Everyone’s talking about inclusive design. It is number 7 in LinkedIn’s ’50 Big Ideas for 2019’, and Microsoft and other tech giants are investing heavily in it.

Yet most organisations are still losing at least 20% of their customers – people with disabilities or who are ageing – who are unable to use their products and services.

As part of our Leaders in Change series, we invited inclusion and accessibility thought leader Jonathan Hassell to explain how to minimise risk and increase profitability by embedding accessibility within digital organisations.

The benefits of inclusivity

Some 20% of the population has a disability – and there are many more who may need to adapt how they use digital products at various points. This may be down to a temporary disability such as a broken bone. Or perhaps they can’t use their hands because they are cooking or can’t use their speakers when in the office.

Jonathan talked us through some of the wide-ranging benefits of designing digital products with accessibility in mind:

Financial

Jonathan gave a great stat – in the service sector, every customer interaction costs 17p online. Conversely, this cost shoots up to £5 through a call centre, and to £14 in a branch.

Simply put, improving accessibility for your customers is a huge cost-saving opportunity for your organisation.

Legal

There have been some high-profile brands that have faced legal action for failing to make their digital products accessible for their users, including Beyonce, Netflix and Dominos.

Innovation

Designing for inclusivity requires that you think ‘outside the box’ – which can drive real innovation. Voice recognition software started out as an aid for people with mobility issues, but now it’s how large parts of the population interact with digital products.

Ethical

Only 30% of organisations have accessible websites. But the majority of companies say that inclusion is one of their values. Something doesn’t quite add up.

So, why isn’t everyone jumping on board?

It would seem that inclusive design makes a lot of sense. So why are only 30% of organisations getting it right at the moment?

Jonathan talked through the most common reasons people give for not practising inclusive design in their product development process.

  • The organisation isn’t actually sure what the standards are
  • The organisation isn’t clear on the benefits of accessibility are
  • The organisation knows the benefits, but don’t feel they have the time or resources to approach it
  • The organisation knows the benefits but feels that designing inclusively would require a compromise on creativity and final output

Approaching accessibility in the right way

Jonathan argues that, in order to get this right, organisations need to focus on embedding accessibility into the culture of the organisation.

Expand Awareness

This is about repositioning your efforts from just about avoiding losing to setting up for a win. Accessibility isn’t about avoiding lawsuits, it’s a genuine opportunity to engage with more customers, and outmanoeuvre the competition

Embed Strategy

Accessibility isn’t something you can assign to a person, or even to a team. To drive it forward, it needs to be embedded in the organisation – ‘like a stick of rock’.

Enable Process

For example, if a website is found to have accessibility issues, which are fixed to pass an audit, the organisation can say they’ve fixed the problem. For now. But we know that almost all digital product teams are constantly iterating and adding new features. So if that team’s processes don’t change, the oversights that caused the accessibility issues to be created will almost certainly find their way back into the product.

Focusing on improving your processes will enable you to improve your accessibility record for the long term, as well as helping you fix current issues.

Measure Effects

Once you start looking at accessibility issues, especially if you’ve not looked at it too closely before, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. At this point, it’s important to keep focused on the impact of the work you do, rather than the work itself. It’s about starting with those issues with the largest cost-benefit ratio and being clear on how you’ll measure success.

Continually Evolve

Accessibility isn’t a checklist that you can ‘complete’. Sorry. As people, and the technology they use continues to change, so will the way digital teams need to build their products. But the good news is that this is where real innovation can happen.

Designing inclusively is a big challenge for an industry that is, to be frank, not getting it right yet.

But as consumers continue to vote with their feet, those organisations that can provide engaging experiences for all their users will be the ones that get ahead.

If you’d like to find out more about accessibility, I highly recommend Jonathan’s book, ‘Inclusive Design for Organisations’, which outlines this big topic perfectly.

And if you want to know about future events we’re running, please get in touch at be@wearefutureheads.co.uk, I’d love to hear from you.

More about Jonathan Hassell

Jonathan has over 17 years’ experience of embedding accessibility and inclusive design into digital production teams and is a regular speaker and writer on topics of accessibility, inclusion, user-centred design and digital products and services. Previously Head of Accessibility at BBC, he is the author of the new international accessibility standard ISO 30071-1, based on his original UK standard BS 8878.

His book, ‘Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility’, now updated in a 2nd edition for 2019 – explores how businesses can effectively embed accessibility in products and services, and the value of doing so, from mitigating risk and setting out clear policies and procedures, through to improving customer experiences and increasing commercial growth.

You can connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn and Twitter, and find out more about his work at hassellinclusion.com.

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