How do I know if my digital agency are baking in accessibility to my products?

Many companies look to specialists to build their digital products. They bring user experience designers, developers and a team to realise your product plans. Issues like usability, security, branding, and functionality are all key. But how can you be sure that your digital agency or technology consultants have put accessibility at the heart of their solution?

This is part of two recent blogs on accessible product management which resulted from conversations between Peter Bricknell, our Product Manager at Hassell Inclusion, and myself.

Are you missing 20-40% of your customer base?

Between 20-40% of your consumer customer base may have some need for adapting their computer to give a good user experience of your digital product. This includes people with disabilities, as well as the elderly, people with temporary physical issues (such as a sports injury), or professionals with dyslexia or on the autism spectrum. We believe their experience of your product should be a ‘Wow’ just like anyone else.

The sad fact is where companies haven’t baked this into their design, these customers receive an inferior service, risk going to a competitor, or the company risks litigation. Sadly, we often get companies who are at risk of litigation asking us to do an accessibility audit of products that could have had accessibility more efficiently baked-in much earlier.

How do I ensure accessibility in my products?

As the buyer of the design and development services you are the one with the responsibility.  So how do you make sure the design agency or consultancy you choose is thinking about accessibility? At Hassell Inclusion we have two mantras about this:

  1. If you don’t ask – you don’t get. It’s important to make sure that your request for proposal and contract include clauses requiring designing, building and testing for accessibility.
  2. If you don’t check you’ve got it – you might not have it. We had one client who was confident that accessibility was being delivered, because it was in the contract with their supplier agency. But when we did a brief audit we found the product had many accessibility issues, resulting in our client needing to have difficult discussions with the agency about why they hadn’t delivered what they promised.

7 Key questions to ask your Digital Agency or Consultants

Whether you are going into a contract or already have a team in place, you might wish ask your supplier these 7 questions:

  1. What is the most challenging part of my product to make accessible? (and how are you going to achieve this?)
  2. Give me an example of where and how members of your team have done this for another client?
  3. How are your team – especially your UX/UI Designers, Developers, Content Editors and Delivery lead – regularly trained and assessed that they understand how to build accessible products?
  4. What accessibility guidelines and processes are you following to make sure the product delivers accessibility (WCAG, ISO 30071 etc.)
  5. What does your team do during production, to make sure that the product will pass an accessibility audit before launcch?
  6. Tell me where accessibility features in your testing plan?
  7. How are you building in mechanisms to help us keep this product accessible after launch?

What can I do about this?

Seasoned product director and consultant Peter Bricknell explains, “Many developers come from a world where their contacts are technology savvy, and they are not spending time with people who have access needs. As such, accessibility is not front of mind. This is something that affects both business-to-business and business-to-consumer products. Everyone should be included; employees and customers so they can do what they need to do, and not have to fight with the product.”

There are different actions depending where you are in the development cycle:

  1. If you are in procurement phase, then you should consider a procurement toolkit of useful criteria and terms and conditions to place on your supplier.
  2. If you are setting up a team, then look at the ISO 30071-1 Standard to ensure they are ready to deliver accessibility. This includes putting sensible policies and procedures in place, and a skills audit of all members of your delivery team, including the product or project manager. It’s important that everyone who is involved in product creation understands their role and influence on accessibility, and the impact this has on your organisation’s reputation.
  3. If you are in the (inclusive) design phase, ensure that your Business Analysts and User Experience (UX) designers are trained in how to embed accessibility into your product, and are using accessibility scenarios in their user stories. The ISO 30071-1 Standard gives guidance on this, and getting it right here reduces the cost of testing, redesign and maintenance later on.
  4. If you are developing and delivering the product, then continuous accessibility QA testing and an accessibility audit or user testing with disabled people can help show the team how well they are doing, and whether there are issues needing attention. These can also reassure your compliance department, and give a prioritised action plan to fill the gaps. This is not just about making a site complaint with an accessibility standard like WCAG 2.1; this is about making the experience work for all.

How can we help you?

If you have any questions about how to select a supplier that takes inclusive design seriously, or want to make sure your developments are on track with accessibility and your team is trained in how to embed it, then do contact us.

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