Your Guide to Brand Accessibility in the Digital Space

What is brand accessibility?

It’s the act of making your brand accessible to all people, including potential customers who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, or with physical or psychological disabilities.

Accessible design centres on universality, providing equal access to information and user experiences, no matter the individual’s situation or context. Today one fifth of the globe’s population have a disability – but even if we take disabilities out of it, who doesn’t want websites that are easy to read, clearly laid out, and simple to navigate?

Digital accessibility refers to how usable online spaces, such as websites, apps, intranets, and social media, are for all possible users; regardless of their ability or disability. It’s about optimising online user experiences for people with disabilities, considering their customer experiences and validating their needs.

Accessible digital spaces are ones that people with permanent or temporary disabilities can use without encountering barriers. It means designing a website so that disabled people can access the same information – and have the same user experience – that a non-disabled person would.

Here are some common examples of common barriers:

  • Websites that aren’t compatible with screen-readers.
  • Content that can’t be navigated using a keyboard.
  • Missing alt-text for images.
  • Multimedia without alternatives, such as audio descriptions, transcriptions, and captions.
  • Low contrast that makes text hard to perceive.

Each and every design has the ability to include or exclude potential customers, and it’s important that your designs, campaigns, brands, and digital spaces are universally accessible.

Why? Because you’re all working towards the same goal; better ways of communicating and engaging with you audience.

It might sound difficult to create a brand that works for everyone – and you might be thinking, “what if I don’t want to create a brand that is accessible to everyone?”

Well, we’re here to prove you wrong.

It’s a legal requirement

It’s not just a suggestion – it’s a legal requirement for public and private sector organisations. Different countries have different laws, but many – including the UK – base their legislation on the international holy grail for web accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

WCAG provide guidelines on how to make your website more accessible to people with disabilities. Measuring your website against WCAG compliance standards is a good indicator of whether your website would be deemed as accessible to disabled people.

To comply with UK laws your website should meet WCAG’s web principles and, in turn, be:

  • Perceivable: All users should be able to accurately see and read your website content.
  • Operable: Web content should be simple to navigate for all users.
  • Understandable: Website interfaces and information should be organised in a way that makes them easy to use, predictable to navigate, and contain language that is unambiguous to all users.
  • Robust: Your website should be compatible with a wide range of technology, including assistive technology tools.

Who is responsible within a company?

The answer is straightforward – everyone is.

Creating an accessible brand needs to be an integrated effort. Why not frame creating inclusive experiences as a shared opportunity, rather than a box for one department to tick off? We suggest implementing the same standards across all of your production cycles.

By building inclusivity into your planning, values, roadmaps, and deliverables you will create a cohesive – and accessible – brand system.

Developments in recent years

It’s important that your brand is in touch with your user base, so make sure you keep up to date with recent developments and shifts in user behaviour, such as:

  • The drive for internet inclusivity: 71% of people with disabilities click away from sites that don’t meet their needs.
  • Live captioning has never been so popular: Communication Access Real-Time (CART) services ensure virtual content is accessible to all by delivering synchronized speech-to-text captions. Although this service is designed to enhance the virtual experience for individuals with hearing loss or deafness, anyone can benefit, and live captioning has become a huge social media trend – with captioned videos receiving 40% more views than those without.
  • We’re firmly in the digital world: We were inching this way pre-pandemic, but now we’re firmly rooted in the E-sphere, using digital platforms for commerce, community, control, and convenience. Our virtual environments need to cater to the needs of all people, so that nobody is alienated from the market. The surge of remote access innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the necessity of online inclusivity.
  • Accessible lawsuits are on the rise: 2021 showed an expected continued increase in litigation, with more than 4000 lawsuits filed in the USA alone.
  • Inclusive representation: Increasingly, consumer considerations are growing to expect inclusive and diverse representation in terms of colour, culture, size, shape, age, ability, gender and sexuality – and rightly so. A 2021 study conducted by Quantilope found that 76% of Gen Z think that brands need to consistently address diversity & inclusion.

 

Benefits of creating an accessible brand experience.

It means that users – and more of them – can engage with your brand. Digital inclusivity is not only good for the world – it’s smart business:

  • It’s the right thing to do: When we secure the rights of people with disabilities and move away from ableist conformity, we invest in our own common future.
  • It improves SEO: Best practice techniques actually complement SEO strategy. Search engines like solid structure and markup in the form of organised headers, correct semantics, unique link text and properly deployed alt text.
  • It’s better business: Accessible design allows you to tap into everyone’s potential. By removing barriers and including more people in your conversation, you can reach more customers, increase customer satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge over those who don’t include such features.
  • It saves costs: Considering equal access at the beginning of the design process is far less expensive than making improvements after the fact.
  • It creates a positive brand profile: An accessible digital presence means people of all abilities can connect with your brand, allowing you to reach a larger consumer base.
  • There can be legal ramifications: You can get in trouble if your website or product isn’t adequately optimised for disabilities. A notable example was in 2019 when a blind man, named Guillermo Robles, sued Domino’s Pizza for being unable to make an order on their website. In this case, don’t be Domino’s.

 

The anatomy of an accessible brand

A balance needs to be struck between your brand identity, and usability for all, and there are a few things that you can do to improve readability and user experience. We recommend incorporating these into a style guide, which contains information on:

  • Content hierarchy: Arrange content in a logical flow with an H1 title (main heading) at the top of the page, followed by H2 titles (subheading), and, if necessary, H3 and H4 titles (sub-sub headings) under those.
  • Text: Font should contrast from the background and be at least 16px large with the ability for users to resize the text without having to scroll horizontally. Larger texts (headers, callouts, etc.) should be between 18 and 30 pixels. Lines should be at least one-and-a-half spaces apart, and text should never be aligned justified.
  • Font: Trust us, we know how painstaking it can be choosing the perfect font to represent your brand. But it’s your job to ensure that your typeface is accessible – and with thousands of choices out there – there’s no excuse for choosing an illegible font.You want to use a typeface design or font choice than enables greater legibility and readability for people who either have a learning disability, visual impairment, aphasia or dyslexia.Serif fonts enable more fluid readability and reading speed as they help the eye travel across a line. Your text also needs to be easily read against its background, and it needs to be legible when zoomed up to 200% (according to WCAG guidelines).
  • Image ALT text: The primary function of ALT text is to supply context for users who cannot view images, for example if a visually impaired visitor uses a screen reader to browse your site – alt-text describes images.Your site must provide a text equivalent for every non-text element. This includes graphics, animations, scripts, buttons, sounds, audio and video
  • Colour contrast: Another way to help the readability of your text is to have enough colour contrast between text colours and background colours. For low-vision visitors, contrast is key. Use high-contrast for as many assets as you can, the minimum contrast ratio for website design and social media text and graphics is 3:1.Instead of using bursts of colour contrast and a varied colour palette, use contrasting shades and bold underlining. For blind users, add website code only visible to screen readers.
  • Videos: A video needs to supply closed captions for users who cannot hear. Flashes need to be limited to three per second for photosensitive viewers. And a video should not start playing on its own, unless a user opts into that.
  • Descriptive links. Read More, Click Here, Learn More… these generic links don’t clearly communicate the destination. Take the time and write clear, descriptive link text clarifies where they lead.
  • Readability: Use short sentences, short paragraphs and bulleted lists to make it easier for people with learning and cognitive difficulties to consume your content. Write simpler. When you confuse – you lose. Be clear, simple, and direct.
  • Navigation: Make your site navigable via keyboard, as some people living with visual or motor impairments prefer to use a keyboard than a mouse.

 

Crucial resources for design for disability

  • Contrast checker is a free, simple tool that improves design accessibility. Upload your image, identify issues, and away you go.
  • ColorSafe equips designers with beautiful and accessible colour palettes based on WCAG guidelines of text and background contrast ratios.
  • Userway is an automated initiative that is WCAG compliant.
  • Color Oracle is a free colour blindness simulator for Windows, Mac and Linux. It takes the guesswork out of designing for colour blindness by showing you in real time what people with common colour vision impairments will see.
  • Webaim is an organisation focused on training and certifications, and they also publish lots of useful research.
  • Vox Product Guidelines provides a comprehensive checklist for designers, engineers, and project managers.
  • AXE Google Chrome Extension is a nifty test any site for website accessibility violations using the Chrome inspector.
  • Microsoft Office accessibility checker is a resourceful tool which identifies and corrects issues. Whether you’re designing a PowerPoint or drafting an email, it will tell you what is wrong and the steps to fix it.

 

Seven ways to instantly improve your brand’s digital accessibility

  1. Factor it in from the outset: Digital inclusivity isn’t an extra step, or a box to tick, you should weave the needs and perspectives of people with disabilities into initial plans and objectives.
  2. Create a style guide: like ours listed above.
  3. Go beyond requirement: Don’t strive to meet the minimum mandated requirements, go above and beyond to surprise and delight your customers.
  4. Carry out a content audit: Where is your content accessible? Where could you improve? Think of what you might have missed. Change can start with small details like adding braille code to business cards, or putting some subtitles on an animation or video.
  5. Invest in people and services. A plug-in like Weglot allows a professional translator to write your translations. Work with consumers and advocacy organisations, and adopt a diverse workforce to drive inclusion and universality from behind closed doors.
  6. Embrace inclusive personas. To compete in terms of innovation, organisations need to think deeply about inclusive design and innovation. This is only possible when you are recruiting and retaining a diverse range of thinkers.
  7. Be accessible for your users. Be reachable, be engaged, welcome feedback. Who better to convey your user experience than your users. By listening to what they have to say, you can make brand improvements that earn their trust and buyin.

 

Five brands that take inclusive experiences seriously

The variation in neurological and physical abilities within communities is vast, and becoming widely recognised. New design approaches that deliver a better, more accessible experience for all are driving innovations, such as:

  • Microsoft – these tech giants get it right. Their software incorporates an artificial intelligence that detects and to converts heading styles that are more suitable for visually impaired users. A new excel pane is designed to work with screen readers, a high contrast mode can be used when sharing content using PowerPoint live, as well as a dark mode in Word to reduce eye strain.
  • Google made finding wheelchair accessible locations as easy as typing in an address. Users can now turn on ‘Accessible Places’ feature which indicates wheelchair friendly places.
  • Apple launched a dedicated Applecare support team for people with disabilities and re-designed its accessibility site to make users aware of new capabilities.
  • Amazon’s new feature called Show and Tell helps blind and partially sighted people identify common household grocery items.
  • Pinterest has recently made efforts improve the universal usability its site, offering different levels of colour contrast to help those with visual impairments, as well as improving navigation and screen-reading support.

Parting thoughts

Accessible branding is about breaking down barriers – not upholding them. We recognise that this can be complex – but hope you recognise that it’s well worth the challenge.

Studio Noel strive to create brands that are accessible to all, by being proactive and inclusive, and by working together to generate new ideas. We recognise that brands need to embrace inclusivity – or risk being left behind.

With a focus on the future, we work to cultivate and contribute to a more inclusive world for us all. So, get in touch if you want our help eradicating discriminatory design and biased branding – we’re here to help.

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