Questions and answers from the inclusion and accessibility event

Last month, Accessibility Manchester ran a series of inclusion and accessibility talks. The line-up of speakers mainly came from Co-op Digital and you can read a summary here. We pre-recorded the talks, added captions, then showed them across 3 lunch-time sessions. We collected questions from attendees so we could give written (accessible) answers afterwards.  

Here they are.  


1. How can teams test with real users if they can’t afford to pay for participant recruitment? 

If you’re tight on budget or have a business challenge on procurement, a good alternative is to find user research participants with access needs through related charities. (We’d still suggest making a contribution to the charity and reward the participants for their time, of course).  

Charities want to raise awareness and improve the lives of those they serve, and we’ve found that teams tend to get more than they expect in return – often not just feedback on their prototype or live site. We started doing usability research with visually impaired people through the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – they helped us to identify issues on our website whilst also raising awareness of accessibility internally with colleagues. This turned out to be the catalyst for making accessibility a priority at Co-op.   

Related: our blog post What we considered before researching with people who are visually impaired

Paul Braddock, UX designer 

2. And how about affordable testing services for accessibility? 

We recommend manual testing, for example zoom into your web browser to 400% and navigate using your keyboard only. 

For automated testing use these plugins/extensions: 

Chris Gibbons, Lead Front-End engineer 

3. Are there tools that help test whether content design or written communication is accessible?  

Yes, we use the Hemmingway Editor which lets you know if: 

  • your content is difficult to read 
  • you’re using the passive rather than the active voice 
  • there’s a plainer English alternative to a word you’ve used 

There’s also Grammarly which is also free. However, we never rely on these tools. Another content designer or member of your team should always crit the content you create but the best way to test content accessibility is to put your content in front of users – preferably with a range of literacy levels.  

Related: Inclusive, accessible services: the importance of content design – a blog post from Joanne Schofield.   

4. Do you have any tips for managing an accessibility champions community in a large company? 

If you don’t already have a loosely-organised group of experts, get started by bringing together a group of people who are passionate about accessibility – being interested and being aware of the importance of inclusivity is the main thing at the beginning. Start small. 

At Co-op, our core team meet at least once a month. We set objectives that align to our accessibility policy and overarching vision: to make all Co-op products and services accessible for everyone.  

We’ve made some noise to raise awareness – we’ve held events, we’ve written blog posts, we created our accessibility policy – all of this stuff helps colleagues to embed accessibility into the culture of the organisation.  

As time goes on, you’ll notice that the group will naturally evolve and infiltrate the rest of an organisation. We also meet quarterly and often invite external speakers to join us to share their knowledge and experience. 

Paul Braddock, UX designer

5. When it comes to running experiments, how have you been able to balance the accessibility policy needs with creating a prototype to test a hypotheses at speed? 

We test for accessibility at various stages throughout the design process. When we test prototypes at the beginning, we can still test with people with access needs. I tend to test with users who use screen magnification as it is purely reliant on the design and the user interface rather than code. However, even when we have tested with people who use assistive technology such as voice activation, we still learn more about how they navigate as well as specific components they usually have issues with.  

When we conduct usability studies, we ask for 2 in 5 people to have an accessibility need such as learning difficulties or colour blindness. This also helps to ensure we are in line with our accessibility policy (for example, readability), but means we can still work at speed.  

The coding part of accessibility is tested when we have something in production. This allows us to test even further, doing our own automated, manual testing, whilst also using the resources of assisted tech users at Fable.  

Having an accessible design system also helps ensure we are adhering to our accessibility policy; and with Fable having a 2-day turnaround has really helped us work at speed without any delays on the project.  

Hannah Pass, Lead user researcher 

6. How is Co-op championing the accessibility guidelines laid out in the design system so that everyone from colleagues to third parties use them? 

It will take time before they are fully adopted both internally by colleagues and externally with people we work with. That said, we are asking all third parties we work with to follow our accessibility standards. The standards are one part of a set of measures we have created to begin changing the culture. We are also:  

  • running accessibility awareness training  
  • implementing our accessibility policy  
  • making sure all our communities of practice have diversity and inclusion objectives which involve accessibility  
  • creating our ‘Experience Library’ which will have lots of tools and guidance for accessibility 

All of this means shifting the mindset of the organisation to one where accessibility is always part of the conversation. 

7. How are you prioritising which accessibility issue that need fixing? 

We prioritise based on the biggest disruption to a user trying to use a service. We look at quantative and qualitative research to find out if an accessibility issue might stop someone carrying out the task they came to us to complete. Anything that prevented them continuing would be the first priority, and areas that caused confusion would come later – of course, we aim to address them all. 

I use a 3-point scale: 

  1. Prevented the user from continuing. 
  1. Blocked the user, but they found a workaround. 
  1. Caused confusion, but they managed to continue. 

Hannah Pass, Lead user researcher 

8. Amazing work on the web content accessibility guidelines. Have you shared your them and the thinking behind them with the Web Accessibility Initiative? 

We haven’t, no. It’s the first version of these simplified standards that we have done so we’d like to test them to see how they work and improve them. Since the talks last month, we’ve heard from a few people who are also trying to simplify these guidelines so perhaps we will try to approach WAI together. 

9. Can you share the Accessibility Testing framework that was shown during the talks? 

It’s not quite ready to be shared it yet but feel free to get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk more about it. You can also sign up for our design system updates.  

Chris Gibbons, Lead Front-End engineer 

10. Does Google Analytics offer an option to track user data of assistive technologies? If not, is there an appropriate a hack? For example, a large text setting or turning images off. 

GA doesn’t, and – to my knowledge – there’s no tracking software that does this as there could be too many potential issues arise. You could maybe target click events on hidden “skip-to-content” links to give some idea of usage, but sadly this isn’t an exact science. 

