Building accessible experiences

14 October 2020 / Published in Tech & Innovation

Did you know that up to 25% of New Zealanders identify as having a disability? There are a lot of Kiwis who face challenges daily in areas that most of us take for granted.

For some who are less-abled, simple tasks like making a cup of coffee, brushing their teeth or getting in and out of a car can be a real challenge without the assistance of someone else.

Independence, the ability to go through life unaided by others, is highly valued. Those who are creating services, buildings, technology or experiences for people can literally change someone's life for the better by making these accessible to those with disabilities.

We see this in many areas of life, from wheelchair access onto a bus, through to braille on elevator buttons. Enhancements like these offer independence to those who have may have relied on others’ help to get on the bus or use an elevator.

The digital world, and ASB online banking, is no different.

When digital services are designed and built with the less-abled in mind, this can offer autonomy, freedom and equality. If not done well it can lead to unnecessary frustration, exclusion and hardship.

This is something we recognise, value and are committed to at ASB, and our teams are working hard to bring our digital experiences up to a standard that makes them accessible and inclusive to all our customers.

We want to make digital services, like checking your balance, making a payment to a friend or someone on Trade Me, or joining KiwiSaver, accessible and usable without frustration by our customers who may be blind or impaired in some way.

To work towards this goal takes a lot of continuous, collaborative work by our teams, from design through to build through to testing. From the ground up, the Design Practice puts deep thought and consideration into how we can design our experiences to be WCAG 2.1 compliant. This gives our development teams a great starting point for building experiences that everyone can use. We also work with Access Advisors to see how they can best support those less-abled.

At a recent internal developer conference two of our star software developers, Riel and Conor, discussed their experience making bank transfers accessible and usable to our customers who have a disability.

Transfers is a core banking function. Riel and Conor relished the challenge to ensure it is usable by all our customers regardless of their physical ability, and are leading the way in this area. They put a huge amount of work into building and testing this new experience and, at our last chapter meeting, demonstrated some of their journey and the tools they used to help them develop an experience that meets this WCAG 2.1 standard. 

At the conference Conor shared this gem:

“The key challenge with making a website accessible is putting yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have the same ability to interact with the page as you do. For example they may be unable to use a mouse, touch or even see the page. You need to make the webpage able to be understood and interpreted in a clear way using a variety of interfaces (screen reader, keyboard only, non-pointer). It can be difficult to know how to make a webpage easy to consume when you take away a lot of the things we are used to. We are still learning and trying hard to improve, getting advice from consultants, and hopefully in the future we will all find building for accessibility second nature.”

In practice, this may be a visually impaired customer relying on a ‘Screen Reader’ to read out the elements on the screen and navigate through these with the keyboard. For our testing, we need to ensure that what is being read by the Screen Reader is helpful and relevant to those who are visually impaired so they can use the service.

Here the team show how they put themselves in the shoes of these customers to test out the experience without being able to see what is on the screen.

There were lots of great takeaways for our development community from this session as we continue to improve all our digital services and make them accessible to all Kiwis. For example we were walked through how the team made use of some of the different browser add-ons to help support development and testing for accessibility.

The main tools that they talked to us about were:

With ChromeLens, the developers demonstrated how, with this add-on, they were able to load the experience into the browser under conditions that simulate what a less-abled person might experience. JAWS is also one of the tools we use to make sure experiences run well for those who depend on a Screen Reader.

We encourage any team developing web or mobile applications to explore some of the tools above and see how you can bring them into your design and development processes to create great, accessible experiences for everyone.

We recognise that we still have a long way to go to bring our all our experiences up to speed with all the WCAG 2.1 standards, but would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Riel, Conor and their squad for their efforts so far and for taking the time to take the web community through some of their learnings.

You can check it out for yourself by visiting the new ‘Transfers’ experience in FastNet Classic internet banking.


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