3 critical steps to create accessible transit websites

June 7, 2016

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Digital transformation is quickly pushing accessibility issues into the spotlight. In 2005, aiming to become “an accessible Ontario by 2025,” the Government of Ontario implemented the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which includes website guidelines for public sector institutions and large organizations. 

Soon after, Metrolinx responded by creating multi-year accessibility plans with clearly defined digital mandates to “ensure services and activities are accessible to people with disabilities, well in advance of the regulatory deadline.” 

And with a renewed action plan launched by the Ontario Government in June 2015 to “enhance compliance and audit activities” and the announcement of targeted, Ministry-led audits, the public transportation industry is quickly taking note. 

The effects of accessibility laws like this are rippling throughout the public transportation industry. Creating effective, accessible products for users with disabilities presents unique challenges. When change comes, are you ready?

If your team wants to create accessible digital experiences, here are 3 things they should know.

1. Accessibility is a requirement – know the guidelines. 

Accessible design is the great equalizer. It helps people of all abilities better understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to your website.

The audience for accessible design is incredibly diverse. Users may be blind, colour blind, have partial or even total vision loss, have hearing difficulties or be completely deaf, face mobility impairments (temporary, intermittent and permanent) or have cognitive disabilities. They may be old, young, technically savvy or a newcomer to digital. But one thing is certain, they all want to have a valuable, easy and engaging experience using your product or service, just like everyone else.  

It’s widely accepted that Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 define how to make web content more accessible. An easy to understand checklist for WCAG 2.0 guidelines can be found here.

WCAG is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations from around the world and take into account a wide range of disabilities, with a goal to provide a shared standard for web content accessibility that meet the needs of individuals, organizations, governments. 

Applying accessible design and development means that sites are faster, easier to use, and work across a wider range of browsers and devices.

2. Project planning is key to success

Knowing the guidelines is only half the battle. Accessible design is achieved through meticulous planning from all development and creative teams. In a project’s lifecycle, accessibility must be viewed as a shared responsibility which cannot be simply left to the end of the development process. The unique implications to each team should be carefully examined.

Brand Experience

Accessibility guidelines should be consulted at the beginning of an organization’s rebranding process. Adjusting colours to become compliant after the fact can negatively impact brand consistency across platforms and should be avoided.

While creating WCAG-compliant guidelines is very difficult, it can save huge amounts of time and headaches in the long run. For example, design elements that contain text often do not meet colour/contrast thresholds for readability. And even if they do, smudged mobile phone screens, sun glare and other real-world situations can dramatically effect clarity.

Customer Experience

Regardless of ability, all users must be able to easily navigate through a site to find the content they seek. As visually or motor impaired users may have difficulties interacting with items on a page, like hover states, the challenge lies in structuring a content architecture that is accessible and does not disrupt the overall user experience of the site. Getting the content team talking about accessibility as early as possible will greatly increase the success of projects.

When we optimized the award-winning Calgary Transit website for mobile devices, we drew from our user research insights to surface only the most important information for mobile riders like trip planning, schedules and service interruptions.

To ensure WCAG compliance on mobile, the navigation was customized and carefully structured to allow easy, intuitive site-tabbing. We also worked closely with Calgary Transit to create clearly defined labels, using call-to-actions such as “Plan my trip” on buttons instead of generic phrases like “click here,” which could be misunderstood.

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As well as helping the UX team stay current with what is technically feasible to design, development teams should always strive to work collaboratively across silos with 3rd party providers to ensure all products are tested for WCAG compliance. Regardless of who built the code, accessibility requires leadership to ensure compliance across an entire website.

Our work with Metrolinx and their GO Transit mobile website uses site-wide ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Application) tags to enable semantic elements to indicate content structure like headings, links, tables and lists. This makes interface controls and dynamic content more accessible, and helps people using screen readers to easily navigate the website.

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3. Accessibility starts with education

Take the time to educate project stakeholders about accessibility. Many clients understand the importance of accessibility, but have little grasp of how much work is actually involved. Take an active role in managing their expectations by making accessibility planning a high priority topic, to be tackled iteratively throughout a project timeline – not at the very end. 

When clients understand that accessibility is much more than just a buzzword, internal teams will often reprioritize issues, allowing discovery sessions to start off on the right foot and be more productive.

Design for everyone

At FCV, we believe great digital experiences should be accessible to users in all walks of life. Ensuring projects are WCAG compliant does not have to be difficult, so long as project teams understand the applicable guidelines, a realistic amount of time is allotted for project planning and clients are educated about accessibility issues from the very beginning. Not only will this improve compliance, but the learnings from valuable cross-team collaboration will certainly have a big impact on overall project success.

Empowering people through digital is exactly the type of work we’re passionate about. After all, good design is something everyone should be able to experience.

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