Digital exclusion and online accessibility

Posted by Dr Sarah Burton Taylor on May 18, 2022 1:42:44 PM

Working in the digital industry, it is very easy to forget that not everyone is technologically competent and totally reliant on/ addicted to the World Wide Web.

A study by the Office of National Statistics found that internet non-users, i.e. people who haven’t used the internet in the last 3 months, accounted for 10% of the UK population or 5.3 million adults. That’s a lot of people!

For these individuals, an increasingly digitised world is a problem. As more information and services move online, greater digital skills are required to access them and, as a result, some members of our population are excluded because they lack the skills to be able to confidently and safely navigate the digital world.

The demographic group most impacted by this move online, is individuals with disabilities. Across all age groups, disabled adults make up a large proportion of adult internet non-users.

Figure 11_ Across all age groups, a large proportion of adult internet non-users are disabledIn 2017, 56% of adult internet non-users were disabled, much higher than the proportion of disabled adults in the UK population as a whole, which in 2016 to 2017 was estimated to be 22%.

For internet non-users aged between 16 and 24 years, 60% were disabled in 2017, a proportion that is the same as for those aged 75 years and older.

While the proportion of disabled adults who are internet non-users has been on the decline, it remains higher than non-disabled adults.

How to improve digital access for users with disabilities

There are many factors at play that can contribute to digital exclusion. Lack of interest, the expense of an internet connection and digital devices, privacy concerns or a self-reported lack of skills or knowledge.

While some of these are out of our control, and many users will always prefer to interact with organisations offline, there is a LOT companies can do to improve the accessibility of their digital services.

Here are our top two recommendations:

1. Build your digital service in an accessible way

Users with disabilities will use a range of assistive technologies and techniques to help them navigate the online world. These include screen readers, braille embossers, screen magnifiers and keyboard shortcuts. For these technologies to work effectively, websites need to be coded correctly, so information and functionality is displayed in a meaningful way.

This includes programmatically determining the functionality of buttons and input fields, providing text alternatives for image and video content and using code to convey how information is structured on the page (e.g. headings and interactive functionality). See also: common accessibility fails.

If a website is not correctly coded, assistive technologies will be unable to interpret it and users with disabilities will be excluded from engaging with your brand. 

2. Write content in an accessible way

There are a lot of words on the internet. It is well recognised that users don’t read web pages in full; they scan them picking out headings and keywords that meet their needs.

If you are using a screenreader or have a cognitive impairment which affects your literacy, this scanning behaviour is not possible, and tackling a long page of text is a time consuming, frustrating and overwhelming experience.  

To improve accessibility of content and the online experience of all your users, we suggest:

  • Removing content not useful to users
  • Improving readability of text by shortening sentences and using less complex words (aim for a fog index of no more than 10)
  • Front load sentences with keywords so users can quickly identify if the content is relevant to them
  • Follow Plain English guidance
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms and internal terminology

Conduct an accessibility audit to assess where you are

The best way to ensure your website, app or software is accessible is to conduct an accessibility audit. In the UK, this means your site will be assessed against the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. To be considered accessible, websites need to comply with all guidelines at Level A and AA. This considers both the programmatic structure of your site and how the content is written.

Once conducted, an audit will give you an action list of changes to implement (we are yet to find a site that complies 100%), following which you will be able to publish an accessibility statement detailing your compliance.

The best part about an accessibility audit? Conducting one and implementing the changes will improve the online experience for all your users!


Topics: Accessibility

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