You are probably already aware of the important role that your website plays in bringing new customers to your business, but it is all too easy to overlook online accessibility.

Have you ever considered how your website is used by those who can’t use a mouse, see the screen, or hear the sound?

Have you thought about how a lack of digital accessibility on your website means that consumers with disabilities are prevented from adequately shopping around for their insurance needs?

Chances are, you haven’t – and you are not alone with this unintentional oversight – 70% of websites are reported to have a serious lack of accessibility.

But as there are 13.9m disabled people are living in the UK, the message is clear: make your website accessible or leave money on the table.

Research by We Are Purple, a government-backed initiative to improve product and services for people with disabilities and pre-existing health conditions, found that UK retailers lose around £11.75 billion each year from having an inaccessible website.

For the insurance industry, the sums speak for themselves: disabled people spend an average of £69 each month on insurance, so not catering to their needs online means you are missing out on potential business.

“Around one in five people have a disability and of those people, 80% have a hidden disability, whether this be dyslexia, a mental health condition or a mild to moderate learning difficulty,” said Johnny Timpson, financial protection and industry affairs manager of Scottish Widows Protect.

“This means that, on average, 20% of your customers are likely to have a disability and the majority of those people will need additional customer care, but you would not be aware who those individuals are at first glance, if at all.”

WHAT IT MEANS FOR INSURANCE CUSTOMERS

If insurers, brokers and advisers are ignoring basic web accessibility guidelines and do not have a base level of usability for those with disabilities, it means that millions of consumers are being excluded from advice and access to adequate financial protection.

“While many UK businesses and organisations are stepping up to the mark and making the changes needed to improve disabled customers’ experiences, far too many are not,” said Purple chief executive, Mike Adams OBE.

“This is a huge mistake, not least because by turning their backs on disabled shoppers, they are losing out on millions of pounds of revenue every year.”

Adams points out that it should simply not be the case that one in two disabled people struggle to make purchases online or in person.

“Small changes can make a big difference to the customer experience; we want to help organisations have the confidence to improve their services for disabled people.”

As a result, buying the right insurance policy at an affordable price is a challenge for those with a disability thanks to badly designed web pages that prevent consumers from shopping around. To add insult to injury, it often means that they pay over the odds, in addition to the likely increase in premiums due to their condition.

While insurance companies are not allowed to refuse to insure a person based on their disability or offer them worse terms than other customers thanks to the Equality Act 2010, they can apply special conditions or extra charges for a policy if they can show that there’s a greater risk of making claim.

HOW CAN YOU MAKE YOUR WEBSITE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO THOSE WITH DISABILITIES?

It has long been an expectation for businesses to make physical spaces accessible for people of all abilities, and improvements have been made. But when it comes to online retailers, where there is still a lot of work to be done.

The law is clear on this issue. It is just as illegal to bar disabled visitors from accessing your business online as it would be to keep them out of a shop in the ‘real’ world.

To be truly accessible means making your website perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for all users. This includes people with visual, auditory, cognitive or motor impairments.

You can ensure your website achieves this by making sure it meets the international accessibility standard, WCAG 2.1 AA or its European equivalent, EN301 549.

At a glance this might seem like a lot of work, however failure to take website accessibility seriously could lead to significant financial consequences for small businesses.

AbilityNet, a charity that helps those with disabilities use computers and the internet to improve their quality of life, carries out regular surveys across different sectors, looking at websites from the point of view of disabled and elderly users’ experiences when using a range of services online – and is a great resource if you are looking for practical guidance.

In addition to a series of manual checks, the charity tests sites using common adaptive technologies, such as screen readers, which read out aloud the content of the web page, and voice recognition software. It evaluates the sites on the accessibility – only sites that meet the needs of those with a vision impairment, dyslexia or physical limitations attain three stars or above.

WHERE TO GET STARTED

There are many common sense changes that can be made to your website, at little or no cost, which will make a huge difference to the online experience of disabled customers.

