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Creating a Universal Accessible Experience

I had a conversation recently with a woman in a wheelchair, and I haven’t been able to get what she said out of my head. We were at a conference, and she was talking about challenges she faces that most people may never think about.

The story she told was about that morning. She and a few of her colleagues were approaching the building that housed the conference, but as they got to the front door, she realized there was no handicapped access. One of her co-workers went inside and asked the manager how someone in a wheelchair is supposed to get in; the manager responded that there was a back entrance. The woman turned to wheel herself around the corner to the back of the building as the rest of her colleagues went inside the main door.

The woman was upset. No, she was angry.

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“I shouldn’t have to go in where the cook staff takes out the garbage” she told me.

That sentence has stuck with me since she said it. After all, she’s right. She shouldn’t be treated inferiorly just because she has a disability. That is why Internet accessibility is so important to us at Duo. We work with all of our clients to make sure their Drupal-based websites are accessible to all users. After all, universal access builds a better experience for more than just those who are disabled. Just think of wheelchair ramps. Sure, they may be designed for someone in a wheelchair, but they benefit lots of other people — something I never thought of until I had a baby in a stroller.

We’re currently doing work with a major national telecom company to help them reimagine content for their global policies page on accessibility — it’s part of a larger project to update all their footer content, like the privacy policy and terms and conditions.

Like so many website redesigns we’ve seen, this company hadn’t applied a scalable content strategy to their website. As a result, they wanted us to bring them ideas of how to reorganize this content that’s just been growing over time and accumulating as the company introduced more products and services. More importantly, they wanted us to take this content that was primiarly informational and have it become content that helps the company take a stance.

They wanted to portray themselves as a consumer advocate.

It’s been fascinating to see the evolution in brand perspective on issues like accessibility. Back in the early 2000s, businesses were very careful and straightforward about legal content like this. Now, though, companies want to show they have personalities and generally care about issues like accessibility. They aren’t making services accessible because they have to — they’re making them available because they want to.

We performed a competitive analysis for our client to see how similar companies presented their accessibility pages. One company divided users by disability, which seemed like a smart idea. The content was displayed in more of a natural language that from the users of point of view, such as:

  • “I can’t see very well”
  • “I can’t hear”

I thought this was a cool approach. It took away the diagnosis and focused on what people had issues with. The major problem, though, was a lot of the text use came off in a patronizing tone. It read as though the company was talking to a kindergartner, and we knew we didn’t want that. We wanted to treat our client’s users with respect.

Another competitor grouped different abilities they were addressing, such as vision, hearing, speech, and mobility and learning. It was a smart way to break out abilities, and it was presented very clearly, but it wasn’t personal. Our client wanted to make this page connect more closely with their users.

Our final recommendation married these two ideas. First and foremost, we wanted to empower the user, no matter their abilities or areas where they need assistance. We wanted to be more solution focused rather than problem centric. Instead of focusing on why they needed assistance, we wanted to simply present what our company had to offer.

The wireframes we developed began with a bold statement to support the client’s mission, followed by an introduction to the company’s commitment to accessibility. They’re not looking to be compliant; they want to be innovative, we wanted the users to get a feel for that.

We proposed a header that read, “Our services are designed to empower you.” From there, we wanted to highlight specific needs, but again, our focus was on solutions rather than issues. So instead of having a button that said “Are you blind?” or “I can’t see,” for example, we proposed a button that simply said “Visual assistance.” A click on the button leads the user to specific resources available for that topic.

The page will also feature a news section where the client can showcase what they are doing to be more inclusive by promoting what they’re doing for the community.

The entire page — and every component within it — supports the idea that the user should be empowered. Ultimately, our aim wasn’t to build the best accessible experience, but to work towards a unified, well-designed experience for all users. The goal is to make the accessible experience the universal experience.

At Duo, we’re helping our clients get to that place.

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Topics: Design Services

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