Accessible Arabia? Why accessibility matters online – Part 1

The following is a contributor post from Chris Rourke, MD of User Vision.

 “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

— Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

W3C Keys

Courtesy of

Well, that was the intention at least.

The reality is very different, especially for most sites representing companies and organisations in the Arab world.  Every day thousands of people with disabilities are unable to take full advantage of the incredible information and services available on the web.

They find their online goals, whether for work or personal use, are difficult or impossible to perform.

Why? Because sites have not been developed with accessibility in mind and this problem is especially common in the Middle East.  Web accessibility is typically not high on the agenda for businesses online or the digital agencies they commission and the result is frustration and failure for thousands of people with disabilities.

Web accessibility is about enabling people who may need to use your site slightly differently than you might expect.  Some visitors might want to increase the text size with browser controls or navigate by tabbing rather than use a mouse.  Others may use assistive technology to navigate through voice commands, magnify the screen or hear the site content through a screen reader.  All of these will benefit from a site designed to allow these adaptations to be made so they can control their view and use of the site.    Essentially the site needs to meet the user half way by being coded in a way that allows user adaptations or assistive technologies to be used to improve the experience.

Why does accessibility matter? First of all it’s the right thing to do – the web has been incredibly empowering to all of us, and the intention is that a person’s disability should not prevent them from enjoying the benefits.  It also make good business sense, especially if you are in B2C or B2B commerce, it really does not make sense to exclude some of your target audience. Making your site accessible will help you avoid certain PR or legal risks and the fact that accessible sites display the best coding and mark-up means there is a strong correlation between good accessibility and search results.  Google likes accessible sites and rewards them for that fact in their search algorithm

Some examples of inaccessibility in action

What does an inaccessible site look like?  It depends since the degree of inaccessibility depends on the type of disability that the person has.  For instance poor colour contrast will affect a person with low vision but it would not affect someone that is completely blind and using a screen reader.

Fortunately there are several tools that can help you identify some, but not all, web accessibility issues on a site. They apply technical scans of a site, and therefore can help to identify only about half of the issues, but they are a good first step.

My personal favourite tool for such quick checks is the WAVE tool from WEBAIM since it clearly identifies the accessibility issues on a page and uses colour coding (and more accessible means!) to classify them.  It is easy to drill down into the issues and recommended solutions for each one too, making it a great educational tool.

In this image the WAVE tool has identified the quintessential accessibility issue – missing alternative text on images – on a large central government department website.

Alt=navigation icons with missing Alternative text

The impact of this is on a screen reader user who will be unable to hear what the button is for – and therefore cannot use the site.

Here for a regional airline it shows another common problem of form labels not being specifically associated with their form controls. This can affect those with visual or other disabilities since it will be unclear which label is associated with each form field.

Alt=form fields labels not associated to form controls

Searching through various sites in the Middle East region shows that problems such as these are common.

Causes of poor accessibility

Of course no one sets out to intentionally create inaccessible websites, so accessibility is much more an error of omission than commission.  It is often a side effect of a fundamental issue that is often forgotten by clients and the agencies developing websites:

It is not your website and not all site users are like you.

Accessibility is often not put on the design agenda at all in web design projects.  Broadly speaking there are three main stakeholders with a part to play in this:

  • Site owners who may not require web accessibility provisions in their web projects, for instance in their design brief to their agencies
  • Agencies who may not have in-house knowledge to build in accessibility to their sites; they may not have prioritised it during the design, or they fail to maintain focus on the site accessibility in the cut and thrust and compromise of site development.
  • Those that would benefit from better web accessibility who may not be aware of the potential for better web accessibility or they may not notify site owners of issues they encounter

There are additional factors as well such as whether web accessibility is in some way built into the national legal structures (such as the Equality Act in the UK, or the Section 508 guidelines in the US, which help to provide a legal basis for the web accessibility.

So we have identified a problem – what can we do about it?

In Part 2 of this Article, later this month, will cover

  • Ways to get accessibility on the agenda for your organisation and in the Arab region
  • Some good examples of accessibility being implemented and
  • The best resources to learn more about web accessibility



In the meantime, you may wish to learn more about web accessibility at the UX breakfast briefing provided by User Vision on March 26th in Dubai Media City, where web accessibility will be the featured presentation.



