One of the latest projects we’ve been working on here at Yoke, You’re Welcome, is an online community for the people of Gloucestershire – and that’s all people of Gloucestershire. One of the core objectives of the site was to develop it in a way that made it accessible for people with disabilities and mental health challenges. The website has now been officially launched however You’re Welcome is a ten year project and so we are continually addressing the accessibility of the site as an ongoing and evolving process with input from its users.
About 15% of the world’s population is living with some form of disability. That’s more than one in six people. Despite this significant figure, the internet, as wonderful as it is, is still relatively inaccessible to a large amount of people living with disability. In fact, more than half of the eight million UK citizens who have never used the internet are disabled, which is in large part due to the accessibility barrier resulting from the way in which many websites are designed.
The world wide web offers such a fantastic opportunity for inclusiveness however we need to harness this potential to the full by designing websites in a way that make them more accessible to those with physical and mental health challenges.
“Not all…disabilities affect access to the Web, but problems with vision, hearing, dexterity and short-term memory can have a significant impact on a person's ability to use online information and services.”
"Online communities can be particularly empowering for those with hearing or visual impairments or those with autism spectrum conditions as they overcome barriers experienced in face to face contact."
Throughout the design process for the You’re Welcome website we held regular user experience workshops with a group of people with ranging physical and mental health impairments from the group DROP (Disabled, Responsible, Organised People). This was invaluable in developing our understanding of the real needs and core features for the site.
Now we are by no means claiming that the website is perfect in terms of accessibility – we are continually modifying and improving the site with feedback from the users but we thought we’d take this opportunity to share an exciting feature we’ve developed in response to suggestions from the user experience workshops with DROP.
The website is designed in a way that encourages users to contribute, share and get involved and as such we integrated the ability to leave comments on other people’s content. During the User Experience workshops it became apparent that people with different impairments might benefit from being able to comment using different input methods, such as speech, video or sketch. This was a great little technical challenge for our Lead Developer, Derek Ahmedzai to get his teeth into! Here he explains how we did it:
"We developed the ability for users to post comments by sketching images (using the Literally Canvas drawing tool), recording a video (using the YouTube Upload Widget) and speaking (using the Speech API that is supported in Chrome and Safari browsers)."
The different input methods for posting comments really makes the feature much more accessible for a wider range of people with different impairments. Some people with physical impairments have difficulty typing and so speech or video can be a useful alternative whereas some users such as those with autism, can often have very visual thought processes and may find it beneficial to use the sketch feature. An example of the Sketch comments:
The speech recognition feature is found throughout the website and users also have the option to share their stories by uploading a video rather than typing. Although there is such a huge amount that you can do to make websites more accessible through the design, we recognise that there are also some very useful changes people can make to their browsers and computer settings to help make it easier to use. This help raise awareness of this, we have shared the fantastic BBC Resource My Web My Way within the accessibility pages of the website, which clearly explains how to adjust computer and browser settings, depending on your needs.
Disabilities, or impairments (as we prefer to call them) are so wide ranging that it can be a daunting task to design ‘accessible’ websites. The user experience workshops we held with the team from DROP have been invaluable to give us a real understanding of the needs for the site.
"It was a challenge to design for people with very specific needs. Without the level of contact and interaction we had during the whole design process, we would never have created the solutions that are visible in the final site. The process has to be user-centred if it is to succeed."
We are just beginning to address some of the accessibility needs for the website and with constant user feedback we hope to make You’re Welcome a space where everyone really can truly feel welcome!