As the Christmas period approaches and festive jingles resurface, there’s one song and seasonal phrase rings true for us at Cyber-Duck, ‘All I want for Christmas is…’ 

So, what is it that we want? Regrettably, we’re not talking about the romance that the rest of the song alludes to – we’re talking about digital accessibility for all. 

With user research being a cornerstone of our ISO accredited, user-centred design approach, we reached out to a diverse group of people to hear their frustrations with online experiences and what they want for a better digital future, playfully adapting the festive phrase and song to ‘All I want for digital is…’.

Supported by the Royal Association for Deaf People, Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion,  LEXI, Phab, AbilityNet, and BIMA, the #AllIWantForDigital campaign features disability campaigners, Paralympians, artists and TV personalities with visible and hidden conditions sharing their lived experiences.

In doing so, one of our goals is to change perceptions about accessible design. We feel that the term “accessibility” is still widely misunderstood. As of 2022, only 3% of the internet is accessible. Many companies think accessible design doesn’t apply to them, and isn’t relevant for most of their users. In fact, this is far from the case.

We all have accessibility requirements of some kind, or will have them in the future. A huge 22% of the UK population report some form of disability. An estimated 15 - 20% of the world’s population are neurodiverse, with dyslexia being the most common form of neurodivergence. Our likelihood of having accessibility requirements increases as we age; for example, almost all of us will eventually need reading glasses, if we don’t already need glasses for vision correction.

That’s before we even start to consider situational accessibility requirements. If you’re driving, holding a baby, if you’re in a noisy environment or have sunlight shining on your device screen – these are all situations where accessibility comes into play. You also might simply want to consume media or information in a different format, such as listening to an online article rather than reading it. Designing accessible websites and digital experiences benefits everyone, making the user experience more intuitive, easier, and more enjoyable.

As TV presenter and co-chair of Phab, Mik Scarlet says: ‘All I want for Christmas is that those people who design or own a website or app to have a mindshift change. To stop thinking that they’re designing for disabled people or for those people over there and remember that good products work for everybody.’

While for former BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones who has Parkinson’s disease, voice to tech software is important to him and he wishes ‘for websites to have the big red microphone symbol so I would press and off I’d go. Instead of typing, I’d be talking.’ Again, a feature that would benefit many if it was more commonplace. 

Accessibility also just makes good business sense. If people find an app or website too difficult to use and navigate, they’re not going to stick around. Research shows that in the UK, inaccessible websites cost retailers and businesses more than £411 billion throughout the pandemic. When apps and websites are accessible, it’s a win-win situation for both the users and the business.

You can watch what our contributors have to say in the video below:

Please join the campaign by posting your own wishes for digital improvement using the hashtag #AllIWantForDigital.

What does good accessibility look like?

So, what conclusion can we draw from our users’ feedback? What is that one special thing we all want for Christmas?

The answer is easy to say, but a little more complex to implement: people want choice. 

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to accessibility. In fact, the needs of different user groups may even conflict with each other. Someone with low vision, for example, would appreciate bright colour contrasts, whereas the same contrast level could reduce accessibility for someone who’s on the autism spectrum. In circumstances like this, giving users the option adjust their settings or request information in a different format will enable them to choose an experience that works for their specific needs. 

Accessibility is about more than accessible functions – it also encompasses accessible experiences. Supermarkets are doing the right thing in ensuring that screen readers can access their digital offers and promotions, making them available to a wider audience. But as Yahye Siyad points out in his video, being unable to turn these promotions off can result in a completely inaccessible experience that prevents him from being able to use them.

While Paralympic gold medallist, TV presenter and founder of LEXI, Giles Long, talks about choice in the financial services.

'I wish I could layout my dashboards, in the same way that I can arrange my apps on my phone. I have cards with four different providers but each one has a completely different interface that I’ve had to learn. If I could choose my own layout, I’d set them all up in the same way, making them much quicker and easier to use. As things stand, it’s much harder to track my spending.'

So, in addition to user choice, accessibility requires repeat user testing with a diverse range of people, to verify that our digital interfaces are solving day-to-day problems for every one of them.  

The good news is that this testing, this choice, this effort all pays off. It makes digital experiences better for all, including the ‘typical’ majority who think they don’t (yet) have accessibility needs. It empowers everyone to digest digital content in whatever way they choose to suit their needs and circumstances – whether that’s via Alexa, while jogging, or in languages that aren’t their mother tongue.  

In fact, we may even go so far as to say that accessible design is simply user-centred design. It’s time to turn those good intentions to action in 2023: we want to see more and more apps and websites designed with inclusivity in mind, creating accessible experiences for everyone.