neurotypical because I might not get the job otherwise.”
So non-visible and hidden or often interchangeable, but motive is behind the differentiator.
And this is because one in three people show unconscious bias towards people with disabilities.
It’s actually higher than the unconscious bias towards race or gender. It affects things like salaries, job offers, promotions. And it’s important to mention that it is unconscious bias, so it’s unconscious.
We don’t realise that we do it. But it means that people overlook people who have disabilities as being …
They’re not as competent as neurotypical peers or they’re not as competent as these other people.
And it’s ingrained in humanity. Unless you’re aware of it, it’s then difficult to unpick.
And this creates what they call the disability pay gap. And this is where two people are doing the same job.
One has a disability, one doesn’t, and one gets paid substantially less. So if you’re autistic like me, we earn on average around 33% less than colleagues doing the same job and that’s just because we don’t fit.
We’re not seen to be the same. We’re seen as being less competent or a bit weird. And only around 27% of people with disabilities are employed globally so this is a widespread issue.
So I guess going through the statistics was just to show you, I suppose, or make you think about the fact that the need for accessibility is massively underrepresented in the official statistics.
That one in five people, just the tip of the iceberg.
So when we say 20% of people is a lot and when you have people in your organisation saying, well, we’re not prioritising accessibility because it’s a minority, it doesn’t affect that many people, this is often overlooked.
There’s all of these other people that are actually reliant on things being accessible, but they’re just not on the official statistics.
And the reason the official statistics are so bad … I say bad. They’re not bad. Because the official statistics are not designed for what they are currently being used for. They’re not designed to be applied to this argument for accessibility. They’re designed to track trends in disability of a nation of people over decades. And for that they’re probably quite good.
But when you take that one in five and you apply it as a means to deprioritise accessibility that’s not what they were designed for. And the problem is that they focus on disability.
They don’t focus on impairment and they’re not the same thing.
An impairment is medical.
It’s the condition or the symptoms that person experiences. For example, if you are blind, that is an impairment.
That is the medical condition. But a disability is when somebody finds it difficult to perform everyday tasks to a level that’s considered comfortable for most people.
So there’s a slight nuance in the language, but the disability is when it affects your ability to perform certain tasks.
And there’s two models of disability, which we look at.
The medical model is the outdated model. I don’t recommend working to this one. But this basically looks at a person’s disability as being due to their impairment like it’s a condition to be fixed or cured or managed.
For example, Sam cannot enjoy the cinema because they’re blind. That would be the medical model of disability.
The social model of disability, it says a person’s disability is due to the environment or society not accommodating their impairments. So in this example, it’s Sam cannot enjoy the cinema because audio descriptions are not available. So this time it’s no longer about the disability. Sorry. It’s no longer about the impairment, it’s about the environment in which they’re trying to operate and that doesn’t accommodate their needs and therefore they can’t do the thing that they’re trying to do. If the audio descriptions were available, Sam could go to the cinema and Sam could enjoy the movie like anybody else.
And an impairment doesn’t always mean that a person has a disability. A lot of people have impairments. They don’t identify as being disabled, but it’s that trade off.
Sometimes the word … Like we said earlier, the language matters.
Another example is imagine you’re colourblind or you have a colour vision deficiency and it’s your job to analyse pandemic statistics.
So this is a real slide which Chris Whitty showed on the news during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was absolutely raging at the telly.
One, I was raging at the telly because we can probably all see what’s going to happen here when we put this into colourblind mode.
But the other reason why I was raging at it was it just highlights the fact that the entirety of the UK government runs on Excel spreadsheets. But that is probably a talk for another day, which I could talk for hours about.
But yeah, this is a genuine slide which was shown on the news.
And when we put it into colourblind mode and we take this red, amber, green status as they’ve used …
So sorry, but I should have described that slide before, but I just got angry at it.
So we’ve got this spreadsheet which had different segments. It’s a heat map for hospitals with over a hundred COVID-19 patients, and it was back in October of like 2021 or something. But they’ve divided it up into green is where the hospitals are doing good, yellow is where the hospitals are starting to reach capacity and red is where you don’t want to go to that hospital because they’re overrun.
And by using a red, amber, green status, when we put it into colourblind mode, it just becomes amber, amber, amber.
And you’re trying to read this, and I think if this is your job, then it’s probably impossible to do or substantially difficult. But COVID-19, it was a really worrying time for people, and this was potentially a life or death situation.
It sounds dramatic now because we’re maybe out the other side of it a little bit more, but at the time people were really stressed about this stuff.
And if you’re just looking at a map that’s all shades of yellow and you can’t work it out, then you’re like, “Well, do I go to that hospital?” That hospital could be dangerous. It’s overrun with … There’s people in the corridors coughing all over the place. It becomes problematic.