A good place to start is to run your most highly trafficked pages through a free accessibility testing tool such as https://wave.webaim.org/. This will reveal any simple problems you can begin addressing right away, like product images missing alt text, poor colour contrast, form fields that aren’t labelled correctly, and headers that aren’t properly tagged as headers in the code — all things that are critical for screen reader users to navigate a site.

Here are seven ways that you can fix the problems for “quick wins” to improve the accessibility of key pages:

1 Check your keyboard navigation carefully

Consider your site’s keyboard accessibility as it is extremely important when it comes to opening up your website to customers who can’t use a mouse. Many people, including those with motor disabilities, visual impairments and muscle control impairments, rely on a keyboard to navigate and interact with websites.

So check if you can you access your site by just using the keyboard alone. Unplug your mouse and use your website with only your keyboard, using the tab button to move around. How long does it take you to access the content? Can you access everything?

2 Keep your Alt Text tight

Close your eyes and have someone read the contents of your web page out loud. Are you able to understand what your website is trying to say?

Browsing a website using assistive technology, like a screen reader, relies on accurate headings, labelling, and tagging to move easily across content and to convey a complete picture.

Alt text are the words that describes an image.

With great alt text, your words should make the content of the image clear. Anyone who designs a website would have spent time carefully sourcing or designing the images to appeal to visitors, so don’t let those images go ‘unseen’ by as many as 20% of your website’s visitors by overlooking alt text. An added bonus of this is Alt Text is great for site optimization as Search Engines rely heavily on alt texts when indexing photos.

3 Captions for audio and video content is key

Captions are important when people need to see what’s happening in the video and get the audio information in text at the same time.

Even with videos that are only talking heads, it’s good to have captions so that a person who is deaf or hard of hearing can see facial expressions.

Some people will even appreciate captions for audio-only media, for example, if they are hard of hearing or non-native speakers and would like to listen yet also have the text to fill in what they can’t hear or understand.

You can caption your own videos using one of several free online tools, including Amara.orgDotSub.com and Subtitle Horse

4 Use headers to structure your content correctly

The use of headers such as H1 and H2 to properly structure your content is especially beneficial to users who use a screen reader.

Headings are much more than a big bold title, they provide a solid structure to the webpage. Think of headings as an outline which allows the page to be easily scanned by the user.

The structure should be portrayed both in a visual and technical manner, so screen readers are able to identity the structure in order to read it out.

5 Format forms for accessibility

Online forms are used to collect information from users: signing up for newsletters, booking an appointment, asking a question, or contacting a business. Since forms are so commonly used, it’s essential to make sure that these are accessible for all users.

Design your forms for accessibility by making it simple and easy. Doing so benefits everybody, especially those with cognitive or limited dexterity disabilities, and people using speech input or screen readers. So, ensure that the forms on your web site can be completed using only the keyboard.

6   Avoid anything automatic

Automatic media and navigation causes major concern for accessibility, especially those using screen readers. Some may be annoyed by the noise it produces.

While others will be frustrated if they still need time to absorb the information before going to the next slide. Try and avoid it at all costs.

7 Keep an eye on colour

The colour contrast between the text and background on your website is very important, as it can affect a user’s ability to perceive the information. Around one in 12 men and one in 200 women have some degree of colour vision impairment, so ensuring your colours are accessible is vital. Think about your colour scheme and the contrast of colours to ensure that text is different from the background colour.

As Johnny Timpson concludes “It’s important we are aware that with only circa 8% of disabled people requiring a wheelchair, the vast majority of disabilities are invisible meaning that many of our customers and colleagues are living and working with a disability. This makes it important that we as an industry and profession make it safe for people to talk about their disabilities and do all we can to improve access to advice, appropriate insurance, careers in insurance and signposting to protection specialist advisers.”

This item can be considered 25 minutes unstructured CPD towards your IDD CPD requirement.