Online consultation is increasingly popular for many reasons, one of which is accessibility: parents of young children, the very old and the disabled, not to mention the time poor and commuters have all used online consultation as a means to engage on a development proposal.
But if online consultation is to be truly accessible – providing a service to those with visual and hearing impairments as well as others – it needs to be designed to incorporate some specific features.
- Design well-defined, clear task flows with minimal, and intuitive navigation steps
- Ensure that websites are accessible with directional controllers such as D-pads, trackballs or keyboard arrows
- Allow functionality via the keyboard, rather than relying on the mouse, enabling those who use assistive technologies to access the website
- Avoid controls that change function. If these are necessary, ensure that the content descriptions are changed appropriately
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content by separating foreground from background
- Ensure that web pages appear and operate in predictable ways
- Ensure that buttons and selectable areas are of sufficient size for users to touch them easily
- Provide time for content to be read and understood
- Avoid having user interface controls that fade out or disappear after a certain amount of time
- Bear in mind that HTML is quicker, easier and more widely accessible than PDF
- Consider common forms of colour-blindness when determining colour palettes
- Ensue that text size can be increased without detriment to layout or meaning
- Ensure that the website is usable by commonly used screen readers such as JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver for OS X, Window Eyes and Supernova and basic operating system screen magnifiers such as ZoomText and MAGic
- Ensure that the website is compatible with speech recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking
- Provide content descriptions for user interface components that do not have visible text, particularly ImageButton, ImageView and CheckBox components
- Use alt text for important images such as diagrams and timelines, enabling those who use a screen reader to understand the images
- Where possible include standard interface controls in designs rather than custom built controls
- Provide a text transcript of audio or visual files for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
Finally, evaluate success by asking for feedback and use this to make you next consultation even more accessible.
Penny Norton’s third book Communicating Construction: insight, experience and best practice contains some of the most recent thinking on consultation and will be published in early 2021.