But it’s really easy to just make this problem go away by adding something as simple as a letter.
So in this example from BBC Sport, which shows the Premier League table, they also use green to denote good and red to denote bad.
So they’ve got a win is green and a loss is red, and all they’ve done is added a W and an L to those boxes. And you can use the colour, and it doesn’t matter if it’s all shades of yellow, you can still get the information out of it.
Yeah. I was very disappointed at the UK government when they showed that slide, but it would’ve been easily rectified. It would’ve looked messy if you put a G in every box to show that it was good or whatever but there’s other ways you could do it.
They could have used patterns, they could have used a million and one different ways of doing it, but they just chose to do it red and green so don’t rely on colour to convey information.
But colourblindness is a good example of an impairment versus a disability.
So one in 12 men and one in 200 women have a colour vision deficiency.
Alone it’s probably never going to be considered this.
You’d never be in that one in five people in the Office for National Statistics Data just for being one of these one in 12 men.
If you add that to all of the people who have ADHD or dyslexia or autism or whatever, again, there’s a whole bunch of people there that aren’t covered in that one in five.
But yeah, colourblindness is a really good example of it’s an impairment. It’s definitely an impairment.
They rely on accessibility, but it isn’t a disability. And this means that people aren’t usually disabled by their impairments.
They’re disabled by poorly designed environments. And Anna E. Cook estimates that around 67% of WCAG failures originate in the design.
It’s around six times more expensive to fix an accessibility problem that was in the design in development.
Six times more expensive.
It’s around 10 times more expensive to fix it when it gets into QA testing and you get it in the test environment.
And it’s around 30 times more expensive to fix it in production.
So if you’ve got designers just moving stuff around in Figma all of the time and not consider accessibility, when you try and fix it in production, it’s about 30 times more pricey than just getting them to fix it in Figma in the first place.
And I think as designers … I identify as a designer so I think I can say we should shoulder a lot of the blame.
We can’t shoulder all of it, but I think if 67% of it originates in the design, we certainly need to take some responsibility because we’re creating barriers which make people look less competent, and this feeds existing bias, and then they’re trying to use systems which can perhaps make them look less competent and then they’re less likely to get a job, less likely to get promotions and those sorts of things.
Even if you are doing things in Figma, you don’t necessarily have access to code, but you can use things like accessibility annotation kits, and this can help you fill in blanks for developers.
So for example, you can stick an icon … We’re designers. We love icons. Put them all over the place.
But if we don’t tell the developer what they should be putting down as the alternative text or whether they should be putting the tab order in a certain way, they’re just going to make it up.
They’re either going to make it up or they’re not going to do it at all. So we can certainly bridge the gap.
We can add things. We can design a skip to main content button and show it in Figma and explain it working. But a lot of times people just throw them out there and then leave the developers to figure it out and then we complain later on that it’s not accessible.
And as designer as we often design things which fit into our worldview.
So this is … No, it’s not because my clicker’s not working. This is an example where we’ve designed for our own worldview.
So this is King’s Cross station. It got refurbished. It was a place where you can go and get tickets for trains and things. It got refurbished, and the designer has designed it in a way where there’s a big black sticker across the window where it used to be a dropped section.
So you’ve got a desk that’s around shoulder height for most people, and then it sloped down at a 45 degree angle, and then you had a bench that was lower down.
And it was lowered down so that if you were in a wheelchair for example, you could have a face-to-face conversation through the glass with the person on the other side.
Because the designers come along and they not understood what the dropped bench was for … Oh, let’s put a big black sticker over that.
That’ll match with the black paint. Everything will be square, everything will be rectangular, everything will look nice. And it means that in this situation now, it’s impossible for that person to have a face-to-face conversation. It means in every scenario there, they’re going to be talked down to, because the designer hasn’t realized what that was for.
So I think as designers, we need to start thinking about things being accessible by design, not accessible because it passed an accessibility audit.
A lot of the time people only consider things to be accessible when they’re 2.1 compliant, but there’s a whole bunch of things that are in there which could actually have been fixed by us prior to that.
And one of the things I wanted to talk about was COGA, which is the Cognitive Accessibility Guidelines. Again, the name is maybe not the best. COGA stands for Cognitive Accessibility.
But if we look past that, this is an attempt to bridge the gaps that are in WCAG to assist people with cognitive impairments or those who are neurodivergent because all of that AAA criteria gets lost.
And COGA has a set of eight principles.
And I guess the spoiler upfront is most of them are just good design.
So I’m probably going to go through these and you’re going to be like, “Well, yeah, that’s obvious.” And it is obvious a lot of the time. But I think having them as a set of eight principles helps to keep us on track.
If we refer back to these and we go, that’s just good design, then it means at least we’re not just …
Sometimes I think you get so into your role and so into what you know that sometimes you forget about things. So I think they’re good as a checklist just to refer back to.
