As we near the end of 2021, it’s a good time to pause and consider what the New Year will bring for the European tech industry. The world is still reeling from the aftermath of COVID, and this is set to continue well into 2022. As a result, companies are shifting to new ways of working, adopting technologies to suit those working remotely or in different regions. A growing trend in tech innovation and development is software to support neurodiversity among customers and employees.
Digital by default, to digital with intent
The shift from the physical to the digital will solidify in the coming year. Companies are investing heavily in digital channels. Those that get it right enjoy increased revenue, customer engagement and satisfaction. However, the rush to ‘go digital’ has led many to establish poor practices when it comes to design and user experience (UX).
For some customers, these issues might go unnoticed, but for others, they can present significant obstacles. With an estimated one in seven people having some form of neurodivergence, bad UX, clunky design, or poorly written content will be much more than a nuisance. For neurodivergent customers, with conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism, these issues can make understanding and navigating a website challenging. If information is displayed or communicated badly, it can cause customers to make mistakes, grow frustrated and eventually avoid the brand for one that offers a better experience.
Brands that successfully provide an accessible UX will need to audit existing content to make sure it is understandable to a broader market. Where possible, accessibility will be built at the start of the process, ensuring everything that follows is built with inclusivity in mind.
2021 was the year for companies to invest in technology and move more operations online. 2022 should be the year of making the online experience better and more accessible.
How can technology design be made more inclusive?
More than a nice-to-have
The business case for online accessibility is not new, but it has intensified in recent years. Just as a building without wheelchair access is now deemed unacceptable, customers will become more conscious of the barriers that prevent them from buying products and accessing services online.
There is now a great deal of pressure on private and public sector organisations to demonstrate proactivity in addressing ‘E’ in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). This has been monumental across private and public sectors, largely driven by pressure from consumers. Increasingly, there is more focus on the ‘S’, and companies are under increasing scrutiny to address diversity and inclusion (D&I), at both employer and external brand level.
The public will be quick to call out companies for making hollow statements that hold little water. If a company is not genuinely delivering on an inclusive offering, it will likely face increased criticism of its practices. Big brands such as Domino’s have already faced legal action over lack of accessibility after a blind user was unable to order from its website even with the help of a screenreader. There is no doubt that other brands are likely to encounter similar challenges unless they improve their offering in the coming year.
Digital accessibility for customers will form part of this focus with companies needing to demonstrate that their platforms are suitable for everyone – including those with neurodifferences. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explain how to make websites more accessible to people with disabilities. As the international standard for web accessibility, there is an expectation for businesses to meet these standards. While compliance is only mandatory for the public sector in the UK, WCAG will be the easiest way for companies to track their accessibility efforts. With WCAG 3 set to be finalised in the next few years, companies that use 2022 to meet compliance will save themselves a lot of pain down the road.
Improving the employee experience
Consumers won’t be the only group holding businesses to a higher standard. Employees will also expect organisations to offer greater accessibility options for staff. Just as we’ve seen hybrid working become the norm, accessibility will also form a key component of the employee experience.
Neurodiversity is a vital part of this process, stretching from recruitment all the way to onboarding and day-to-day support. Given that people with neurodiverse conditions like autism were seven times more likely to be chronically lonely during lockdown, businesses that are adopting more hybrid working environments will have a responsibility to maintain communication with their staff and support their careers. In practice, this will include incorporating literacy assistance tools to help those with dyslexia, and screen maskers to limit distractions for those with ADHD.
Can hybrid working ever be truly sustainable?
Equity over equality
Even with these efforts to improve experience and accessibility, it will always be difficult to provide an equal experience for everyone. Rather than focusing on providing equal experiences, focus on equal outcomes. When investing in and improving online channels, companies should consider different ways of thinking, processing and behaving, and how experiences can be tailored to suit personal preferences and needs. The overriding priority is to provide a fair, inclusive, and supportive environment for staff and customers. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) are becoming an increasingly important part of all public companies reporting requirements. A focus on truly understanding your audiences, and accounting for different circumstances, will be what businesses will be judged by.
In an ideal world, it would be fantastic to see five of the world’s top companies publish a DE&I policy that shows that they are actively attracting, recruiting, developing, and retaining employees with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions in 2022. We’re already seeing schools and universities providing the support these students need to participate and learn, it’s now time for the workplace to get on board and continue this approach to inclusivity – both with a change in workplace practices and practical tools to support staff.