Beyond the website: creating accessible experiences

In this guest blog, Jean Downey, Head of Digital and Creative Services at Ofcom, shares some insight into how to create accessible experiences, with the entire customer journey in mind.

Title 'Beyond the website, Inclusive mindsets=better experiences' with a profile photo of author Jean Downey

I’m sitting eating my breakfast, the toast has just popped, and the tea is poured. What’s missing is my favourite peanut butter. I reach for the jar, not much left, almost time to buy a new one. The last bits are impossible to reach, so I struggle with scraping around the top of the rounded bulge of the jar.

“Why on earth choose this shape for a jar?” I think. “So frustrating that you can’t get your knife into the shape to get to the contents.”

So, I changed my peanut butter brand.

I now happily eat from a straight jar, tucking my knife in with ease to get to the last gloopy remnants. I could have complained, but I’m not sure where that would have taken me, and time is precious. Ultimately, I took my custom elsewhere.

As consumers, we all want experiences that work for us. When those experiences are good, we become loyal customers. When they are poor and don’t work, we look for alternatives. But if those alternatives don’t exist, what then? Things that don’t work can lead to complaints or disengagement with a brand. We feel endless amounts of frustration and we can vent this across a range of channels – emails, telephone and through social channels – whose users (masked by anonymity) can be the most vocal of all. This can put untold pressure on staff resource, costing organisations unnecessary time and money to get things sorted out. And we all know that bad press on social channels can seriously harm an organisation's reputation.

I’ve lost count of the times in my career as a digital practitioner that I’ve worked with a team to go back and retro-fit a service to make it inclusive. Systems that have been developed by clever technologists, but which just don’t work at the front end for the user. So how do we avoid this happening?

Let’s begin by building inclusion in from the start, with an inclusive mindset. 

Our lives are full of difference: our characteristics, age, gender, race, sexuality, and capabilities - hearing, sight, reading ability – and more. To truly represent the communities we work with, and those who use our services, ask yourself this question: is this mix reflected in our teams? 

Getting that balance right – a diverse team of people working together towards a common aim – helps to ensure that a range of views are taken into consideration from the start. That team can work through the barriers, consider the pain points and design challenges together from their individual perspectives, share a common set of goals and standards and deliver a more inclusive design solution.

All organisations deliver products or services. Our job is to make the journey to access those services easy regardless of the characteristics, capabilities or what channel our customers choose to communicate through. 

Continue by creating accessible experiences, with the entire customer journey in mind.

Our customers interact at different touch points along their journey – whether through websites, social media, contact centres, email or post. They all support the organisation we represent, so it’s important to consider how these journeys map across channels and remain inclusive.

Here’s a couple of top tips to remember:

  • Signpost from your social channels with a link to more content on your website, to provide more context for your followers.
  • Add a simple alt tag description to any images you use when you're posting on social media. 
  • Be helpful and offer alternative ways to make contact - email addresses, telephone numbers and forms.
  • If you do provide a form add simple instructions and labels to help people understand what’s required.
  • If you have a PDF in the mix it needs to be accessible too, so check it before you publish.

During the lockdown, many of us have struggled to get to grips with our weekly shop. I’m a regular online shopper but I couldn’t get anywhere near my usual supplier. I shopped around, tried all options, many different websites, phone calls to suppliers, trawling through social channels just to see if by any chance anyone could deliver a few basic supplies. I found this quite exhausting, but I can only imagine the barriers experienced for someone who has a disability during this time.

Building an inclusive mindset, and thinking across the organisation, gives us the opportunity to make things work better for everyone; we can break down the barriers and think beyond the company website.

If my favourite peanut butter producer had dedicated enough time to thinking about the shape of that jar, they may still have me as a loyal customer.

Explore more about web accessibility, and discover what you can do to become more inclusive in our dedicated resources area: you'll find free webinars, guides and more!

About the author

Jean Downey is currently Head of Digital and Creative Services at Ofcom, she is writing in a personal capacity. She has been committed to inclusive design throughout her career and has worked across the private, public and charity sectors. She originally trained as a graphic designer and sees the combination of digital practice and creative design as integral to delivering user centred services.

Profile photo of Jean Downey