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Providing accessibility support during the development of Dementia Connect
Dementia is a family of progressive/terminal brain diseases and is now the leading cause of death in the UK. Anyone can be affected by dementia and so Alzheimer’s Society always make services which are accessible. This ensures that people in crisis are not excluded because of their abilities.
To support this, they wanted to launch a new service, Dementia Connect, which includes a way for people to find answers to common questions and to self-refer to a dementia adviser service for direct support. Dementia Connect was being built by another third-party agency and they commissioned System Concepts to support the development of the service by ensuring it is accessible to a diverse user group.
Well versed in the intricacies of the WCAG v2.1 guidelines and testing with disabled users, our UX consultants brought many years of collective experience in making websites more accessible for disabled people. We were therefore in a strong position to help the Alzheimer’s Society meet their objectives.
As an experienced accessibility research agency who Alzheimer’s Society have partnered with twice before, Alzheimer’s Society partnered with us to help support them and their third-party development agency to ensure that Dementia Connect was accessible to a wide range of people upon launch.
We used a phased approach to assess the accessibility of the service, outlined below.
- Upon completion of the visual designs of the Dementia Connect online service, our consultants conducted an accessibility review of the visual design against the relevant AA level checkpoints of the WCAG v2.1. We provided actionable recommendations for all instances of failure to help guide the design of the service.
- Once the recommendations had been implemented into the design and an HTML prototype had been built, we conducted a round of inclusive usability testing with users with cognitive impairments (including autism, brain injury and dementia). Our unique skills in facilitating research sessions with people who have a range of diverse cognitive impairments and difficulties ensured we collected rich feedback from our participants.
- When a fully coded version of Dementia Connect was produced, we conducted a full, manual accessibility audit against relevant AA level checkpoints of the WCAG v2.1 on both desktop and mobile using a range of assistive technologies. We prefer conducting audits manually using assistive technologies as it leads to more robust findings and allows us to better understand how the test pages would be experienced by assistive technology users. For example, an automated tool will simply check for the presence of alternative text, whereas our manual checks reveal whether alternative text is meaningful.
- We conducted a second round of inclusive usability testing with visually impaired users and people who were worried that they might have dementia, then produced an issue log detailing our findings and recommendations. We included visually impaired users at this stage in our research because screen readers rely on the code to communicate what is shown on the page to users, it is therefore important that this user group is only included once there is a fully coded prototype available.
- Throughout the process we had interim meetings with both Alzheimer’s Society and the third-party development agency to ensure that the findings we uncovered and recommendations we provided were understood by all parties and could be implemented into the next round of development.
By incorporating accessibility into the development process of the service, Alzheimer’s Society was able to launch a service accessible to a wide range of users.
Accessibility audits are effective in identifying a range of key accessibility issues in a product. However, it is impossible to really understand how a digital product will be used and experienced by users with disabilities until it is tested. By combining accessibility audits and testing we were able to identify a wider range of accessibility issues, to which we could provide actionable recommendations throughout the development process.
Our multi-phased approach meant we reviewed the accessibility of the service at multiple points during the development process. Continually assessing the accessibility allowed Alzheimer’s Society to make changes as they went through development, ultimately saving both time and money.
“As a solo UX practitioner I rely on System Concept’s consultants to extend aspects of our inclusive user experience research and design process. This is now my third collaboration with System Concepts, and I’ve been impressed with processes and timely outputs generated for our dementia services.”
Rik Williams, UX Architect, Alzheimer’s Society
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