Are you missing a market the size of China?News / DistributionBy Viewpoints | July 28, 2014Share This article was originally published on Disabled customers are struggling to research and book their holidays because websites are not accessible, according to a report published this week by digital accessibility specialists AbilityNet. At least 1.1 billion people globally have a disability, controlling over $4 trillion annually - that’s a market the size of China.So, as well as the legal risks they face in many global markets, the travel industry is also overlooking a significant commercial opportunity.NB: This is a viewpoint from Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet.UK-based AbilityNet specialises in the use of technology by disabled people and has provided accessibility services to businesses such as HSBC, BT and Microsoft. It recently published a State of the e-Nation Report that tested the websites of some of the leading travel companies and airlines.The report shows that none of the sites were legally compliant, and that all of them presented usability barriers to potential customers.It’s not just about wheelchair accessible resortsMany travel businesses will be doing what they can to accommodate disabled customers, and every carrier is geared up to make sure disabled travellers reach their destination. Many will also be aware of the legal risk of not having an accessible website and the threat of legal action by interest groups and Governments.Equality and anti-discrimination legislation is well-developed in many markets, and applies to any carrier flying across Europe or North America, for example.Delivering accessible websites, apps and other e-services is not a huge burden for the average digital project, but it’s much harder and potentially more costly to bolt on at the end.And yet despite all of the above, almost every website reviewed falls far short of minimum required standards necessary to enable disabled customers to use them effectively.Put users at the centre of your design processThe best examples of accessible design come from companies whose teams build usability and accessibility in at the earliest possible stage of every project; not treating it as a separate issue but baking it in from the start and that pays dividends for every potential user, including people with disabilities.As many as 20% of adults may have a disability or impairment, although only a small proportion of those may identify themselves as disabled. A quick review of the UK data for disabilities reveals the breadth of issues that need to be considered: Only 8% of disabled people are in a wheelchair6 million people have dyslexia - 4 million severe2 million are affected by sight loss, of which 360,000 people are registered blind10 million people suffer from hearing loss, of which 50,000 are British Sign Language usersGet colours right from the startOne simple yet very common example of how accessibility can affect customers is the poor use of colour on websites. In Britain there are approximately 2.7 million people with a form of colour blindness - that’s about 4.5% of the entire population, most of whom are male.For many of these the colours used on a website can have a significant impact on its usability.Checking the proposed colour palette of the design at an early stage is a simple process and can help avoid being locked into poorly contrasting branding that can’t be changed. Many of the websites reviewed had poorly contrasting colours and this significantly impeded the vision impaired and dyslexic testers.Does it work with a keyboard?Another common failing of these websites is keyboard support. Not everyone uses a mouse; sometimes for reasons of a physical impairment or vision difficulty, but often they are simply users of smart TVs where the remote control moves you through a page an item at a time just as if you were tabbing on your keyboard.For AbilityNet’s blind testers it was often impossible to book a flight as forms or date-pickers were not keyboard accessible, and for sighted testers using the keyboard it was often impossible to see where the active link was as no visual indication was given. In both cases it was impossible for the testers to use the websites and flights and holidays were left unbooked.How we test sitesThe tests focused on three main areas: Testing for compliance with technical accessibility guidelines‘Real life’ accessibility by disabled usersAccessibility help in the form of an informative and well-signposted page Of the twelve sites tested only one, Club Med, approached the required level of technical compliance. This means that the code sampled in the test passed the requirements of WCAG2.0 to at least AA standard.Despite being an agreed minimum standard few sites in any sector meet this level in any of AbilityNet’s tests, so this is very much an exception.This kind of automated test then needs some real world interpretation, especially through user testing. From a commercial point of view this is an ideal way to make sure customers can use online services, and to align the design processes with marketing segments through user journeys and personas.Saga, for example, targets older customers, which is an age group with a higher level of disability and impairment.The results of their user testing suggest they would benefit from improving their overall levels of accessibility and usability for customers with particular needs in this area - and yet, it seems the simple steps towards inclusion have not been taken.The opportunityIn a climate where online is increasingly the first and often only preference for research and retail it is vital that both travel and tourism websites begin the journey towards being fully inclusive.As well as meeting moral and legal requirements there is a huge opportunity to improve usability for every customer and differentiate themselves in a crowded market.NB: Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet.NB2: FREE WEBINAR on Thursday 7 August - Digital accessibility and missed opportunities in the travel industryNB3: Accessibility image via Shutterstock.