Digital accessibility matters

Gary Lo, Trapeze

Transit technology empowers the differently abled to be more independent and active. But as digital adoption grows by the minute, accessibility standards need to keep pace with the general public’s insatiable demand for pervasive, enabling and real-time interactions. Updating customer digital touchpoints for the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (called WCAG 2.1) ensures your flow of information is accessible across all platforms – on the web, smartphone, mobile phone or fixed line – improving good usability for all.  

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium on June 5, 2018, the new guidelines update the long-standing technical standard (WCAG 2.0) on how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. While the new guidelines don’t replace the older ones, the consortium encourages using the most recent version when developing or updating content on your platforms to address more user needs.

The older guidelines (WGAC 2.0) were a landmark in guidance on digital accessibility, concentrating on four basic design principles (known by the acronym POUR) to govern how webpage content must be created to be understood by persons with disabilities. Accessible content must be perceivable (easily seen and heard, with text alternatives), operable (easily navigable, with keyboard functionality), understandable (predictable, minimizes user mistakes) and robust (compatible with current and future technologies and user agents).

Updating for the age of omnichannel

17 guidelines have been added to WCAG 2.1, reflecting changes in technology since 2008, updating for widespread mobile use, and enhancing usability for users with low-vision and cognitive challenges.

Users with low vision, for example, should be able to zoom content 400%, up from 200% in WCAG 2.0, to digest information easily. The new guidelines also recommend avoiding horizontal scrolling on a page so readers need not scroll sideways to view content.  

The previous guidelines on color contrast only related to text. The new guidelines apply to non-text elements such as graphical objects, diagrams and buttons so that users with low vision can identify interactive elements clearly.

When filling out forms, it is important for users, especially those facing cognitive challenges, to know exactly what an input field is asking from them. The new guidelines prescribe autocomplete, as well as familiar terms and icons on input fields, which would enable assistive technology to identify the purpose of the field prior to data entry.

Updates to the guidelines also include a recommendation to disable single-key shortcuts to minimize unintended actions for users with physical challenges. Pointer gestures, such as pinching, zooming and swiping, also should be replaced by easier actions like taps or long presses that can be performed using one finger.

Bake in accessibility

It is important to incorporate accessibility at an early stage of the project. David MacDonald, President of CanAdapt and a member of the WCAG 2.1 working group that formulated the guidelines, advises doing so “when the cement is wet” during the design phase.  

Often, updating an existing product for accessibility requires a “courageous’ investment and a willingness to re-envision some of the components, MacDonald adds.  But it’s worth it. When we, at Trapeze, updated our PASS-Web and INFO-Web modules within the Traveler Information product line, we dedicated a developer to work with MacDonald to rework many of the components and update the libraries so that these components meet WCAG for future products. This approach helped ensure that the accessibility was elegant and well-integrated into the design.

Accessibility matters to an inclusive and forward-looking society. For transit agencies, it addresses an important customer segment as well. But good usability benefits all – both abled and disabled. Platforms designed to be accessible deliver better customer experiences, increasing engagement and helping your agency connect with all your customers. 

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