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