Are your digital services universally designed?

The EU's web directive on universal design of websites and mobile applications (WAD) will soon become a part of Norwegian law. Although work on the directive has been delayed at the time of writing this article, it will in all probability take effect sometime in 2021 and thus have a direct impact on digital solutions in Norway. Is your business prepared for the new requirements?

Universal design is just as important digitally as physically

Today, it is almost inconceivable that a shopping center, a shop, or a public building in Norway is not adapted for the needs of those who do not have the same accessibility as me. Fortunately, various measures, regulations and guidelines that have existed for many years have ensured this. It is now high time that the same regulations are followed also digitally. Fortunately, national and international regulations will contribute to digital solutions being even better adapted in the future.

But what does it really mean to have a universal design?

Universal design in its simplest form is about not excluding anyone from using your services. Digitally, it's about good design, well-worded texts and user-friendly websites. It is about giving everyone the same opportunities, regardless of their abilities or circumstances. Your users have different starting points, such as language barriers, visual disturbances or impairments, cognitive challenges and disabilities.

In practice, this means that some of your users do not navigate and obtain information only visually or with the help of a mouse. Blind users, for example, acquire your content with the help of a screen reader. This makes memory their tool for navigating. The user must remember the information the screen reader reads out, and navigate to the correct content. Navigation without visual aids is therefore cognitively demanding.

How patient would you be?

Others navigate using only a keyboard and are at the mercy of your page set-up. They may know where they want to go but have to follow the route that has been laid out. How patient would you be if you had to push through all the articles, social media buttons and contact information before you could put your new Playstation 5 in the shopping cart?

A website that is not universally designed creates unnecessary barriers for some of your users. Ultimately, they will give up before they have found what they are looking for on your page and go to a competitor who has created a truly accessible customer experience in the digital world.

How to get started with universal design

By following the principles set out in WCAG 2.0 for universal design, you ensure that your web pages are accessible to as many people as possible. WCAG 2.0 is a comprehensive document that describes detailed guidelines that should be followed to ensure universal design.

The guidelines are categorized according to four principles:

  1. Possible to perceive
  2. Possible to operate
  3. Comprehensibility
  4. Robustness

The principles are exemplified with 61 testable success criteria you can check your website against. The success criteria are marked with three levels, where simple A shows the minimum requirements and AAA is the highest level. According to Norwegian law, you must meet all A and AA criteria, which means that you must meet 35 of 61 success criteria to call your website a universally designed one.

Even if the work on the directive has not been adopted yet, it will probably take effect sometime in 2021 and thus have a direct impact on digital solutions in Norway.

How to test for universal design

You can test your site using a handy checklist, for example, The A11y Project, to test for all the criteria. Check how your site scores through automatic and manual tests in combination with assistive technology, for example by navigating using only a keyboard or through a screen reader.

It helps to be able to use the inspection mode so that you can see the code. Inspection mode is part of Developer Tools, a tool built into the browser. Here you can see if images, headings, links, tables and forms are correctly marked and named in the code so that you can navigate using the keyboard and a screen reader. You can also install a number of tools to help you detect this, such as Accessibility Insight and Web Developer.

We all need to get better

By ensuring that your services are accessible to all, you show good ethics and morals. Working with universal design is not only an important social mission for your company, it is also good business because it creates better user experience and thus higher conversion. At the same time, universal design provides better structure, language and content, which is good for SEO.

We can all benefit from universal design, because the principles are based on a good user experience and accessibility of content. And if that was not convincing enough: By following the principles of universal design, you also follow the Norwegian law.

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