Chris Gibbons, Lead Front-End engineer 

11. I would like more UX experience – does Co-op take on interns? 

Keep an eye on our jobs page, follow us on Twitter and we sometimes have more detail on Digital jobs on the blog too. 

Inclusive, accessible services: the importance of content design

We want as many people as possible to be able to use Co-op products and services. Aside from it being good business sense, we know that being inclusive with our design is the right thing to do. 

We’ve posted before that we are committed to further improving inclusivity. However, we haven’t explicitly spoken about the importance of content design in making services accessible. At Co-op, we design content to open up our services so that as many people as possible can: 

  • find them 
  • use them 
  • understand them 
  • trust them 

Often, when we think of accessibility, there’s a tendency to think about colour contrast, screen readers and typefaces. All of them are important, but no more so than clear and well-considered content design. 

Here’s why:

1. We use words people understand

We design content so that as many people as possible can understand what we’re saying. So we write using plain English – everyday, familiar words without unnecessary jargon.

We research words that our users use and reflect these in our products and services – these might not be the words we use at Co-op, or the way we want people to refer to things officially. But doing this makes what we’re saying more understandable, relatable and increases trust between us and our users. 

If we use unfamiliar or complex terms, it can:

  • cause confusion
  • be misleading
  • add additional mental effort
  • leave room for doubt  
  • mean the difference between people using our services and not   

We use objective and neutral language that does not make assumptions about our audience, their circumstances or what they might be going through. We design so that no one is alienated, and in doing so, open up our services so they can be used by more people.

2. We do not use words if something else works better  

Content design means giving information to people in a way that’s most effective. This may not always be words. Some things can be more meaningful and quicker for people to understand in a different format –  for example, a video illustrating how to change a till roll, or a calculator to give tailored financial information.

We do research to understand users’ mental models – how the user believes or understands things to work. This helps us work out the easiest way for them to consume information. We hide complexity where we can to make content and interactions relevant to our users. 

By being deliberate about the format of our content we:

  • make things quicker for people to use
  • increase understanding
  • remove ambiguity and doubt

3. We remove things that are unnecessary  

People often come to services to find information, buy something, or report something. They want to do the thing and then leave quickly. If there’s information on a page that’s not relevant to them it can become overwhelming and confusing. So we edit ruthlessly. We give only the essential information people need to achieve their goal.

Although we write in a familiar and friendly way, we are not overfamiliar. As well as replacing any jargon with plain English (or at least plain English definitions), we remove any figures of speech that could be confusing, misinterpreted or meaningless to people. 

We do not use metaphors like ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, or similes like ‘clear as mud’ – they can be confusing if you’ve not heard them before. As Helen Lawson pointed out poignantly in her recent blog post, ‘The principles that guide our content design and communications in Funeralcare’, some misunderstandings can also be distressing.

We use playful content, in the appropriate context, but not at the expense of usability. If something could be misinterpreted, misunderstood or incomprehensible to people, we get rid of it.

4. We structure content to reflect how people read  

We know that lots of unformatted content can be hard to follow and understand. So we:

  • use short sentences
  • make only one point per sentence
  • use descriptive sub-headings to break up walls of text
  • front-load sentences and bullet points (put the most useful words near the start) 
  • put the most important content at the start, for example, what we’re talking about, who it’s for, how it can benefit them

We structure content to reflect how we know people read online – they scan, looking for words, phrases or links that will help them decide if they’re in the right place to achieve what they came to do. By focusing relentlessly on what the user needs to know, and structuring content in a more manageable way, we reduce the amount of shortcuts users take, and help them get to where they need to be, quickly. People often compare tasks across multiple websites, using minimum effort on each (from NN Group). By reducing the effort needed to navigate our site and services, we make it more likely they’ll choose – and stay with – us.

5. We research when to communicate, and through which channel

We research the full end-to-end service with users to understand where they are when they need to understand information. We then choose the most appropriate time and channel to give that information – this could be a poster in store, a message on Co-op packaging, or a text message reminder for an appointment. 

By surfacing content at the relevant time and place, we create services that reduce friction and effort for people.

Making services accessible makes them easier for everyone

Designing accessible services means:

  • focusing persistently on the experience of our users
  • meeting their needs
  • reducing effort
  • removing barriers

This is content design. 

Everything we do as content designers is to increase understanding, usability and reduce the effort required of the user. By being respectful and thoughtful of our users’ circumstances, we create services that are easier to use for all. We remove barriers and open up Co-op services to more people. 

Joanne Schofield
Lead content designer


Co-op has recently been rated as the number 1 supermarket website for accessibility. There’s still more to do. If you have feedback or suggestions on ways we can be more accessible, please leave a comment.

What happened at our inclusion and accessibility talks

We ran a series of inclusion and accessibility talks this week. They took place over 3 lunch breaks and they fell nicely into these themes:

  1. Being inclusive at Co-op  
  1. Enabling accessibility in teams  
  1. Getting accessibility ‘done‘ 

This post summarises what the speakers covered. We pre-recorded the talks and added captions afterwards which meant that we didn’t give live answers to the questions that were asked after each talk. We didn’t anticipate getting so many so we’ll save them for a separate post to give us a little more time to answer them thoroughly. 

Follow Accessibility Manchester on Twitter for future events. 



Being inclusive at Co-op

Neurodiversity 

Paul Munday, software engineer 

I tell a story about my everyday experience as a neurodivergent software engineer. I talk about an unexpected difficulty I met and how a seemingly small thing caused me big problems. I want to show some of my lived experience as a disabled person, and how my impairments, the history of that lived experience, and its psychological consequences can interact in complex ways. I’m hoping that talking about what went wrong might create better understanding so people making decision on product and service teams can avoid unintended consequences that might make life worse for people like me. 

