Why businesses must start prioritising online inclusivity…

Digital disruption is here, and it’s here to stay. But just how well are companies adapting their offerings and service to an increasingly online world? Here, Simon Wissink, Business Development Consultant at digital UX agency, Sigma, an Episerver Premium Partner, reveals the findings from the business’ latest report on user experience in the travel sector online, and shares his thoughts on why accessibility and inclusivity for all users is crucial in an increasingly digital society.

There’s no denying that digital is the future. More and more aspects of our daily lives are being touched by technology – from online banking and shopping, to booking holidays and doctors appointments. As a result, having a positive experience when using tech is more important than ever. And, as an experience design agency, the practice of ensuring online journeys are as easy as possible for all users is hugely important to us. 

So when we did a heuristic evaluation and independent testing of the user experience of 10 top travel websites recently - Skyscanner, AirBnb, LateRooms, Booking.com, LastMinute, OnTheBeach, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Co-operative Travel, and Expedia - we were disappointed to find that many of them scored pretty low, particularly when it came to accommodating disabled users. For the testing we worked with an independent consultant, Molly Watt. Molly has Usher syndrome, which means she was born deaf and is registered blind. She is a strong advocate of using technology to help those with differing abilities have independence.

Our findings were worrying, considering that there are over 10 million people registered disabled in the UK, with over two million of these being blind or partially sighted. 

In our independent testing we scored each website overall out of a possible 35 points, across a variety of categories including overall usability; the booking process; how easy to use the sites were across different devices; and accessibility for all users, including those with physical, cognitive and visual disabilities. The websites scored an average of 23 – a message to the industry that there’s still lots more to be done when it comes to providing a positive user experience. 

Upon testing a number of functions across the various categories on each site, we found that one of the areas that most of the sites fell down on was when it came to how easy they were to use by disabled users – sparing Expedia and Late Rooms, who actually scored pretty well in this section. We found that many of the forms used on the sites weren’t accessible; a number of them blocked the ability to zoom in and out successfully, which crucial for blind and partially sighted people; while four out of the ten didn’t contain alt text on their images – meaning partially sighted people would find it difficult to know what the images contained. 

Many of the websites were also ignorant of assistive technology. Only two of them were screen reader (the device which blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display) friendly, while just four contained skip links – additions which help blind or partially sighted people to access content more easily, without having to sift through unimportant information.

Findings of our testing weren’t all bad, however – all of the websites had some aspects where user experience clearly had been considered. The majority scored pretty well from a general usability standpoint and how easy they were to use cross-device. But it’s the accessibility aspect that worried us, since we should be prioritising making online offerings and services inclusive to everyone. 

Of course, it will require a concerted effort for companies to ensure their sites are made - and remain – fully accessible and inclusive to all users. However, there’s a number of small changes which could be made to kick-start this, which are transferable across all websites: 

  • Using a simple uncluttered layout, free of fancy typefaces and complicated designs;
  • Amending colour contrasts to avoid all white pages, especially where forms are concerned, so users are better able to figure out which parts they need to fill in;
  • Enabling the zoom function so people living with sight-loss can view the site without using assistive technology;
  • Making all elements on a page accessible for users using a keyboard or screenreader. 

As the number of people living with sight-loss and disabilities continues to grow, the importance of all users being able to access online services comfortably is crucial. If companies continue to ignore accessibility, they could be isolating millions of users, risking reputation, customer loyalty, and commercial advantage. 

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the full report here: www.bit.ly/TravelUX

Did you know you can build accessible webistes on Episerver? Contact Sigma for more information. 

Simon Wissink

Guest blogger: Simon Wissink

Business Development | Account Management | Strategic Partner Management