WEBINAR OVERVIEW How to design an accessible online service

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Digital experiences need to be designed around the least capable users to boost accessibility, a webinar this week explained.

Webinar presenters ENGINE Transformation explained how they had worked with the government’s tribunal service to make it more accessible to users.

Phil Brooks, Research Director, ENGINE Transformation gave an overview on how widespread the challenges in navigating online services are. 22% of people in the UK, or 11.7 million, lack the digital skills needed to do everyday tasks online. Of these, 9 million people are unable to use the internet effectively. Across the country, 6.6 million of people suffer from dyslexia, while the same number suffer from dyspraxia and 2.6 million ADHD.

Dave Jackson, Associate Director, ENGINE Transformation, pointed out that while the education system has become better at identifying people with learning difficulties, in previous generations problems like dyslexia might have slipped under the radar. Older generations tend to have less digital capability generally.
Increasing accessibility for these people falls under the broad banner of “assisted digital”, an initiative set up by the government in its goal of becoming a digital-first organisation. This encompasses people who lack trust, confidence, access, skills or motivation.

The brief
ENGINE worked with the tribunal online appeals process with the brief “to make sure everyone who needs it can use it”. The research-based approach involved interviewing appellants and establishing the challenges faced by the most vulnerable appellant they could envisage using the service.

Interviews established that a “low capability” user might not be able to read or write in English, might face mental health problems or might not use a computer or smartphone at all. They might not have close family or friends to help and might need someone to manage the entire process for them.Based on the extensive research, the process was a collaborative one.

Natalie Harney, User Researcher at ENGINE, explained: “We took a co-design approach, with everyone in a room working together.”
“We asked all stakeholders to look at the stories and understand them. People feeling involved and part of the research created better understanding and a better impetus for change.”

This meant that when it progressed to the actual design, “everyone had a good idea of who the users were and what their needs were.”
The ultimate judges of the project’s success were the end users, who fed back on the service and issues they might face in using it. Feedback included people highlighting that a common expression might not be understood by non-native English speakers or that a timeline rather than a series of files might be easier to navigate.

“People could see from the beginning the change they’d had and the impact they were going to have and the difference it would make to people’s lives.”
While the tribunals process has processes which can’t be changed, such as a legal requirement that people can only appeal within 14 days, there was scope to reduce the amount of information needed at an early stage in order to more easily meet that deadline.
Lessons for financial services

The process can be summarised as “thinking of the hidden minority as the primary users and designing for them”.

As Dave pointed out in his presentation, the group collectively has vast spending power: people with accessibility needs have annualised spending power of nearly £12 billion.

Like the tribunals process, financial services is highly regulated and includes legally mandated language. There is also a limit to how much online sign-ins can be simplified due to security considerations.

With these challenges in mind, how can compliance be balanced with service design?

“In the financial services space, some things are quite complex. There’s nervousness in looking after money and making payments with confidence.”
These confidence issues can also be exacerbated by difficulty using numbers or poor education.

Dave said that while financial services is continually working towards a better experience, service designers need to have that imagined vulnerable customer in mind.
“It’s really through understanding user needs and what needs to be there. It’s a lot of iteration, constant testing and validating,” said Dave. “By trying to work with people, and also by really going through that process, you start to understand what works is reassurance.

“You need to simplify it as much as you can, to make it easy to understand while retaining the legal meaning.”

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