Watch my talk ‘Neurodiversity’ on YouTube 


In-store innovation and format 

Steve Gell, Format development equipment manager 

Before we develop or buy new equipment, we always consider customer and colleague needs. However, we know there’s always room for improvement. In my talk I talk about how an isolated incident involving one of our Food store colleagues who uses a wheelchair has led to a more inclusive way of working for our team. I also talk about our plans to work with the Represent team to help make sure all store solutions are as open and as accessible as possible for all customers and colleagues. 

Watch our talk ‘In store innovation and format’ on YouTube  


Putting inclusion at the heart of what we do 

Rachael Bickerstaff 

Watch our talk ‘Putting inclusion at the heart of what we do’ on YouTube 


Represent 

Carly Tait 

Watch my talk ‘Represent’ on YouTube 



Enabling accessibility in teams

The power of policy 

Dave Cunningham, DesignOps and accessibility lead 

I have tried and failed to implement accessibility at scale before. I have run training sessions. Done audits. It’s tough, and when you leave an organisation, the desire of the team often does too.  

In my talk I shout about our accessibility policy which makes accessibility standards more tangible and sustainable because colleagues can see what their responsibilities include. 
 
To deliver the things set out in a policy, we must remove barriers for our teams. We also need to fit in to the way they work and enable people at scale. 
 
To help, we brought in Fable to ensure our designers could regularly crit their work with native users of assistive tech such as screen readers, magnification, dragon naturally speaking. Thus, saving valuable time whilst building an army of designers with working knowledge of the diverse ways people use computers. 
 

Watch my talk ‘The power of policy’ on YouTube 


Accessibility panel 

Vicki Riley, Lead user researcher 

There are lots of product teams working on colleague-facing services at Co-op, across Food stores, Funeral homes and the support centre. 

We’ve been testing different ways to identify and recruit colleagues who have a disability into our research. 

Sign up to the Co-op colleague accessibility research panel here – Microsoft Forms 

Take a look at the ways of working website.  

Watch my talk ‘Accessibility panel’ on YouTube 


Design system 

Chris Gibbons, Lead front end engineer 

I’m on the design system team – the team responsible for the foundations of Co-op products and service. We believe accessibility needs to be baked into the products we build, from the beginning, that includes the design system.  that’s why we take accessibility seriously, and want to ensure that our colleagues have the utmost trust in the tools that we provide them. 

We also want our colleagues to know that anyone can contribute into the design system, into their design system. 

Watch my talk ‘Design system’ on YouTube 


Simplifying standards 

Alex Hall, content designer 

There’s a lot of useful information on accessibility out there, but often this information is not very accessible itself. Take something like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. A fantastic resource, but it’s full of complex guidance and specialist language. They, like a lot of accessibility information, can be difficult to understand and use. My talk is about this and how we kept this in mind when we created our digital accessibility standards

We wanted them to be clear, concise and actionable. We have also tried to make them into simple rules that are easy to remember and share. These standards are one of many things we are doing to try and create an accessibility culture at Co-op.  

We know nothing is ever perfect and any feedback on the standards is very welcome, just email accessibility@coop.co.uk 

Watch my talk ‘Simplifying standards’ on YouTube


Fable community 

Samuel Proulx

Watch my talk ‘Fable community’ on YouTube 

 



Getting accessibility done

Accessibility on Co-operate 

The Co-operate team 

We work on Co-operate, which lists things to do and groups that make good things happen in communities around the UK. It’s kind of like an online community centre.   

Just like the diverse communities we all live in, it’s so important Co-operate reflects that diversity, and is inclusive and accessible to everyone. 

We talk about how we’re doing this through: 

  • research 
  • content 
  • design 
  • front end build 

Watch our talk ‘How we work’ on YouTube 


Can a banner be accessible? 

Alexandra Borowska, junior designer 

In many cases, website banners are often inaccessible and ineffective. There are often issues such as small text and poor colour contrast but once they are spotted, they’re easy to fix. I think what’s interesting is the question around whether we need really a banner at all? In my talk I explain how I discovered pain points and opportunities with several banners and how I found that in many scenarios we can give users the information in a different but more accessible, effective way.  

Watch my talk ‘Can a banner be accessible?’ on YouTube 


Getting people to care 

Phoebe Quayle, agile delivery manager

Getting people to prioritise accessibility changes is hard. It’s a behavior change that requires empathy for the users but also support and education for your team to learn how to approach, understand the impacts and learn how to apply design and engineering techniques that will make a huge difference. 
 
In my talk I explain how I’ve got this wrong. I lacked understanding of other teams’ motivation and decision process, and I lacked empathy and understanding for my colleagues and what support and reassurances they needed. 

Then I talk about what I did to make things better. Briefly: the best way to learn, build understanding and alignment as a group is to put the work you care about in front of users. 
 
Watch my talk ‘Getting people to care’ on YouTube 


Researching with Fable 

Hannah Pass, Lead user researcher 

When it comes to accessibility, a lot of people automatically think of screen readers. My talk is about the importance of testing with other types of assistive technology as well as my experience of using Fable, web accessibility testing software that lets us do audits and moderated sessions with people who use assistive technology easily and quickly. 

I talk about how we used Fable to test our careers website with a range of assistive technology, for example, screen magnification, voice activation as well as a screen reader. Each one uncovered different issues showing that relying on screen reader testing alone isn’t good or thorough enough.  

Fable has helped us feel confident about running our own tests within the team and we’re in a better, more accessible place for it. 

Watch my talk ‘Researching with Fable’ on YouTube 


Golden rules of forms  

Paul Braddock, UX designer 

We have a lot of forms at Co-op – in fact, every meaningful interaction involves at least one. Good user experience encourages users to return. We know that 83% of people with access needs limit their shopping to websites they know are barrier-free. Forms can attract a lot of usability and accessibility issues.  

