Professional Spotlight: Cam Nicholl, Digital Accessibility Centre

  • Author: Access iQ ®
  • Date: 10 Dec 2013

The Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) is a non-profit social enterprise in the UK which provides services such as accessibility consultation, workshops and testing. With plans to set up shop in Sydney and Perth, Access iQ sat down with the DAC's Cam Nicholl for our Professional Spotlight series.

What is your role/position?

Sales and service development Director at DAC.

In what ways do you work with web accessibility on a daily basis?

DAC is a 100 per cent non-profit, social enterprise. All profit is reinvested back into the business to employ more people with disabilities to test more digital products, for more clients. We test websites, apps, software, intranets, internal applications, TV user interfaces, routers, and remote control units for TVs.

We carry out accessibility testing and certification for organisations that require it. In the UK we use automated testing, DAC in-house technical experts and our own user testing team. The three strands of testing ultimately provide a robust, usable report for our clients, with screenshots of issues, user testers comments, tech auditors comments, the WCAG checkpoint which is in contravention AND most importantly, recommendations for fix.

So we actually employ almost two teams now, of people who have different types of disabilities and their ages range from 21-65 and they’re permanent employees.

What are the most common accessibility issues clients raise and what solutions do you suggest? 

CAPTCHA is a big thing for us at the moment. Unfortunately, lots of people still use it to stop bots submitting forms but it is generally horrible!  You know what I mean; at the end of a form you sometimes have a box with pretty much undecipherable text in it which you are expected to decipher – not a good user experience at best, but far worse if you are blind or visually impaired.  There is sometimes an audio alternative but trying to listen to a distorted voice telling you what the text is, is next to impossible.

There are alternative solutions to this such as using a honey pot trap or asking a question that only a human would be able to answer – much friendlier solution!

Unlabelled forms: if forms are unlabelled they make it nigh on impossible for certain groups of users to interact,  if they don’t know what the field is for. Forms need meaningful labels.

Headings: This is one that isn’t done often enough or done correctly. To use the analogy of a newspaper; if your favourite paper suddenly stopped using headlines and sub headlines you would find it very difficult to find an article you wanted to read in the first place. It’s like giving you a newspaper and all the text is exactly the same size and in varying columns, with no headlines. Yes you could read, but it would make it very difficult to read. You can’t just quickly scan the page for relevant information. And it’s the same principle for people who use screen readers. They are able to scan the page quickly using the headings but if the headings aren’t there or aren’t in a logical hierarchy, it can make their journey quite arduous.

It’s all about positive user experience. It doesn’t matter whether the user has a disability or is elderly. 

Documents such as PDF’s should also be given attention to make sure they are usable by everyone. When creating a PDF, if the source document is a Microsoft Word document, you can use the formatting tool bar to implement a logical headings structure or provide alt text for example.  

With websites, using the WCAG 2.0 guidelines will help to create a more accessible site, although it will still need to be user tested to make sure it is truly ‘real life’ accessible.

What sort of websites do you often see these issues on?

Retail sites can be quite quite poor. I am not sure why, but most shopping sites are pretty bad.  Banking is another one.  We work with a couple of banks in the UK like Lloyds and Nationwide and they work really hard to turn out accessible sites but quite a few others don’t seem to bother, or just do the bare minimum.  This is a shame as these two areas can really empower disabled people towards greater independence.

What are three things to consider when implementing accessibility for websites etc?

Digital accessibility is not utopia – it is a basic human right!

  1. If you are building a new site and don’t have budget for a mobile site too then build using responsive design and also pay attention to WCAG 2.0 to level AA– join accessibility forums and visit Access iQ as well as they can provide a wealth of information.
  2. Get testing done during build. DAC work with clients from design images, through wireframes, then templates and on finished product.  You may not have the budget to undertake all that testing but at a minimum you should have the site user-tested by disabled people with a range of disabilities and of varying ages to make sure it is usable for them. DAC user testing team is always available to help.
  3. Consider implementing AccessIN so that your site visitors can help you keep your site accessible. Fully supported by the DAC team, we will provide you with fixes where your site visitors have identified issues.  We will even liaise with users for you, especially if the issue is actually a user issue as opposed to your website issue.

What is Access IN?

We have recently developed a new accessibility maintenance tool - AccessIN.

So, what is it and how does it work?

  • AccessIN is a one-touch accessibility feedback tool that supports user feedback of issues on your site.
  • Placed strategically on your site, AccessIN is a small button, available in the head section of all pages.
  • Clicking the AccessIN button results in the capture of customer feedback on issues they have encountered on your site along with data to help us diagnose and fix these issues.
  • AccessIN comes complete with a support package from DAC testing team who will diagnose and help you fix accessibility issues.
  • More information can be found on the AccessIN website.

Example of the AccessIN issue form.

If a client asks why they should consider implementing accessibility in their digital services and products, what would you tell them?

I would tell them it would make absolute perfect sense because an accessible website is accessible to everyone and everything, not just people with disabilities. It’s more accessible to search engines etc.

By making sure their digital online presence is accessible, they’re opening the door to up to 20 per cent of the population who have a disability – even though not the entire 20 per cent have been ‘barred’, some of them will not be able to access or buy from the website. There is a business case for it. Why would you want to stop additional customers from accessing your site? It’s also socially inclusive. There is no good reason for not implementing accessibility.

Finally, I would ask them how they would like accessing their own site if they acquired a disability – that is the real heat test.  If they could still have a good user experience then that is fine but if not then get on board with accessibility – it isn’t rocket science.

DAC is currently looking to place testers in Sydney and Perth.