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Are You Accessible?

We all use the Internet, in particular the World Wide Web. Your business probably has a website, and it’s quite possible that someone checks the website analytics on a regular basis to see how many visitors the site is getting and how popular it is. Websites have become important expositions of our products and services, and for many companies the website is now the primary interface with the customer. 

Which begs the question, how do people see yours? Does it work for those who visit it?


Websites are not like books or newspapers, you cannot determine absolutely how a website will look to a customer. They may view it on a desktop computer, a tablet or a smartphone - each with different screen size and web display abilities. If the website requires “plug-ins” ( extension software to show / play special media such as video), then it may not work on some devices. If it depends on up to date web technologies such as HTML5 then similarly it may fail the customer; many people use older web browsers, and some can’t upgrade without upgrading the device, particularly in the case of smartphones and tablets. Similarly some newer devices and web browsers don’t support older technologies which are being phased out, so older websites may not work with newer technology. Websites which use a lot of graphics may perform badly on older smartphones which only have lower-speed 2G or 3G connections. To put it simply, your nice shiny website, which looks great on the up to date PC in the office, and was so impressive on the web designer’s laptop when you signed it off, may be excluding a significant proportion of your “audience” from accessing your services. 

For example, recent versions of Android (4.1 upwards) don’t support Adobe Flash Player. Flash was commonly used to display interactive and video content in websites. Android is the most popular operating system for smartphones and tablets, with 84% market share of smartphone sales. As a consequence the Government’s “Interactive House” which explains what alterations do or don’t need planning permission doesn’t work on many smartphones & tablets, and nor does Manx Telecom’s MTTV video news service. Neither are small organisations, if these giants of the island can’t get it right what chance does the average small business have?

Similarly, Internet Explorer version 8 (IE8), the default web browser for Windows 7, doesn’t cope with HTML5 which is increasingly used for modern websites. Many Windows 7 users have upgraded - either to a later version such as Internet Explorer 11 or to a different and more modern browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome - but many haven’t. Currently about 4% of UK Internet accesses are via IE8 - as these are by people who haven’t upgraded for a few years and presumably are not intensive users of the Internet it is quite possible that 4% of accesses is representative of 12% - 20% of users - for example my elderly parents, who “go online” two or three times a year when they need to. Whether the number of people affected is 4% or 20% it’s a substantial number. Some of the most popular DIY website hosts, for example WIX, which allow you to create a free website without programming, are dependent on HTML5 meaning that several small businesses on the island have websites which can’t be viewed by a substantial proportion of prospects. Even the IT sector body the Manx ICT Association has fallen into this trap. Ironically the proportion of IE8 users on the island is likely higher than in the UK and elsewhere because finance sector companies are very careful about locking down computers so that employees don’t accidentally introduce viruses etc. - and some of our finance companies are still using IE8 as standard.

Basically, digital accessibility via the Internet is difficult. It is very easy to exclude part of the audience or customer base - and quite hard to avoid doing so,

So what should you do?

Firstly get a good web designer - I don’t mean a great technical wizard (although that might help), but someone who understands typography and page layout how to design websites which look simple and attractive and easy to use.

Modern websites are sometimes coded with “responsive” design - that is they are designed to work across a range of devices with different screen sizes and browser capabilities, and to optimise the way they display accordingly, but this requires more skill on the part of the web developer and more effort, typically meaning higher cost. If you want your website to be as at home on the ‘phone as the desktop you need a responsive website - ask your designer.

Keep it simple. Make the design simple, make the navigation simple, avoid the use of plug-ins. Classic design is classic for good reason. Don’t use features you don’t need, just because they look nice doesn’t mean they make your site easier to use.  If a website is cluttered with whizzy features or highly interactive then it probably won’t work for everyone.

Pay for your website hosting, and if you are going to create your own website pay for web design software. Unless you are a web expert, even if you “DIY” using the website builder provided by the hosting company you will probably achieve a more useable result than you can get from a free service, and a proper web design package will be better still. Reputable web design software starts at £30. You’ll also generally get better website performance and search engine rankings from using a paid hosting service. It doesn’t need to be expensive, £3 per month will buy you a decent service for a single website.

Consider HTML5. As I’ve mentioned above, it doesn’t work on older browsers so if you’re trying to create a website that will work for everyone you will have to avoid it. On the other hand, if you know that your audience will include a substantial proportion of smartphone and tablet users then HTML5 will make it better for them. It is a decision that has to be made on an informed basis, HTML5 is the future for web, but not everyone is ready for it. If you decide you want to use HTML5 and DIY then Google do a nice free HTML5 editor.

Above all - test. However you have approached the design of your website to ensure that most people can read it, don’t make assumptions. Between versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome etc. on computers, tablets and mobiles there are at least 20 different web browsers in use at any time, so try your website on as many as you can. Try it on your friend’s phones & tablets. If you use a professional web designer then agree which browsers and versions you expect your website to work on, and have them test as part of the design process. If you don’t then like many organisations you will find that a substantial part of your audience can’t use your website.

Even on the Isle of Man, if you unintentionally exclude 4% - 5% from viewing your website that's around 3,500 to 4,000 people - a lot.

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