My talk explains why and how I follow these rules when designing a form: 

  1. Give the user context. 
  1. Allow users to change their answer. 
  1. Give examples to make it clearer what a user is expected to do. 
  1. Tell users why we may need certain information. 
  1. Use plain English; be clear, concise, specific, consistent, and human. 

Watch my talk ‘Golden rules of forms’ on YouTube 

 

Our accessibility awareness training is open to all colleagues

We’ve been running inhouse training with small groups to help place accessibility at the centre of all Co-op products and services. We believe that this is everyone’s responsibility and the more Co-op colleagues who are aware of the barriers that some people face daily, the better.

Our training is practical and interactive

We don’t believe people choose to ignore accessibility issues but there may be instances when a team lacks awareness of the subject. That’s the crux of our challenge: improving awareness of:

  • what the term ‘accessibility’ encompasses
  • the situations where accessibility problems crop up frequently and can be avoided 

We designed the training with those things in mind.

The task

We mocked up 4 webpages and set participants the fictional task of figuring out how to return a leaky bag of flour (topical – mid-lockdown everyone seemed to be baking).

Here’s what the ‘return a leaky bag of flour’ task looks like. It’s Co-op branded but includes a banner stating ‘This is not a real Co-op website’!

We give everyone 3 minutes to look through the 4 pages and make notes on anything they think may be challenging or confusing for someone with a disability. We then discuss each observation and discuss why each thing may not be accessible. 

The set-up

We believe that showing rather than just telling helps deepen understanding, so we ask participants to complete the task with their:

  • screens zoomed in to 400% because visual impairments among users are very common so many people often pinch zoom to enlarge a photo or increase text size
  • keyboard only (no mouse or touchpad) because this is the default way of interacting with an online service for people with Parkinsons, motor control issues or severe arthritis. Those users (plus people with visual impairments) often struggle to use a mouse. 

The training takes less than an hour. 

Safeguarding inclusive services 

Around 70 colleagues have now taken part in a session and the hope is that they’ll be better equipped to spot things that could be problematic in their area of work and raise it with their team who can work together to fix it. 

The training has highlighted the importance of talking about accessibility as a whole team. We found that content designers picked up on jargon and engineers picked up on missing form labels as we would expect, but having a better awareness of common issues that crop up in other disciplines is another way to safeguard inclusive services. 

So far, so good

Participants have thought it’s been an hour well-spent. Here’s a screenshot of some of the feedback we’ve had. 

The feedback from participants on a Miro board.

Comments include: 

“I can confirm, the session is one of the best training courses of been on at the co-op”

“I liked that there were people from different disciplines. Tons of items called out from the design members of the group that i wouldn’t have spotted and they articulated them really well.”

“Motivating – made me want to test a bunch of other sites.”

How we got here

The idea for how to create useful training came from Ultralearning by Scott H Young, a book which features contestant Roger Craig’s approach to ‘learning everything’ on general knowledge game show Jeopardy. I talk more about this in my post ‘Jeopardy to accessibility’ but essentially, Craig grouped previous questions and swotted up on gaps in his knowledge. And, like the possible questions Craig might have come up against, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are very broad and can seem daunting. So we grouped them, figured out the most common problems in Co-op products and services and identified which guidelines we’re failing on most.

Then we took inspiration from Beverley Newing and James Buller’s superb work at the Ministry of Justice which you can read about in Bev’s post Training people to do accessibility reviews. Co-op Digital’s Ciaran Green and Matt Tyas designed and built the training pages, and Rachel Machin and Joanne Schofield wrote the content. 

Take part in the training

If you’d like to sign up for a training session, email me at dave.cunningham@coop.co.uk 

No technical knowledge required, you just need to care about building inclusive products and services. 

Dave Cunningham

Design Ops Manager

Introducing our accessibility policy for Co-op products and services 

We’ve been working hard to improve accessibility across Co-op products and services and as our Head of Digital Products, Adam, has said, “having accessible services shouldn’t be a question for Co-op, it’s what we should and must do.”

Last month we published our accessibility policy.

Publishing the policy is a public statement of intent – it shows our commitment to further improving our level of inclusivity.

Why we need an accessibility policy

We have people with good accessibility knowledge within Co-op Digital and ideally, each product or service team will have at least one of those people. However, teams frequently change shape which means that sometimes accessibility isn’t as prominent in conversations as it should be.

We needed to change that.

The policy makes accessibility standards more tangible because colleagues can see what their responsibilities include.

Saying it out loud gives it more weight

Nobody intentionally ignores accessibility problems but they do sometimes lack awareness. Both the policy and this post aim to raise awareness of our commitment and invite colleagues, customers and members to hold everyone working in Co-op product and service development accountable to the standards we’ve set ourselves.

How we’ll implement the policy

To do this we need accountability at all stages of product and service development. We’ve identified 8 stages and have worked alongside experts from each discipline to create the policy. Now those 8 people are responsible for implementing it and supporting their communities and teams to uphold the standards.

8 stages of development and the representatives:

  1. Procurement – Jack Warburton
  2. Research – Eva Petrova
  3. Design – Nathan Langley
  4. Front-end – Matt Tyas
  5. Content – Hannah Horton
  6. Quality assurance – Gemma Cameron
  7. Automated testing of live products and services – Andy Longshaw
  8. Annual accessibility audits – Dave Cunningham

Adam Warburton has overall accountability.

The process behind the policy

We know many organisations have set themselves standards. For teams that haven’t but would like to, here are the things we considered that might be helpful.

