A well-designed, accessible digital service brings content available to more people. Accessibility means that the service is equally accessible to all users, regardless of the device or assistive technologies they use. The diversity of users of services is often greater than we realize. As designers and developers, we have a huge responsibility in enabling or improving the service experience of users with visual and hearing impairments, the elderly, and users on the autism spectrum or with attention deficit disorders. In addition, an accessible service is one that can be used on different devices and in various circumstances that place limits on memory and attentiveness. Good usability is also part of accessibility and ensures equality of opportunity in the use of the service for older people, for example. A study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare explains the scope of the need.
European Accessibility Act – what will it impact?
The European Accessibility Act strongly promotes digital equality. We already know that by 2025 at the latest, accessibility requirements will expand drastically. Until now, EU regulations have required only certain businesses, public entities and non-profits to comply with the WCAG 2.1 standard. When the European Accessibility Act enters into force in 2025, accessibility will also apply to the services of private businesses.
The Act will cause a redesign of online stores. The requirements of the European Accessibility Act apply to both the private and public sectors. Drafting of national legislation is currently underway and will enter into force by 28 June 2022. It is clear that after the three-year transition period ending on 28 June 2025, only products and services that meet accessibility requirements will be able to enter the market. In other words, it is high time to make accessibility a starting point for design – both in the domestic and European markets!
Today, investing in equal and responsible services still offers a competitive advantage while in the future, it will only serve as a modest starting point for what is expected of services. Although an estimated 135 million Europeans need accessible services every day, all users benefit from accessibility alongside them. The transformation of digital and hybrid work that begun in 2020 following the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of well-designed digital services and the equality of service demanded by users. As physical service contacts become less frequent, the ageing population needs accessible digital services. Users, consumers and employees, on the other hand, are choosing services and businesses more carefully based on personal values. In other words, standing out in terms of responsibility and equality increasingly calls for concrete actions rather than marketing campaigns. Falling behind in this development poses a major risk for a company.
What does the future look like?
Accessibility gives the opportunity to design better services. Developing accessibility requires sharing responsibility, as Heini Könönen points out in her Master’s thesis. Any designer and developer who has given voice to users and defended good user experience can be satisfied and breathe a sigh of relief at this point. As a force for change, the European Accessibility Act gives us the justification to do our work even better than before. In addition, it provides numerous reasons for investing in improved accessibility. In other words, the future of digital equality appears brighter than ever before!
Accessibility reveals the quality of digital services. As consumers' purchasing behavior becomes more environmentally and socially conscious, they begin to demand sustainability and equality from their services. Although good accessibility expertise is currently primarily reflected in the quality of public services, its level of requirements also helps set the bar for private sector services. We estimate that the competition in accessible digital services will develop as rapidly and similarly as competition for the user experience of services. Companies simply cannot afford to ignore accessibility, especially when competitors that put in the effort catch up and pull ahead. Accessibility, like user experience, communicates about the brand and informs customers about the values of the organization through its services.
How to get started?
With these steps, you can put the accessibility of an existing service in order:
- Audit and evaluation report by an internal or third-party expert
- Adding an accessibility statement for the service that describes how the issues will be addressed
- Prioritizing the issues to be addressed
- Drafting a rough roadmap of the corrections
- Correcting the issues quickly
At Vincit, we believe in building a better future – broadly and inclusively. We have helped more than twenty businesses and organizations get their accessibility in order.
If you're starting a new development project, we have great news for you: accessible design and implementation are no more labor-intensive or expensive than inaccessible design. Take accessibility into account right from the start of the development. Select designers and developers who are familiar with accessibility.
An ageing and increasingly diverse userbase imposes stricter design requirements for everyone. Accessibility, inclusive design and design for all – the importance of these will be highlighted now and in the future. By designing accessible and excellent user experiences for services and digital pathways and taking into account even demanding user groups, we improve everyone’s user experience. However, ensuring accessibility is also a positive for your business. In fact, it is a necessary step if you want to engage in profitable business in the future. Attending to accessibility:
- is important to your brand
- is an important quality factor of a service
- ensures the compatibility of your service across platforms also in the future
- ensures that you take all customer groups into account
If you have an existing service or are doing further development on an existing product, you can easily begin working on accessibility by evaluating the baseline with an accessibility audit. In this case, make sure that the results of the audit are added to the development roadmap.
Whether you're designing a new service or improving the accessibility of an existing service, the right time and place to start is here and now! If you’re not sure how to get started with accessibility, we'll be happy to help!
Emilia Ojala (2021):
https://www.saavutettavuusvaatimukset.fi/esteettomyys-ja-saavutettavuus-kaiken-suunnittelun-lahtokohdaksi/ (in Finnish)
Directive (EU) 2019/882 on the accessibility requirements for products and services (European Accessibility Act):
Heini Könönen, Implementing accessibility in digital services (2021): http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:aalto-202108228334