Implementing BS 8878 step 2: Accessible to whom? Audiences, trade-offs and Inclusive design
This week I want to linger for a while on step 2 of BS 8878: defining the target audiences for your website.
Why do this? Well, as I said in my first blog, your audience are the people who will make your site successful or not. They are your most important stakeholders, and your only way of managing them is to try to understand their needs and desires and find some way of meeting them through your site.
That’s a tall order, if you’re trying to do everything for everyone.
Trying to be all things to all people can cause you to fail to do anything well for anyone. And, as most coaches will tell you, especially for SMEs, it’s best to try and find your niche and devote yourself to serving the people in it.
It’s likely that your website won’t have universal appeal, but will appeal to a certain set of people who are interested in what your site is all about – its purpose (that was step 1).
So it’s useful to define some primary and secondary target audiences for your site, based on the people you believe will be interested in it, and with an idea of what they’ll come to your website to find.
For example, the primary audience for a restaurant website would be people who want to decide whether to eat at your restaurant or one of your competitors. They are the people you need to give the right messages (information and feel) to, so they’ll do the ‘call to action’ you want, which is to book a table.
Secondary audiences might include people who are interested in a more general way about the restaurants in an area that they are thinking of moving to. These secondary audiences may bring you custom in the future, but appealing to your primary audience could affect your bottom line right now.
So what’s all this got to do with inclusion and accessibility?
Well, inclusion is all about another dimension to those audiences – whether some groups of people in your target audiences have particular needs, perspectives and capabilities which should impact how you create your website.
While it makes sense to focus your site on people with particular interests, it also makes sense to try and appeal to as many people with those interests as you can, unless there’s a good reason not to. To continue the restaurant example, you’d choose to focus on serving food in your restaurant which is on your menu rather than trying to serve anything people might want to order. But you’d also aim to serve that menu to as many people as you can, even if it meant expanding your premises, rather than blocking some people from becoming paying customers.
Similarly, on your restaurant website, you should look at what might block people becoming customers. For example, you should consider providing information on how people who use wheelchairs will be able to get into your restaurant and use its facilities. If you don’t have this information on your site, they may go elsewhere. And if blind people can find enough information on your site to decide to visit, but can’t manage to book a table due to accessibility limitations in the technology you use for handling online bookings, you’ve lost another group of customers.
These are both examples of ‘Inclusive Design’ – designing products to be usable by as many people as reasonably practicable – which is gaining traction on the online world (see blogs by Sandi Wassmer and Simon Norris) as it already has in the world’s of architecture and physical product design (see the great work of Cambridge’s Engineering Design Centre and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art).
Trade-offs and conflicting needs
But it’s worth not forgetting that ‘reasonableness’. It’s not possible to create a website that includes everybody – Universal Design is an ideal, not something that is actually deliverable.
Rather, the art of inclusion is to balance that ideal situation with what’s practical.
For every website I’ve worked on, there have been times when we have not been able to create something which would appeal to all the audiences we’ve wanted. While interaction design is usually up to the challenge of designing site navigation to meet the slightly different user-goals of your target audiences, it can sometimes be impossible to cater for everyone’s needs as people with different types of disability can have contradictory needs from each other and those with no disabilities. And sometimes the costs of catering for the needs of one disabled group can be prohibitively high.
To give an example from the world of eLearning: many people, including those with learning and literacy difficulties, might best learn about sustainability by playing a game where they can quickly see the environmental impact of the choices they make. However, as games are very visual and highly interactive, this choice might make it impossible for a blind person to play the game to access the learning, without lots of extra work and expense.
(Side note: On occasions where the needs of different disabled groups vary so greatly that it’s not feasible to cater for them all with one product, the category of ‘beyond inclusion’ products exists. These are separate products made for specific groups of disabled people which sometimes then escape back into the mainstream because the innovation required in their design also appeals to people beyond their niche target audience. If you’re interested in the creative possibilities of this, read my article on Beyond Inclusion and Reverse Inclusion).
So you’re likely to have to make trade-offs on whose needs you are going to concentrate on catering for, and who maybe you are not, bearing in mind the time and resource you have available.
If you accept that you are going to have to make these trade-offs over the course of the creation of your website, the important thing to concentrate on is how to do this in a way that is reasonable. And reasonable, as I hope you’re beginning to agree with by now, should depend on cold, hard facts as the basis on which to make decisions.
That’s why, while we believe that there are very few good reasons why you could reasonably say that your website ‘isn’t for disabled people’, it makes perfect sense to look further into how many people with different types of disability or who are elderly will be likely to use your site. If these numbers are high, it makes sense to do a lot to try and make sure these audiences (like all your others) get hooked on your site’s user experience. If these numbers are low, the benefit you could achieve from spending time and money trying to appeal to these audiences may not give you good return on your investment, unless that investment is low (which thankfully can often be the case).
An example from my Hassell Inclusion site
Let’s take an example from my Hassell Inclusion site, whose main purpose is to serve my primary audience of existing and potential clients.
In general, my clients will be digital policy makers or people who own websites. That’s a niche audience of people who are interested in my services and have the ability to pay for them. So I’m looking at people who are in employment, and are at a high enough level in their organisation to be able to make commissioning decisions on training, research etc. In many businesses this would tend to make my likely clients older, as people gain seniority with age. However, in digital media, a CEO can just as easily be twenty-two as sixty-two. So my primary audience are likely to be across a large age range. Looking at disability, a quick check of government stats reveals the scandalous figure (from 2005’s Able to Work Report) that 50% of disabled people are not in employment. But that still leaves 50% who are. And there is no good reason why blind people, people with dyslexia or hearing impairments, ADHD or on the Autistic Spectrum shouldn’t be doing those jobs. It is, however, unlikely that someone with a learning difficulty would be, so if there are circumstances where I cannot cater for this audience, it won’t be as important.
On top of this, the third purpose of my site – to be an example of best-practice in the breadth and depth of web accessibility – is intended to appeal to a wider secondary audience of people more generally interested in digital inclusion, which is likely to include everyone who is personally affected by inclusion issues because of their age or disability. That gives me more reason for me to work harder to make it work for everyone, whatever their disability, where I can.
So, to summarise step 2, you should carefully consider the target audiences (both primary and secondary) you’ll want to attract and retain on your site, and consider those audiences’ needs, preferences and capabilities.
And you’ll want to base your understanding of these needs, preferences and capabilities on the best research you can afford, rather than make uneducated guesses, which is step 3 of the BS 8878 process.
So my next blog is about just that – your options for doing that research, even for those with no research budget or time.
See you next week…
What you can do now
Write down your target audiences for the site you’re creating (or the one you already have) alongside the definition of your site’s purpose from last week. As the weeks go on, you’ll build up documentation for your site on every step in the BS8878 process. Once you’ve done that for each of the 16 steps (sign up for my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any), you’ll have a site whose creation has been based on sensible, reasonable decisions, and you’ll be able to claim conformance to BS 8878.
Let me know in the comment section below how you fare.
And remember, if you don’t have 16 weeks to learn about BS 8878 week by week, you can get a flavour of all the steps by visiting my BS 8878 summary slides, or get trained in BS 8878 by Hassell Inclusion.