  1. We looked at how teams work currently by mapping out projects so we could fit the policy around their processes. We felt teams would be more likely to support a policy that echoed the way they already work because adopting it would be easier.
  2. Improving or monitoring accessibility across a product or service can be a massive task. To make things more manageable, we looked at how we could break things down. We identified the 8 ‘stages’ of accessibility we’ve mentioned earlier on in the post.
  3. We worked alongside subject matter experts (SMEs) from each of the stages we identified to create the part of the policy they would eventually lead on and be accountable for.
  4. Drafts of the policy went backwards and forwards between me, the SMEs and the senior management team. It was essential to share, take in feedback and collaborate wherever we could because adoption of the policy depends on these people supporting and agreeing with it.

Where do we go from here?

It’s nice to have a policy on a page on the internet but it must never become a virtuous-but-otherwise-empty promise. We know that if we don’t read it, keep it in mind and revisit it, it is just a vanity project.

We’d like you to read it and keep it in mind too. And if you spot something you don’t feel is accessible, email me dave.cunningham@coop.co.uk

We can’t promise we’ll be able to improve it straight away but we will add it to the backlog.

Thanks in advance for helping us make things better.

Dave Cunningham
DesignOps Manager

How we’re making accessibility more relatable

Co-op Digital has been looking at our understanding and awareness of accessibility.

What does accessibility mean to us? Are we good at it? Are we doing enough to embed it into our working practices throughout a project? Do we even know what accessibility means in ‘human’ terms?

We identified 3 problems we need to tackle:

  1. Awareness – how can we help more people understand what accessibility is about?
  2. Process – how can we put accessibility at the centre of every decision in a project?
  3. Communication – how can we make sure accessibility is being talked about throughout Co-op, not just in Co-op Digital?

This blog post focuses on our first step: raising awareness.

But first, here’s why we should all be taking accessibility seriously.

Why accessibility should never be an afterthought

1. It’s the right thing to do

We’re a co-operative, a different kind of organisation. An ethical business that puts members at the centre of everything we do. We should strive to be the most accessible organisation we can be. We need to live by our co-op values of equality, equity and self-help and make sure our products, services and websites are open to all.

Digital accessibility is a benefit to everybody, not just those with impairments.

2. It makes good business sense

The business benefits are clear, however the Co-op Digital team recognise we need to do more. Accessibility is now a known risk, and  our senior leadership team will monitor it over the next 12 months to make sure accessibility sticks.

There’s also the real possibility of legal action. More businesses are carrying out ‘accessibility audits’ because of 2019’s new regulations for public sector websites and a rise in accessibility litigation. Think Domino’s Pizza, which lost its legal case last year following a complaint by someone who was blind.

3. It’s more important than ever

The digital world was woven into our daily lives before, but during this crisis it’s become essential. It’s everything. As thousands of ‘physical’ businesses are getting to grips with moving their services online to reach people, accessibility is taking centre-stage in a way we’ve never seen before.

But we know it’s not about legal compliance. Or lawsuits. It’s about people. It’s about making sure our services are inclusive and for everyone.

Raising awareness

We tried to raise awareness in 3 ways.

1. We started with a survey

We asked Co-op Digital colleagues to fill in a survey so we could find out about their understanding of accessibility and how good they thought we were at ‘doing accessibility’ at Co-op Digital.

The results didn’t come as a surprise. They showed:

  1. Less than 50% of people were confident about delivering an accessible product.
  2. We were sometimes failing to:
  • Describe images.
  • Describe links and buttons.
  • Make sure there is good colour contrast on text.
  • Create focus states that are clearly visible.
  • Use HTML not PDFs or Word.

2. We set up workshops

We realised there was learning to do for all of us. Over 50 colleagues attended the ‘Jeopardy to practical accessibility’ workshops which aimed to:

  • give them the confidence, tools and skills to apply accessibility at any scale
  • demystify the complex language surrounding accessibility and make it relatable to your everyday life

The feedback was humbling:

A good eye-opening session about what accessibility means on the web. Some of the factors mentioned were surprisingly relevant to me, given I wouldn’t identify myself as needing accessible formats. Trying to read in motion or after a long tiring day – accessibility is surprisingly relevant to everyone and it is about time we engrain it in our DNA.

Sol Byambadorj, agile delivery manager

I must say that was a stonking accessibility session. I think the whole Funeralcare digital team along with digital marketing would benefit from seeing it.

Gail Mellows, lead designer

I was able to see accessibility needs from the perspective of users I had not previously been aware of, by giving situational examples as well as highlighting specific disability needs. I’ve come away and applied the tools that help to consider accessibility needs, almost immediately to my role.

Samantha Sheristondesigner

3. We created rhymes to help with relatability 

One of the problems the Digital team faces when it comes to raising awareness of accessibility is that it is often described in terms that are quite unrelatable. For example, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) describes web accessibility as:

“…websites, tools, and techniques [which] are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can:

  • perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web
  • contribute to the web”

When we’ve used this definition to explain accessibility, it has been understood, but it’s not something that everyone – especially those whose expertise is not in digital – can relate to. And without being able to relate to it, it’s easy to forget it or disregard it.

We needed a human, more emotional approach to accessibility. Something that put people first. Something visual showing that context and circumstance can change everything.

We wanted to reframe conversations and start thinking about situations most people have experienced. Like their commute to work, a stressful deadline, or sending a text message while their dog pulls the lead.

So we took the 25 accessibility issues we’d run through in the workshops and grouped them into rhymes. We set up a Twitter account A11yRhymes which got brilliant contributions and feedback.

We turned some of the rhymes into posters too.

yellow poster on the left hand side that says: on a sunny day on a wobbly train using my phone is a pain. make it work for everyone. pink poster on the right hand side says: in a new supermarket looking for some strong with these signs i'll be lucky to find a thing. make it work for everyone.

Making accessibility stick

We know from experience that if there’s no accountability in a larger organisation, things are unlikely to get done. So we’re working on an accessibility policy which outlines the standards we’ll adhere to in Co-op Digital, as well as the wider Co-op.

We’ll let you know how that goes.

