Interview

Elevating Accessibility

Interviewer: Linda Baumgartner

Accessibility has become increasingly urgent in view of the EAA deadline in 2025. Why do companies have to take this issue so seriously?

Aslı Bostanoğlu: Businesses have to realize that when the EAA comes into force, they can be heavily penalized if their products and services do not comply with accessibility requirements. They therefore must take action now to avoid legal and financial consequences further down the line. It’s an investment in the future.

Andrea Bertsche: That’s right. Regardless of the EAA, anyone who fails now to invest in accessible products and services can expect to be left behind. Users expect simple solutions that provide smooth experiences. If businesses don’t have accessible websites and or don’t invest enough time and effort into making their offerings accessible, they will soon notice an impact on both their reputation and sales. And quite apart from the financial aspect – from a human perspective, it’s time that products and services were easily accessible to everyone, regardless of any impairments. It’s not always about making large, complicated changes – sometimes even small or relatively simple adaptations can make a huge difference in terms of accessibility. This can mean optimizing products or services for use with screen readers for the visually impaired or providing subtitles for people with hearing issues, to name just a few of many examples.

The new regulations mean products and services will have to be accessible for people with a wide range of impairments. How can companies go about tackling such an expansive subject and how can Sensity support them with these efforts?

Aslı: Accessibility has the best chance of success when it has management support. This is partly because such a wide-ranging issue requires a lot of administrative effort, for example to set up the necessary roles and responsibilities, and an investment of time and resources. Communication and awareness of the importance of accessibility also needs to come from the top. However, some companies, regardless of their size, don’t know where to start. And this is where we can provide strategic support in helping to provide an overview of the necessary steps and the most efficient approach, as well as accompanying the implementation of these. It’s about taking this expansive topic and helping to tackle it in a simple, pragmatic manner. Even a few small steps can help start the ball rolling and make good progress with accessibility.

Andrea: A diverse topic like this requires its own roadmap, communications plan, and depending on the size of the company in question, its own team. In the case of large organizations who already have a plan and designated teams in place, we are excellently equipped to help with implementation. This includes company communications, creating guidelines for accessible writing and design, tracking deadlines and milestones, etc. Because although the strategic aspect is very important, operational implementation is key to ensuring that all aspects of accessibility are taken into account at an early stage. Only then can companies ensure that products being launched next year, for example, are EAA-compliant when they hit the market.

Is simply being EAA-compliant enough, or should companies be taking additional aspects into account when it comes to accessibility?

Aslı: Regardless of the regulations outlined in the EAA, it’s also important to be aware of what people really need. By this I mean not just focusing on adhering to legal requirements, but finding out what makes a great experience for everyone – including people with impairments who face particular challenges in everyday life. 

Here at Sensity, we’ve been involved in research projects which show the value-add of involving people with different impairments and perspectives in the development process. This is the best way to get the key insights early on and create truly barrier-free products with accessible design and language. Research has also shown that employing people with impairments in product development puts them in the ideal position to share their personal insights and contribute towards the creation of products that offer a great experience through their unique perspective. Involving a diverse range of people in the development process is a sure way of developing products which are guaranteed to be successful.

Andrea: When companies get insights from people affected by impairments, it becomes clear how diverse the topic of accessibility really is and how many aspects of a product or service can be affected. This doesn’t mean the solution has to be more complicated – it’s about finding the best possible compromise that’s suitable for everyone. In one project in which we were involved, someone gave the example that when sidewalk curbs are lowered for wheelchair users, this is an obstacle for the visually impaired using sticks, as they use the curbs for orientation. Similar clashes could occur when it comes to developing accessible digital products. That’s why it’s important to involve as many people as possible prior to or during development. 

Aslı: Anyone who knows even a little bit about the topic will know that accessibility is not just an add-on after a product or service is ready for market. It’s something that has to be considered from the very first stage of product development – or maybe even before. After all, making products accessible is creating a better experience for all users and not just those with impairments. Ideally, companies conduct tests or surveys before they even start developing a product or service, to discover which features are necessary and useful and how to combine them to create the ideal product. It’s important that the accessibility topic is brought to life in every department and for every project. And this should really already be a matter of course. After all, ensuring products are accessible isn't an act of kindness - it's a fundamental entitlement. Every individual deserves access to products and services that cater to their needs.

What specific skills and tools can Sensity contribute to help companies shape products and services that offer this great experience for everyone?

Andrea: With our long-year background in UX writing and design, the Sensity team has a wealth of experience in helping shape products that offer the best possible user experience for a diverse range of users. We know what this process involves, and we have developed many guidelines for text, design and research that are specific yet concise and pragmatic and easy to use. Of course, we always ensure that these themselves are accessible as well as dynamic – updating them as soon as new insights are obtained.

Writing texts that are comprehensible to everyone was important to us before the idea of the EAA was even born. Many of our internal writing guidelines include aspects that make our writing accessible – so you could say we’ve always been a step ahead here. Our aim has always been to provide simple, clearly structured texts with a clear text hierarchy and structure. In terms of design, users need clearly labelled buttons, links, and texts so it’s clear where something will take them before they’ve even clicked. And our UX design team takes EAA-relevant aspects into account such as colors used, color contrasts or legible typeface, making sure the designs we provide are always barrier-free. So companies like us have actually already been working on accessibility for years. The EAA and its upcoming deadline simply give greater importance to our UX writing and UX design areas of expertise. 

I could name several examples of where good, accessible UX writing and UX design are crucial for the simple use of everyday products and services. In a banking app, for example, where there are seven buttons it’s not clear which one will help me complete my bank transfer. It’s often difficult for people without impairments to imagine how many situations become tricky for those with impairments. Another example is when doing something simple like setting up a phone. Many visually impaired people prefer to use an iPhone because they can control everything via voice – including the set-up – from the very beginning. This isn’t possible with all devices. And streaming services are not yet barrier-free either. Here people with impairments often still have to depend on someone who can see to help them navigate. A longing for independence is a huge topic for many people with impairments. They don’t want to have to rely on other for everyday activities. UX writing and UX design can contribute to this significantly.

Aslı: But of course it goes without saying that our work in accessibility goes beyond writing guidelines and accessible texts. We can provide the user research to show decision-makers why time and resources must be invested here now and where the major obstacles for impaired users lie. Whether it’s through workshops for each department which then, in turn, work as multipliers to bring it into the different areas. We can also provide support in driving the topic through workshops, short films or poster campaigns, for example.

Some people are of the opinion that accessibility means spending a lot of time and resources adapting things for a small minority. What would you say to them?

Andrea: Basically, you have to think of it like this: At some point in our lives, every one of us will be affected by an impairment – whether it’s permanent, temporary or situational. Think about simple things like your hearing or eyesight deteriorating as you get older – and demographic change in Western Europe and the US means that an increasingly number of older people will be using products in the future. And that’s not to mention illnesses or accidents that can result in significant impairments and affect anyone at any time. That’s why we should all have an interest in driving the topic of accessibility – regardless of our abilities.

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Andrea Bertsche

Andrea Bertsche
Language & UX Didactics Consultant
andrea.bertsche@sensity.eu
+49 221 34 64 05 0

Asli Bostanoglu

Asli Bostanoglu
Copywriting & Language Consultant
asli.bostanoglu@sensity.eu
+49 221 34 64 05 12