Addressing digital and physical accessibility


view of covered walkway bridgeIs your company bridging the gap?

Designing products, services and workplaces for people with accessibility needs can be daunting, and discrimination remains an uncomfortable truth. Senior ergonomics and UX consultant, Lizzy Gallwey explains how System Concepts helps clients address both digital and physical accessibility.

There are over 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability living in the UK.
[Source: disability facts and figures]

The Equality Act 2010 aims to prevent disabled people being put at a substantial disadvantage, by providing a legal framework to effectively tackle disadvantage and discrimination. It is discriminatory to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability. This extends to public services, websites and physical spaces, and it is the organisations behind such services that are responsible for ensuring that they meet their accessibility obligations.

However, the reality is that we are still seeing high levels of discrimination towards those with disabilities in everyday life;

  • Around a fifth of disabled people report having difficulties related to their impairment or disability in accessing transport;
  • Around a third of disabled people experience difficulties related to their impairment in accessing public, commercial, and leisure goods and services; yet
  • Disabled people are significantly less likely to live in households with access to the internet than non-disabled people – so access to usable services is limited.

Physical and digital accessibility: legislation and guidelines

Although the Equality Act is the umbrella legislation that covers both physical and digital accessibility, there are other pieces of legislation and best practise guidelines that apply to each.

comparison table showing digital and physical accessibilityThe WCAG 2.0 guidelines for digital accessibility and the BS 8300 guidelines for physical accessibility are two examples of accessibility legislation that do not cross over or even refer to each other.

Furthermore, responsibility for digital and physical accessibility usually falls within very different teams within organisations. Digital accessibility is typically overseen by UX and product teams, while physical accessibility is often managed by buildings or facilities teams, or even HR.

There is currently little interaction between those that look after the digital and physical side of accessibility, even though they can often be part of the same user journey.

The complete end-to-end user journey

We get it: designing for people with accessibility needs can be daunting. There is a lot to consider, as the range of users’ capabilities and characteristics is vast. And the range of environments and products that are being used is vast too. So if we are to fully meet the needs of all users, we need to consider all aspects of the user journey.

Case study example: Attending a sports event

We considered the case of attending a sports event as a disabled person, which has been investigated in a joint study by the DWP and DCMS (The Inclusive and Accessible Stadia Report (2015), DWP & DCMS).

This infographic illustrates the likely key touch points that users might experience throughout the end-to-end journey of planning and attending a sports event. Mapping the journey in this way enables us to identify areas where possible accessibility issues might occur along the route – and lays the foundations for thinking about possible solutions to these barriers.

user touch points mapping example for sports event

Take a look at some of our previous work for Nationwide, Land Securities  and Amadeus to see how we helped them improve digital and physical accessibility.

A holistic approach

In order to help our clients meet all their legal obligations, we need to bring together the digital and physical aspects of accessibility. This can be achieved through:

  • Making accessibility a board level agenda item to ensure accessibility does not become siloed in different teams;
  • Consulting with venue-goers and disabled groups to find out what works well for them across the full experience of engaging with the services offered – and what could be better;
  • Using the findings to map issues to relevant parts of the journey and look for opportunities to solve problems before they happen.

These recommendations can be applied to any public space with a user journey that can have digital as well as physical aspects. For example, booking and attending a meal at a restaurant, visiting a museum or bank, or attending a music venue.

Our accessibility services

Accessibility reviews can be both formative; helping you to save time and money before a product or space is created, and evaluative; reviewing the design of an existing product or environment to see what could be improved. Our accessibility auditors are experienced in conducting access audits for both physical and digital environments. Our user experience team then carry out journey mapping research with customers to bring the two areas together; helping to create an overall more inclusive environment.

Here at System Concepts we use our understanding of the relationship between people, technology and their environment to help our clients design effective, efficient and engaging systems, products and working environments. This approach is key to effectively addressing both digital and physical accessibility.

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