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.

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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

Making a will can be daunting. We’re trying to change that.

How changing where we give content has made our digital service easier for users.

I’m Joanne, a content designer working on the wills digital service. We’re building a new way for people to tell us what they want in their will.

Content design is finding out why people come to a web page – what they came to find out, order, apply for  –  and giving them this information:

  • in a way they understand
  • through the most appropriate channel
  • at the time they need it

How and when we give users information is critical for our service.

Why we need to make wills easy to understand

A lot of people find wills intimidating because of the complex terminology used. When you make a will you’re asked to make decisions about your:

  • ‘estate’ (the things you own when you die)
  • ‘executors’ (the people who manage your will when you’ve died)
  • ‘beneficiaries’ (the people or charities you want to leave things to)

We’re asking people to learn new concepts and unfamiliar terminology. We then ask them to make important decisions based on what they understand of these concepts. We need to make this easy, so people can be certain they’re making the right decision.

How we started trying to make it easy

We started by breaking up definitions of complex concepts using short, simple sentences and paragraphs written in a clear way. We presented this content over a few web pages before showing a screen asking the user to fill in the related question.

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

We know users tend to read very little on the web – studies show only 16% of people read web pages word-for-word . We thought that by forcing users through these pages of information, it’s more likely that they’d take the time to read them, and therefore more likely that they’d be able to make an informed decision.

Initially it seemed to work. People commented on how straight-forward it seemed – it felt easy, not complex.

But, people were impatient

The further people got through the form, the less they were reading. They were scanning the pages, clicking through them quickly, and missing a lot of the information.

When they were asked a question, they skipped back and forth between screens to remind themselves of the concepts they needed to understand to answer. One person took pictures of the pages before moving on.

People were finding it time-consuming and frustrating.

And, we knew it was likely that this frustration would increase if users:

  • were in a busy environment
  • had short-term memory problems
  • had English as a second language

We realised we couldn’t truly rely on users reading, understanding and remembering the earlier information, even if we knew they would have passed through it.

We needed to rethink where and when we gave users information.

Make it easier, make it successful

By asking users to read information on one page and remember it later, we were increasing the mental and physical effort we were asking them to go through (called the ‘interaction cost’).

Having to go back to be reminded of information – finding the back button, clicking it, waiting for pages to load – also increases the interaction cost.

Research shows that usage goes down as the interaction cost goes up. So, to give our service a better chance of success, we needed to lower the effort involved to use it.

Give information at the point it’s needed

So we moved the information to the same page as the question – to the point the user needs to refer to it to make a decision.

In places, this made the pages long.

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

So, we:

  • kept the sentence and paragraphs clear and succinct
  • broke up lists into bullet points
  • interspersed the content with logical subheadings

This makes the text easier to scan – users can jump to the section they need without having to travel to a separate section or memorise information.

We’ve reduced the effort required to use our service and reduced frustration.

We’re giving users what they need, when they need it.

Joanne Schofield