The caveat is I’m going to show you one example for each principle, but there will be more things to consider. So the slides are shared on the Accessibility Scotland website.
All of the links to all of the stuff that I’m talking about are in the HTML version, which we’ve published on there. I definitely recommend having a read through COGA.
It’s still in draft. I don’t think it’s been published properly yet, so it is probably likely to change, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s in there that’s just really useful, particularly if you’re a designer.
- The first one is help users understand what things are and how to use them.
So an example of this is just to use consistent labels and icons. It makes the interactions predictable and learnable.
So this is a real example from a product that I worked on.We’ve got four buttons, which I found in the product.
They all had a trashcan icon or rubbish bin icon or whatever you want to call it.
But they were assigned different labels. So there was delete, remove, clear, and then just the icon on its own.
And I guess the question is, are delete and remove different? Are the interactions different? If I click on one of them, is something different going to happen? What happens to the data? And I guess if you saw the icon on its own, would you really be confident that you understood what it did? Would you click it and know what was going to happen?
So just an example of that is just to try and keep things consistent.
Go through the product, find all the different icons, and come to a collective agreement as to at least what they’re going to represent and then the designer shouldn’t just be slapping the icon on the wrong button.
- The second one is help users define what they need.
So use clear and understandable page structure as an example of helping people to find what they need.So something like just using the correct headings and nesting content in a way that makes sense.You could have search. There’s other ways to do this, but this is a good example of it.
So the idea with heading levels is that whatever level you’re at, if you go up to the next heading level above that, if you’re on H3 and you go up to the H2, they should be related. If you go from H2 to H1, then they should be related.
If you’ve got a heading and it doesn’t refer to the one above it, then your content’s probably not structured correctly or it could be broken up in a better way.
So in this example, we have the main page heading is how to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Then we’ve got two heading level twos, which are how to stay safe and how to get a test.
They are both related to that H1, which is how to stop the spread of COVID-19. And then we’ve got things underneath that like how to stay safe.
There’s content on wearing a mask, washing your hands, that sort of thing.
- The third one is use clear and understandable content.
So use plain language. If you need to use industry language or acronyms, explain what they mean. I love this example, which is –
The umami and brioche combination was a masterpiece of culinary composition where the subtle interplay of flavours and textures coalesced into a dynamic flavour profile that was nothing short of a transcendent culinary experience.
Or we could have just said the burger was tasty and they’ve got the same outcome.
This was me asking ChatGPT, by the way, to explain a tasty burger in the most complex language you possibly could.
- Number four is help users to avoid mistakes and how to correct them.
So these are things just like clear labels and error messages.
If you know what went wrong, explain it in a way that the user can understand.So in this example, it’s saying, when was your passport issued?
And they’ve wrote in the box 6/3/2076, and it’s saying enter valid date. But 6/3/2076 is a validate. It’s in the right format that it was expecting.
All of those things are there. You might not understand what was wrong.
But actually what was wrong is that date’s in the future. So if you know that, then tell them.
Just say the date your passport was issued must be in the past and then it becomes a lot easier to figure out what you need to do to fix the problem.
- Number five is help users focus.
So scope the current task clearly and only present the user what they need at each step. So in government, we do this a lot.
We break things down into one thing per page, and that makes it very easy for people to step through.The caveat is that you need to do user research, you need to understand user needs, and you need to know what the user is trying to do.
If you know what the task is, you can break it down into manageable chunks.
What tends to happen is people have an idea and they don’t fully understand what the user is trying to do, so therefore they just put everything on the page just in case the user needs it.
Like, oh, well, we’ll just put everything there and they can figure it out. But that can make things really overwhelming.
So figure out what the need is, figure out what the task is, break it down into small chunks, and then step the user through it in really incremental steps.
- The next one is ensure processes do not rely on memory.
So replay information if it’s needed for the current task. Don’t rely on a user remembering anything that they’ve entered or anything that they’ve seen prior to that step. If they need it for that step, replay it or give them a way to get back to it.
This is an example which we’ve probably all had in mandatory training at some point, which was thinking about the training video you watched in step three, what do you suggest Mike could do differently in future?
And if you’re like me, you’re going, who’s Mike? And then what you probably do, like me, is inevitably you click the back button and then the whole thing blows up and you’ve got to start again.
So if I need to know what Mike could have done differently, give me the video again, or at least make the back button work so I can go back and look at it.
In fact, don’t make the back button work to go back and look at it, make the back button work anyway, but give me the information that I need at the right time. So provide a link to it so I can watch it again or just put the video back on the page.
- Seven is provide help and support.
Make feedback and support easy to find.Provide tailored help, links and documentation, contact information.We’ve all probably been somewhere where we’re trying to just talk to somebody because something’s broke and you can’t find a phone number, there’s no email.
