A “change in mind set” on digital inclusion is needed by organisations in all sectors after a general failure to create accessible digital systems – particularly for those with a disability or the elderly – a new report by technology access charity AbilityNet says.
“Mind the Digital Gap: It’s bigger than you think” says that although there has been much discussion on accessibility and inclusive digital systems over the past 15 years, this has not yielded significant results. “The reality is … that apart from a small number of good examples, many digital systems and content are inaccessible to the majority of disabled and older people. The current methodology … has failed and we need a change in mind set on how we approach digital inclusion,” it says.
The paper proposes a six-part strategy to help organisations develop a more inclusive digital environment and economy. This includes the creation of a “support service” to help disabled and older people use technology effectively; and encouraging business, government and the third sector to work toward digital inclusion together through a new forum.
The paper also stresses the importance of task-based testing – examining the achievability of individual tasks – in designing inclusive digital services. As an example of how not to do this, the report uses the example of an airline website where a user is sent back to the beginning of the ticket-buying process if the required information is not completed in a certain time. This security feature may make it difficult for someone with a learning or cognitive impairment to complete the process, and an adjustment to the cut-off time would increase usability for these groups, it says.
“We have to recognise that people use technology to complete a task, whether that is filling in an online form, buying something, looking for information and so on,” Nigel Lewis, chief executive of AbilityNet, told E-Access Bulletin. “The approach to inclusion and accessibility has [so far] focused on piecemeal elements such as alternative text for images rather than thinking of what the user is actually trying to achieve”, he said.
The new report builds on suggestions made by Kevin Carey, chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, in a separate discussion paper commissioned by AbilityNet on improved consumer access to digital information, “Universal citizen and customer access”. Both papers can be downloaded at: