Accessible application design is more than a must

Accessible application design is more than a must

Now it must be: As part of their compliance, many companies are dealing with the issue of accessibility for the first time. However, this can be much more than pure legal necessity, and the road to get there is less rocky than is often assumed.

The official figures from the Federal Statistical Office state that there are around 10.4 million people with a disability in Germany. Your physical or mental impairment makes it difficult to use websites, applications and operating systems. But older people can also be physically restricted as they get older. The group of seniors (over 65 years) is around 18 million. A relevant number of people who have problems using websites or shopping in online shops.

The legal framework

With the exception of small businesses (fewer than 10 employees and a maximum annual turnover of 2 million euros), companies are legally obliged to make their offers barrier-free by June 28, 2025. This results from the new Accessibility Strengthening Act of July 2021. With it, Germany has fulfilled the obligation arising from EU Directive 2019/882, also known as the European Accessibility Act (EAA), to transfer the directive into national legislation.

While the law primarily sets the general framework, regulations and standards are technically much more specific. EN 301 549 is a European standard for minimum accessibility requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT), which is derived from the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG). In Germany there is also the Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance (BITV 2.0), which refers to EN 301 549.

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become aware of obstacles

What are digital barriers? The first step to improving accessibility is to take a closer look at the hurdles. These include, for example:

  • Buttons: Buttons that are too small can be difficult to see or click for people with visual or motor impairments.

  • Colors: If information is only transported through color, it is not accessible to color-sighted and blind people.

  • Contrasts: Contrasts that are too low and color pairings that are not rich in contrast make it difficult for visually impaired people to use them.

  • Texts: Fonts that are too small are already a problem for people who are not impaired, for example on mobile devices.

  • Readability: Texts should be formulated in a way that is easy to understand. Here, even simple plug-ins for editorial systems can offer an assessment of readability. If people have the texts read to them, they must also be able to follow them mentally.

  • Pictures: Pictures, graphics and illustrations are only useful for visually impaired people if they have corresponding explanations as text alternatives.

  • Videos: People with hearing impairments only benefit from videos if they have subtitles or spoken texts are translated into sign language.

  • Pop-ups and Captchas: As useful as Captchas may seem at first glance, the difficulties associated with using screen readers are just as great. And even people without disabilities often have enough problems overcoming this hurdle. Pop-up windows are also often a problem for assistive technologies.

Avoiding these barriers in the design and development process contributes to the accessibility of future solutions.

Accessibility tools

And what about existing offers? The complexity of modern IT and application architectures makes it almost impossible to develop a solution that removes hurdles at the push of a button. Nevertheless, software manufacturers have recognized the need to retrofit or supplement their products in the best possible way. One example is Microsoft, which offers a range of tools and features to increase inclusion in Microsoft 365. Live subtitles, immersive readers or the barrier check in Office documents are a few examples.

A number of tools are available for assessing accessibility. One of the most popular tools for web and app developers also comes from Microsoft. “Accessibility Insights” already checks 50 different criteria in the quick check. Exams can be taken for Android, the web and Windows. “Accessible Metrics” allows operators of shops and websites to check them regularly. In this way, changes can be quickly identified and corrected. The options of “Lighthouse”, which is developed by Google, are also very extensive. There are also numerous tool collections for special cases, such as checking emails, such as “Accessible Email”. Web crawlers such as the Automated Accessibility Audit Web (A3/W) support the monitoring of entire websites.

Accessibility is worth it

Paying attention to accessibility when developing products, shops and websites is worthwhile for every company. In this way, barrier-free solutions not only expand the potential number of users. They also contribute to a better user experience. Because everyone gets into situations in everyday life in which their interaction is limited (noisy surroundings, bad connections, only one hand free).

Companies that pay attention to accessibility underline their social responsibility. This perception radiates positively. In times when consumers pay more attention to ethical and sustainable aspects when choosing products (keyword digital ethics), this is a factor that should not be underestimated. A positive side effect for marketing: Many measures that contribute to the accessibility of shops or websites have a positive impact on search engine marketing.

With small steps to the goal

In order to achieve the required accessibility, there are large and small measures. Selective improvements are relatively quick and can also be implemented in part with the integrated functions in the content management system and web shop. This includes, for example, the consistent use of alt attributes for images and graphics. Subsequent subtitling of videos can also be achieved quite quickly. The check for readability and the revision in simple language can be solved quickly, albeit with a lot of effort.

A revision of the menu structures, a review of the imagery, the abolition of captchas or the use of fewer but understandable icons will probably only be considered as part of a complete revision. This applies all the more to the development of consistently well thought-out operability via keyboard.

In the case of offers aimed at B2C, it can generally make sense to deal more intensively with the topic of speech recognition. Communication using chat and voice bots not only lowers barriers, but also meets the needs of customers who place particular value on flexibility or who primarily want to inform themselves.

The removal of hurdles and the creation of low-barrier offers, on the other hand, is not only a necessity, but also makes good business sense.

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