Dave Cunningham
DesignOps manager

What we considered before researching with people who are visually impaired

Co-op Insurance talked about usability testing with people who are visually impaired last week on the Digital blog.   

Improving and influencing better accessibility where we can is important. This post describes how we prepared for the sessions. We hope it encourages more product teams to test with people with a range of access needs.  

1. Charities can help you recruit

We’d found it challenging and time-consuming to find participants who are visually impaired through recruitment agencies so UX designer Paul Braddock made direct contact with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Although it took a while to get approval for our post which asked for participants on the RNIB’s social media page, the number of respondents was worth it. Charities and specialist organisations that have a vested interest in – and access to – a group of people you’re trying to find seem to be very willing to collaborate.  

 2. Ask participants to bring their own device 

Observing someone using your product or service on their own device gives a more accurate indication of how they would interact with it outside a research session.  

When we asked our participants to bring their own tech, we learnt a lot about the additional software they used too. For example, one participant brought their laptop and showed us Dolphin Supernova – a magnifier and screen reader they use to zoom in on a page, read it aloud, and replace colours that are difficult for them to differentiate between. They told us they “can’t function without it”. But, if we hadn’t asked them to bring their own device, we would most likely have asked them to use one of our Macs which Dolphin Supernova isn’t compatible with. In that situation, we’d have missed out on seeing our service in a realistic context.  

3. Send digital consent forms

We sent out digital consent forms through Consent Kit before the sessions so that participants could take their time reading them with their assisted technology and understanding what they were signing up for. We knew that paper forms would likely be more time-consuming and less preferable. We also couldn’t anticipate what problems there may be with talking through and then signing digitally in the sessions so it felt important to sort out consent beforehand. 

 4. Talk about travel arrangements  

If you ask visually impaired participants to get to a venue, find out how they plan to get there and whether they’d like you to meet them off public transport. Paul met one of our participants at Manchester Victoria station. She’d never been to Manchester on her own before and told us she found big cities a bit overwhelming. They navigated the short walk to Federation House together and the chat on the way worked as an extra warm up to the session.
 

5. Allow for extra time

Factor in extra time for practicalities like travellingaccessing the building and keep in mind that participants might not instantly feel comfortable in an unfamiliar venue so your introduction may take a little longer while you help them to relax. 

A participantpersonal device may take longer to load or update than you’d expect tooOne of the participants we met had specialist screen reader equipment that took a little while to set up on their mobile phone. Around half way through the session, they felt that because they were using the zoom so much, it would be easier for them to switch to a desktop device – they said this is what they would have done at home. Changing over and setting up again also took a little extra time. Seeing this sort of thing is really insightful though, so scheduling extra time means you won’t be tempted to feel like it’s an inconvenience. 

 

6. Go off script – you might learn more

Sometimes the thing you’re testing just won’t meet a participant’s accessibility needs and as demoralising as that is, it’s better to see those problems early. So, as with any usability testing, be prepared to change direction if a participant is struggling with a task because you’re still likely to learn a lot. 

We often found that participants used the service in ways we hadn’t anticipated so if an accessibility issue came up it made sense to discuss straight away, learn from it, and then move back to the script. For example, one of the participants we spoke to zoomed into pages by default. A lot of what we discussed in the session wasn’t in our discussion guide, but we were still getting useful insights. 

Testing with people with other types of access issues

So far, we’ve only run sessions with people who are visually impaired. Of course, there are many more types of vulnerable user and testing with a range of needs is important. This is a good start though.  

If you’ve tested your product or service with people who are visually or hearing impaired, or have a motor or cognitive disability, we’d like to find out what considerations you had before running your sessions. Share it in a comment below or tweet @CoopDigital. We’ll keep it in mind.  

Catherine Malpass 
Lead user researcher 

Co-op Insurance: Usability testing with people who are visually impaired

This is a guest post about Co-op Insurance and their website, co-opinsurance.co.uk. The author is Paul Braddock, a user experience designer who works on it.

In the summer, we blogged about how and why we asked AbilityNet to carry out an accessibility audit on the Co-op Insurance website. The post explained the content, design and technical improvements we made off the back of it. To continue our work around better accessibility, the Insurance design team recently did usability testing with visually impaired users. 

In this post we share what we learnt from the testing and how we’re making improvements. 

What we tested

The Insurance team is responsible for co-opinsurance.co.uk. This includes managing the product information and financial promotions for each type of insurance. Buying journeys begin on our site but once a user chooses ‘Get a quote’, their online journey passes over to a partner’s site.

We can’t necessarily fix the accessibility issues we identify on a partner sites, but we can influence them. We’re actually in the process of creating a set of accessibility guidelines that cover our expectations of our partners.

Catherine Malpass from the Co-op Digital team and Louisa Robinson from Insurance ran the usability sessions. We focussed the testing on the travel section of the website including the buying journey. We wanted to look at how easily visually impaired users could:

  • navigate the journey
  • understand information – particularly in tables
  • interact with a pop up

We kept what we’d learnt from the audit in mind when we were considering what to test. 

Positive things that came out of the testing

During the testing, we heard positive feedback about:

  • the in-page navigation and clear labelling which helped users read and identify content quickly. One participant said it’s “fairly easy to find your way around and there’s a decent menu I can use to navigate to other insurance products.”
  • the colours on the homepage because – along with icons – they help users differentiate between the 2 products. “I like that the colours for car and home insurance are different,” said one participant. “I like having the icons next to the product names because they make it obvious and easier to navigate.”
  • the consistency of the page layout. A participant said that “the pages are similar all the way through so you can memorise where things like the next and back button are.”

Areas that need more work 

However, the testing also showed us that some features weren’t compatible with screen readers. We noted them along with recommendations for how to improve them. 

