The missing key to connect with customers

It is particularly important to meet the needs of people who are generally underserved in the digital world. For example, people who are blind or partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing, neurodivergent or those with motor impairments. These people often face obstacles when an experience is not properly designed. Online travel is often convoluted experiences for people, and brands need to make sure their apps and websites don’t add additional complications.

Creating accessible user experiences will also soon become a regulatory requirement. This year, member states of the European Union are adopting the European Accessibility Act into their laws. It is expected that all online products and services will be accessible once the requirements come into effect in 2025.

So where do you start your accessibility journey? We spoke with four brands about how they think and build for accessibility and disability inclusion. Here’s what we learned.

PROCTOR & GAMBLE: ENHANCING ACCESSIBILITY WITH DISABLED EMPLOYEES

Advertising is powerful because it connects with people through storytelling. But what if someone misses key elements of this story? This question has led consumer goods manufacturer Procter & Gamble (P&G) to integrate audio description (a voiceover describing what is happening) in its video ads.

“The introduction of audio description stems from my personal experiences,” says Sam Latif, accessibility manager at P&G, who is blind. “I was in a meeting when a commercial for The Flash aired, but all I could hear was Queen’s song ‘Flash’. What I didn’t realize was that a dog was singing this song, because without an audio description, I couldn’t understand the humor in the ad.

The P&G team worked with the Royal National Institute for the Blind to find out how audio description is done and incorporated it into their advertisements. And they added audio descriptions to his 30-second YouTube spot for Fairy Non Bio Laundry for Sensitive Skin to include blind and visually impaired audiences.

But P&G didn’t stop there. In 2021, they launched the first Super Bowl commercial with audio description. It also conducted its first trial of adaptive audio description in the UK. This means applying audio description to TV commercials that don’t have enough natural gaps in the dialogue to provide a description. And, more recently, he added audio description to his YouTube channel.

“We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made,” says Latif. “Experiences like this have led to change, with audio description opening our advertising to millions more people around the world.”

JUST EAT TAKEAWAY: ENHANCING ACCESSIBILITY WITH DISABLED CUSTOMERS

Just Eat Takeaway conducts research directly with people with disabilities, from customers who are blind or visually impaired to people with non-visible disabilities, such as dyslexia. Its goal: to understand the direct experiences of users when using the delivery application and to create inclusive products.

“Observing people with access needs using our app has been a powerful enabler of change and awareness across the organization,” says Naoil Sbai, Global Research Team Lead at the company. “It helped us realize the impact that simple changes could have. And it made us rethink the way people interact with our app.”

This motivated the research team to identify optimization opportunities with the Android accessibility scanner. The automated tool reported key recommendations, such as increasing the size of touch targets, touch space around a navigation button.

Once this problem was known, it only took them a day to enlarge the touch targets. Something seemingly small – and a quick fix – can make all the difference to customers, especially those with limited dexterity. And, as a bonus, it allows anyone to quickly order their food on the go.

L’ORÉAL: BUILDING ACCESSIBILITY THROUGH DESIGN GUIDELINES AND GOING EVEN FURTHER

L’Oréal thought about accessibility when creating its new website. “The first step towards accessibility is to understand the different types of disabilities and how they affect millions of people,” says François Cunche, director of the beauty company’s digital project.

When she learned how visually impaired and cognitively impaired customers use the website, she set out to raise awareness within the company. It has adopted the industry standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to enhance the website experience. And it has partnered with an agency that specializes in this topic to help implement the guidelines across the company.

With the basic foundations in place, the product team went a step further by adding additional features. For example, they now offer accessibility controls in the website navigation menu, so users can select settings according to their needs.

The first feature is the high contrast mode. This removes background images and allows users to view the site with high white-on-black contrast, making it easier to read and focus on content.

The team also added an option to disable animations to reveal a static header image on the page instead. This can help people with vestibular disorders, for whom movement can cause dizziness, headaches and nausea.

“After several tests and user surveys, all the results are very positive and encourage us to go further,” continues Cunche. “With knowledge comes responsibility, and only then can we create a better digital experience, for everyone.”

BOOKING.COM: ENHANCING ACCESSIBILITY THROUGH INTERNAL PARTNERSHIPS

Booking.com is a large and complex organization, with many teams working on different elements of the digital travel agency app. As different people, codes, and designs power the app, some features don’t always behave as they should.

For example, during testing, the accessibility team found that some navigation tabs didn’t work well with screen readers, software that reads visual information from the screen aloud. In some cases, the screen reader was reading the wrong tab. A person wishing to access the “Car Rental” section might accidentally be directed to the “Taxis” page.

The Accessibility team has partnered with the Design Systems team to update components (the building blocks of an application) so that accessibility features, such as reader support screen, are integrated from the start.

“If we use accessible components by default, we can innovate and be agile, without having to focus on working well all the time, every time,” says Parham Doustdar, Head of Engineering and Head of Accessibility from Booking.com. Doustdar has been blind since birth and is an expert at navigating websites and apps with screen readers. This accessibility problem was therefore very familiar to him.

However, this work did not completely resolve the issue, as some legacy components were not reflecting the changes. The team partnered with another group in their organization to update the technology so accessibility changes could be adopted across the app. Now, as pages are created and updated, anyone working on the app automatically uses accessibility-enabled components.

“It doesn’t matter how accessible your components are if no one is using them,” Doustdar continues. “You should leverage existing initiatives, where possible, and partner with other teams to increase adoption.”

PUTTING ACCESSIBILITY INTO PRACTICE

Here are some final tips to help you improve accessibility.

  • Make accessibility a priority throughout the organization. Get buy-in from your leadership and proactively look for where an experience may be excluding people.
  • Co-design with employees with disabilities and customers with accessibility needs. People with disabilities are your experts. No one knows their experience better than them, so leverage their knowledge.
  • Create accessible and disability-inclusive marketing with Google’s new accessible marketing playbook.

And, most importantly, know that people’s diverse needs continue to evolve, so you’re never done creating more accessible user experiences. The most important thing is to start.

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