They just don’t want to help. They don’t want to create any work for themselves.
But I guess if you build your services in a user centered way, people won’t need to contact you anyway. So if you provide these numbers, they hopefully shouldn’t be used. But this is a really extreme example.
This is get your state pension, which is a DWP service. It’s basically asking you to put your invite code into this online form.
And you can say, “I don’t know what my code is. I don’t know how to find it. What is it?”
And they’ll take you to guidance where they’ll show you the letter that comes, where it is on the letter so you can self serve.
You can go, there’s my code. I’ll go and put it in. Sorry. If you are still stuck, there’s a phone number if you’re in the UK, there’s a phone number for if you are in island. If you need a sign language interpreter, there’s a video relay service link.
There’s a whole bunch of different sorts that you can self-serve, or if you get stuck, here’s a whole bunch of things you can do to get past this point.
So just make that feedback and support easy to find rather than hiding it away in the terms and conditions.
- And the last one is support, adaptation and personalisation.
So this is to design and build responsive interfaces, support different devices, different font sizes, different colour modes and different accessibility settings.
You don’t necessarily have to code all of these things in on switch toggles like this example.
You don’t have to have a switch that switches things into dark mode, but make sure you support it.If somebody like me who uses everything in dark mode, when I land on that website, I don’t want to glaring white page burning my retinas out at 3:00 in the morning.
So just make sure you support as many different features that people might be using who rely on accessibility features. And again, things like font sizes.
If you bump the font size up, you don’t want all the text overlapping. If you’re somebody like my dad who’s got his iPhone where there’s about three letters on a screen.
Who again is an example of somebody who isn’t considered to have a disability, would never consider themself to require assistive technology, and then has the font size at like 72 on his phone because he can’t get his arm far enough away from his face.
So yeah, the eight principles of COGA.
Again, the link is in the slide deck on Accessibility Scotland. Definitely worth a look through.
So just to wrap up a few things to remember or to take away.
The statistics are flawed.
More people rely on accessibility than one in five people.
Again, we’ve seen multiple examples of that. We’ve seen people putting their hands up at the start.
One in five people is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Humans are biased. Don’t assume that you know what people need.
If you assume what people need, nine times out of 10, we’ll get it wrong.
So do use that research, talk to people, include them in the process. Make sure that when you’re designing things for people, you’re actually involving them in the design so that you know you’re meeting their needs.
The worst thing in the world is when somebody says that they’ve designed something with accessibility and then people go to use it and it doesn’t work for them.
Don’t be the person that says we don’t have any users with disabilities. It’s likely that you do. They either just aren’t visible or they’ve maybe not told you because they’re scared that you’re going to overlook them for promotion.
There’s people all over the place that rely on accessibility features. Even if we are in the quiet carriage of a train and we’re trying to watch a video and there’s no subtitles, certainly we’re a user who needs accessibility features despite not having any impairments. It’s just the situation that we’re in means that we can’t have the volume blaring on the phone.
Hire neurodivergent people.
Hire people like me.
Hire people like us.
But make sure you support them properly.
Don’t just hire a whole bunch of neurodivergent people because they’re really good at spreadsheets or something. Oh, you’re good at maths, come have a job but we’re not going to give you any reasonable adjustments. We’re just going to exploit you for your specialist skills and we’re going to make you work in an office where you’re overwhelmed and we’re not going to do all of these things to accommodate you to get the best out of you. So definitely hire more people, but make sure that everything’s in place to support them.
Accessibility is a user need.
It isn’t a technical specification. You can meet WCAG 2.1 AA, you can be compliant, you can be above the law. You can meet all of these things, but if it still doesn’t work for somebody because all of the language in it’s terrible, then it’s not meeting their needs.
And that’s ultimately what accessibility boils down to. It’s just a user need like everything else. Design for accessibility. Consider it, plan it, annotate it.
If you are a designer, take responsibility for it and make sure that you write the alt text so the developer doesn’t have to make it up because he’ll just make it up.
I’ve seen things where you’ve got a picture of something and they’ll just type in verbatim what it is, and it doesn’t actually describe anything that’s in it. It’s like, cat. Okay, great. What colour is the cat? What’s it doing?
So yeah, I think as designers we need to own more of that stuff. If you’ve got content designers in your organization, you can collaborate with those.
But in a lot of places where at work you’re a UX designer, you do all of the design, so do that alt text stuff as well.
At the very least be compliant. That’s the bare minimum. That’s what we should be doing.
But then go beyond those. Go beyond those standards.
Consider COGA, consider Design Justice.
Think about, okay, well we’ve met compliance. Who else is still in the margins and how can we make things better for those people?
And don’t say accessibility compliance is the end goal.
Accessibility compliance is just our starting block and inclusion is the finish line. And that’s everything from me.