By Oliver Broadhurst

Over six million people in the UK have a disability. This makes up a large minority of any financial service providers’ customers, and we wanted to see how well people with disabilities are catered for in financial services. So in our latest set of Customer Experience Ratings we began assessing providers on their website’s accessibility.

The impact of disability on user experience

The effects of disabilities vary, ranging from having difficulty reading text on a webpage, to being unable to use a mouse. In this context, simple changes can make a big difference. If the colour contrast is poor on a page, for example, it can be unreadable. Or if a webpage cannot be controlled exclusively by a keyboard, many consumers may be left completely unable to engage with your site.

With the pace of technological change, there is no reason why these potentially vulnerable consumers should be excluded. A study by the World Bank shows that accessibility technology can make website navigation possible or easier for 57% of all computer users. Making your website more accessible is beneficial for all consumers, not just those with registered disabilities. Also, all the tools required to bring your website up to scratch already exist, but many providers don’t make use of them.

While the bulk of consumers move to online account managing, spending tracking, and purchasing, a significant proportion of the population are at risk of being left behind. The innovations in the fintech space are irrelevant if your customers simply cannot use them.

We consulted with the Royal National Institute of Blind People – and Capital One who had recently redesigned its own website - to find out how to accurately assess accessibility. Our aim was to learn more about the struggles facing the 2 million visually impaired people in the UK. This way, we could analyse the effectiveness of providers’ websites, and how to make them more accessible for vulnerable consumers.

The RNIB outlined the key struggles facing online users, and showed us how a website can be constructed to overcome them. This formed the backbone of our  analysis and scoring, which focused on the following areas:

Colour contrast

This is an issue that affects large numbers of the population. Those with visual impairments such as colour blindness can find websites with poor colour contrast almost impossible to read. But this problem also affects those with dyslexia, which account for around one in 10 of the population.

If text on your site has less than 1:4.5 contrast against the background colour, then there is a very high chance it will be unreadable to some. This could result in consumers missing important information, or becoming frustrated because they can’t quickly find what they were looking for.

Keyboard accessibility

It is estimated that up to 39% of computer users have difficulty using a mouse. This can be due to being unable to grasp a mouse, or issues with keeping their hand still while using one. Many opt to use the keyboard instead. A website must be accessible solely by using the tab key if it is to serve the needs of these consumers.

A simple test of pressing the tab key on a webpage and pressing enter on the relevant links will show whether your website meets these needs. Pay attention also to the ‘focus’. This is the indicator that the user is on a certain part of a webpage. Usually these show up as boxes around links. If your focus is unclear, then it’ll be of no use to many vulnerable consumers.

Screen reader

If a person has suffered from total loss of sight, then the above accessibility measures won’t be enough to meet their needs. Over 350,000 people in the UK are registered blind or partially sighted, and to include them your site must work with a screen reader.

We use the NVDA tool to measure the effectiveness of websites for people with sight problems. All text on your webpage must be read clearly by the screen reader. Pay attention also to pronunciation - text in caps may be read as anagrams. For example, ‘CONTACT US’ can be read as ‘contact U.S’. Although most users will understand the intended meaning, there is no reason not to make your site perfect with the tools provided.

There are further things to note here. Often images play a part in declaring information on a webpage. Therefore, these images must have alternative text sitting behind them to express the intended meaning. The same goes for forms. If a customer is required to fill in their information on your site, then each form must have alternative text declaring what is meant to be written.

On top of this, you must ensure your headings and links are descriptive. You may have a link that’s labelled ‘read more’. This is fine for those without visual impairments, as the contextual information shows what sits behind the link. But for someone using only a keyboard and screen reader, it can be unclear what the link relates to. Make sure that all headings and links clearly describe their landing destination, either through changing the text or adding alternative text behind them.

Mobile optimisation

This is an issue that affects your entire customer base, not just those with disabilities. As more and more consumers make purchases via their mobile phones, your site must be optimised for these platforms.

Crucially for those with visual impairments, the screen reader must also work on the mobile site. Many mobile phones now come with a screen reader built in - for example we use Apple’s VoiceOver for the iPhone. Simply activate the tool and tap anywhere on the screen to find out if the text is being communicated properly.

Getting the basics right

These are the key areas to get right if you want to best serve your customers. Although it will take expertise to implement, it isn’t that difficult a change to make. Focus on these areas and you will be providing the best possible service to the millions of UK consumers that are currently being excluded. And considering that 71% of users with a disability will simply leave a website that isn’t accessible, you can’t afford not to.