Things we’ve iterated on already include:

  1. How a screen reader reads out the prices in tables. We’ve changed the aria labels so that monetary values are read out how we’d naturally say them, for example, “thirty-three pounds eighty-four” instead of “pound symbol three three full stop eight four”. We don’t feel we should be asking people with visual impairments to work harder to use our service and we think that making this change will reduce some of the cognitive load. 
  2. How well we use alternative text (alt text). Testing threw up instances where images were tagged with the type of product or policy they were there to support. We’ve changed them so they fulfil their role of describing the content of the image. This makes the service more inclusive. 
  3. Making images clickable. The screen grab of our travel product page below shows 3 insurance products (multi-trip annual, single trip and backpacker). Each has an image, the name of the product with a link that takes them to a more detailed product page, and a line of copy to help the user decide if it’s suitable for their needs. Testing showed us that when the user zooms in on the page (common for someone who is visually impaired), or if they’re using a screen reader, the link is difficult to navigate to and then difficult to access. There was an expectation that images should be clickable, so we’ve now made each image clickable which makes the information quicker to find. 

The image shows a screen grab of our homepage below shows 3 insurance products (multi-trip annual, single trip and backpacker). Each has an image, the name of the product with a link that takes them to a more detailed product page, and a line of copy to help the user decide if it’s suitable for their needs.

Things in the backlog we hope to complete before Christmas include:

  1. How a screen reader reads icons in tables. At the moment it reads “tick” or “cross” but we’ve added aria labels so tick symbols will read as “included”, and crosses as “not included” on our next release.
  2. Test alternatives to the pop up. We saw the screen reader struggle and the participants become confused with a pop up on the single trip online journey, shown in the screen grab below. We’ll be looking at how we can give users the same information in a more accessible way. For example, we may embed the content at different points in the journey instead. 

Screen grab show a pop up prompting the user to upgrade to an annual multi-trip policy. the pop up hides much of the content on the webpage.

Things we’re encouraging our third-party partners to look into include:

  1. The live chat feature.  This feature wasn’t compatible with screen readers so thinking about how to improve it or even considering alternative ways to communicate with users instantly is one of our recommendations. At the moment, the feature also covers up content on the page so we recommend looking into how to help the user feel more in control – this might mean giving an option to remove / minimise /block the live chat. 
  2. How we present information. In the testing we saw users become a bit overwhelmed when comparing information. We recommend a review of how we display content when comparing price and cover in insurance tiers.
  3. The postcode finder. Right now, when a user starts to type in a postcode, the screen reader repeats “there are zero results for this postcode” until the field is complete. This makes it difficult for users to hear – and check – which letter or number they’ve just typed. We recommend looking into how this can be improved.

Carrying on testing, iterating, improving and influencing

Accessibility should be a consideration right from the start when we design products and services. At Co-op Insurance there’s a lot linked to our site that we cannot control but we can influence. We’ll continue to test with people with access needs and we’ll keep trying to improve the experience for everyone so it’s as inclusive as possible. 

We’ll also share our research findings, audit feedback and blog posts with our external insurance partners to help raise awareness of the importance of accessibility.

Paul Braddock
UX Designer from Co-op Insurance

An accessibility audit for the Co-op Insurance website

This is a guest post about co-opinsurance.co.uk – a product developed by a team within Co-op Insurance. The author is Paul Braddock, an interaction designer who works on it.

There are a lot of reasons for checking and improving how accessible co-opinsurance.co.uk is. In the crudest terms, it makes good business sense: the more people who don’t find it frustrating to use, the more potential customers we have. 

But the purpose of accessible design is far more than making a sale. 

AbilityNet estimate there are 19.1 million people in the UK who may have physical, cognitive, visual or hearing impairments that could affect how they interact with the world online. Equality is one of Co-op’s values and it states all members should have the opportunity to be involved. Being inclusive is part of what we do at Co-op and it’s what we strive for in our design.

With this in mind we commissioned a technical accessibility audit of the site. This post is about the recommendations made, how we’re tackling them and the effect we hope setting a standard will have on our partners.

Defining the scope

Our data analyst Nick Jones looked at the site’s traffic and identified the most common user journeys we see on co-opinsurance.co.uk He also pulled out our most frequently used page templates so that if one of those wasn’t accessible, fixing it would mean we could fix a lot relatively quickly.  

We worked on 10 sample website pages with AbilityNet who would be checking to see if the pages comply with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). To get the most value from the audit testing was carried out using JAWS for desktop and Talkback for Android, across all major browsers including Chrome, IE11 and Firefox.

Issues identified

Across the 10 pages, AbilityNet found 18 issues which would affect people who use assistive technology to navigate our website. They estimate 3.8 million people in the UK use assistive technology such as screen readers. They also identified issues that would impact 2.3 million people in the UK who may have difficulty seeing the screen. 

Of the 18 issues, they deemed 3 to be ‘high priority’ because aria labels were not in place so screen readers would not read out:

  1. Icons in tables.
  2. Dropdown options in our live chat feature.
  3. Our sticky ‘Live chat’ button.  

Here’s an example of a table we use on the site. 

insurance-travel-tableThe ticks and crosses are the icons that weren’t announced to users. For example, the ticks and crosses in the table shows that platinum multi-trip insurance includes cruise cover but bronze, silver and gold don’t. However, a screen reader would have announced, “platinum blank column 5”. Not only are the icons not compatible with screen readers, we hadn’t made the information available elsewhere on the page. 

Here’s a screenshot of issue 2: live chat dropdown options.

insurance-yd-chat-dropdown

The live chat window has a drop down so that users can indicate what they’d like help with. But screen readers don’t announce it, so users are at risk of not knowing what the options are. This would have a major impact on our users who are dependent on using live chat as a preferred method of contact.

And below is how the sticky live chat button looks (issue 3).

insurance-car-chat

With our live chat feature, neither the label or the fact it is a button is announced by a screen reader. Which means that screen reader users may not know that the button and method of contact exists.

How we’re fixing them

AbilityNet also gave recommendations on how to fix the issues they identified. Our content, design and developer teams are now in the process of fixing the 18 issues that were identified and taking what we learnt from the audit and applying the fixes across the whole of co-opinsurance.co.uk 

The content team were able to fix their issues straight away, as only minor tweaks to aria labels where required for certain products. James Martin has development fixes in progress and these changes will form part of a future code release. We’ve also been speaking with the external team who built our live chat and to make sure the problems that were identified are prioritised for their future releases.

Hoping to influence good behaviour

The audit was just for co-opinsurance.co.uk – that’s what we own and manage. However, our ‘quote and buy’ journeys are owned and managed by our underwriting partners so once a user clicks ‘get a quote’, their online journey passes over to a partner’s site.

Just like the issues that were identified with our live chat, we can’t necessarily fix them but we can influence them. We are therefore in the process of creating a ‘standard’, similar to a set of guidelines, that would cover our expectations and best practices when it comes to accessibility for our partners. This could eventually be fed into our Design system if we believe it brings value to other areas of the Co-op.

We recognise that inclusive design is a process so we are taking additional steps in our ways of working to make sure that we don’t exclude people when they come to our website:

  • by including accessibility checks in our quality assurance process when publishing new content or doing development improvements
  • using open source tools such as Accessibility Insights and Lighthouse to check co-opinsurance.co.uk on a quarterly basis
  • recruiting Co-op members with accessibility issues for our user research – if you would like to get involved email: gidigital@co-opinsurance.co.uk

Paul Braddock
Designer from Co-op Insurance

Improving accessibility in Co-op wills

Everyone needs a will and everyone deserves to fully understand such an important document. That’s why making a digital service accessible to everyone matters.

download

A good service is one that everyone can use regardless of access need or the type of technology they use. Making things accessible isn’t just about catering for those who are blind, Deaf or hard of hearing. Service teams should consider things like cognitive impairments and motor impairments too. Thinking about colour contrast and writing in plain English also make services more accessible – it’s all about breaking down barriers.

Right from the beginning of the wills alpha, this is what we’ve been doing with wills.coop.co.uk

Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility

I think accessibility issues can be overlooked by digital service teams. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s more that sometimes they’re not aware of different accessibility needs. When I started working on this project I made it my business to flag these issues from the start. Soon afterwards, the rest of the digital wills team began considering access needs automatically.

To help people on the wider team (our subject matter experts from Co-op Legal Services) understand the importance of designing in an accessible way, we invited them to user research sessions so they could see how people with accessibility needs use the service.

We started with clear content

Wills are traditionally written using complex language that many people find hard to understand. Lots of will-related terms are unfriendly, sometimes unfathomable – for example a grandchild is referred to as an ‘issue’.

Terms like this make the service restrictive for everyone, not just for people with certain cognitive conditions, and those with low literacy (16% of adults in England are ‘functionally illiterate’ which means they wouldn’t pass an English GCSE).

So, every time we use a will-specific term, we explain it in plain English. We cut the jargon and replaced it with clear, simple language so people can understand the decisions they were making more easily, and without having to involve a solicitor.

By making things understandable, we’re making them accessible. Our content designer Jo Schofield explains how we designed the wills content so it would lessen the effort needed to read and understand it in her post Making a will can be daunting. We’re trying to change that.

Totally on form

We thought about and tested how we could reduce the cognitive load throughout the user journey. The idea was to break down the content so that users got the information they needed, when they needed it.

We used ‘nesting’ to reduce the amount of information on the page when the user first reaches it. When the user chooses an option, we ask for any other details at that point rather than having all the questions on the page at once.

Screenshot from the current wills service showing an example of the 'nesting' described in the copy.

We’ve tested extensively with screen readers and had a number of people test with their own devices and assistive technology. We’ve found that nesting makes things less overwhelming. Here’s an example of an earlier iteration of the same page that didn’t test as well.

Screenshot of an earlier iteration of the service. Instead of 'nesting', the user sees all the questions at the same time including details about options that aren't relevant to them.

The new form elements will be included in the Co-op Design Manual and used across the Co-op businesses.

Test. Iterate. Test again

The only way to know if we were improving the service for people with accessibility needs was to test it with them.

Testing needn’t be expensive. We tested the service with people at the Co-op by asking them if we could watch them use the service on our iPad. We also put a call out for testers in the internal newsletter and got lots of responses including one from a colleague with a visual impairment.

We also tested with people from a wide range of backgrounds in a user testing lab. We asked them to bring their own personal devices to test the app to help us understand how it can be used with VoiceOver (Apple’s screenreading software) and a high contrast colour scheme on an iPad, as well as quite possibly the oldest Android tablet I’ve ever come across. We have a device library at Co-op but nothing compares to the insight you get when you see your service working on the actual devices people use everyday.

Testing the service with a cross section of people on all sorts of devices (including their own personal setups) made us both aware of accessibility restrictions and helped us solve them.

We also asked accessibility specialist Léonie Watson to test our service. She gave us some excellent feedback and of course some small changes to make – none of us are experts.

#winning (almost)

If we’d had more time we know there’s more we could have done to improve accessibility even further. At the moment, anyone who’d like a Co-op will has to speak to a will writer on the phone. This is a legal requirement to make sure people are alone when they write their will but this interaction is obviously problematic for anyone who is Deaf or hard of hearing.

The Co-op Digital team will soon hand over the service to the Co-op Legal Services team so their wills writers can use it. However, we think that we’ve documented the service well enough so that this issue could be picked up again in the future. We have ideas about how it could be fixed, including by using video to verify identity.

Becky Arrowsmith
Software engineer