The London 2012 Paralympics changed perceptions of disability sport in the UK, at least according to polls and reports that came out after the event but did it really change attitudes to disability in business? In the words of Lord Coe the change over the summer was “seismic” but no matter how much we talk about the need for a legacy to the games, what is actually being done about it?
Naturally there is a fear that the spirit of the games cannot be sustained and that everything will return to pre-Paralympics normality where perceptions and realities were poles apart. One perception, the belief that the internet has enabled disabled people to manage their life more efficiently, for example, is hollow and simplistic and doesn’t quite ring true.
Yes, disabled people are getting online (although four million disabled people in the UK still haven’t according to the ONS) but when they are online they do not have the same choice, nor the same access to all products and services that everyone else has. The reality is that online accessibility capabilities are dictating which products or services certain disabled people can and cannot buy.
We have worked with partially sighted people who are only buying products from one bank because the other banks are not accessible to them. They are not buying from choice. They either cannot read the site menus or they cannot access specific tools designed to enable product choice, as the site’s technology is incompatible with their screen reader, for example. So inevitably they go to a site they can read. One bank’s loss is another’s gain.
To test whether or not this was an isolated case, we decided to conduct our own research.
Web pages from 11 leading banks and building societies were tested for 15 problems that disabled people are likely to encounter. These included web pages, links, pictures and forms not being labelled correctly (meaning that a person using a screen reader would get lost on the site) and broken tabs, or “skip navigation links”, which allow those who cannot use a mouse to navigate the site.
Barclays was rated as the worst offender, failing on 35 out of 64 tests, followed by NatWest, which failed 34, and Santander and HSBC which failed 27 each. Lloyds, Halifax, Nationwide, ING, Smile, Citibank and First Direct all failed 18 times.
Given that disabled people collectively spend over £80bn a year on products and services (according to the DWP), it is not really a market that any business can afford to ignore, even banks. Also research by Cap Gemini in its World Retail Banking Customer Experience report last year found that quality of service and ease of use are the two biggest factors that affect people’s decision to leave a bank. By improving accessibility banks can also improve ease of use and ultimately make the web experience better for everyone not just disabled users. This has a value.
So what are the banks doing about it? Following a Shaw Trust web accessibility conference in Stratford last week it was clear there is a desire to change but a lack of understanding of how to change. This was enlightening. As long as there is a will and that Paralympic spirit lives on, there is definitely a way and that is good for businesses that want to reach new customers and retain existing ones as much as it is for people with disabilities.
For more information visit Shaw Trust.
Five Top Tips to web accessibility:
- Get an audit so you are clear about which bits of your site are likely to be causing problems – A number of organisations have found a free visit to the test centre to watch our fulltime testers put various sites through their paces very valuable. These visits can be filmed so they can be shown to other departments of executives to gain by-in and raise awareness.
- Learn about the Equality Act and how it affects your business.
- Send your web designers on a course – even if they have already been on one, technology changes and web site updates regularly undermine accessibility. They can learn how to build, manage and maintain an accessible website.
- Do some research and learn how disabled people use websites. If you are selling products online, are you sure that everyone can access all the pages and use the payment functions?
- Understand the available accessibility products or get some Adaptive Technology training to cover screen readers and voice recognition, for example. This is useful not just for your own site but also if you are going to employ anyone with a disability.