About Chris Rourke

Chris Rourke  - CEO UservisionChris Rourke is the Managing Director of User Vision MENA, the Middle East’s leading user experience research and design agency.

With over 20 years’ experience in usability, accessibility and experience design, Chris has worked with leading brands in the region including Emirates Airline, Jumeirah Group, and the Government of Abu Dhabi, as well as many others in the UK and Europe.

He has led projects at all stages of the user-centred design life-cycle  from user needs research through to development of information architecture, usability testing and on-going user experience research.

Chris enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for user experience and provide training on user experience through Twofour54 and Econsultancy as well as in-house training courses.


A Smarter Phone Future

DigitalArabia - mobile-hero

DigitalArabia – mobile to infinity & beyond?

It has been discussed, argued and never agreed on. When will it be The Year of the Mobile Device? When will smart phones surpass PC’s as the consumer choice?

“In the case of mobile, companies need to understand that it’s more than just a technology shift, it is also a significant change in how people connect with each other and consumer content.” —Chia Chen, senior vice president and North American mobile practice lead at Digitas, as quoted in Mobile Marketer, June 25, 2012

Well, while the pundits and experts argue, some data seems to suggest that 2011 was the year that the tipping point was achieved and many had their “eyes wide shut”.

In fact the International Data Corporation suggests that smartphones and tablets will be outselling PC’s by 2:1.

DigitalArabia – Shipments of Smartphones – eMarketer

The question remains, regardless of the pundits opinion, is your business ready to communicate or sell on a hand-held device?

When approaching a mobile development strategy you need to consider a few initial aspects:

  1. What is your business trying to achieve on mobile and is your customer ready and willing to engage?
  2. Is your current website  / or future websites being built with tablet devices (specifically) in mind?
  3. What systems do you have in place to centrally manage the channel? Do they need adapted? Are they open to multiple channels? (Example: try to utilise one Content Management System only throughout all your digital channels)
  4. Do you need mobile web / native application / both or versions of mobile web – app? (Mobile web is generally a best place to start, it should be available across all phone browser types and can be adapted to an App in most occasions)
  5. Native app offer significant differentiated (and better) user experiences than mobile web can currently manage e.g. offline availability, integration with native software (geo targeting). However these require an individual strategic financial analysis as they are significant investments and the returns should be justified as such.
  6. Do you require multiple languages? How will your route decision impact the technology requirement?

So those are the basic mobile development questions. You now need to consider the mobile marketing strategy. For reference, a mobile marketing strategy differs significantly from a standard browser based strategy, particularly due to search engines (Google) segmenting mobile as a separate channel (meaning strategic SEO & SEM investment). It is exceptionally important to analyse this as part of your investment / returns analysis.

There is no doubt however, that “year of mobile commerce” is here. In the Middle East particularly there is significantly higher penetration on mobile than in many parts of the world, meaning at a basic level, the opportunities are considerable.

BBC News – Microsoft fixes ‘big boobs’ coding gaffe

BBC News – Microsoft fixes ‘big boobs’ coding gaffe.

A lesson learnt for MS and one for everyone developing a website with an external developer…also one that I have learned from the hard way.

TIP: Make sure that when contracting 3rd party developers, you include legal clauses in your contract that enforces liability on the developers /agency for “non-required code” in the development.

Web developers have a great tendency to leave a “signature” of some sort in their code to identify their work…. sometimes it back-fires, just like the “big boobs”  case with MS.

Recommended also, that you do a complete source code analysis prior to accepting a development, either through internal resource or an independent 3rd party.

Most agencies will look at you like an alien when requesting this clause in a contract, but be sure to cover yourself legally… once a site goes live, it is very difficult to point fingers!

How to go viral with luxury – Case Study

This is a case study that I have compiled based on recent experiences with Jumeirah Group and seeding a very creative video that reached the world.


The team at Burj Al Arab, the Jumeirah flagship hotel, recently created a phenomenal video called “Leave the Ordinary Behind”. From the moment we started to discuss the video with the team, we knew it was going to be truly fantastic and that we needed to share it with the world.

Considerable hours went into researching all aspects of the seeding effort, including analyzing previous videos to see what was “sticky” about the content and where people dropped off. This was crucial to ensure that we communicated the right video length to the producers, which ended up at 55 seconds.

In terms of demographics, we researched with our search partners and the YouTube/Google team where the prime demographic reside, age groups and the type of videos that they were watching consistently. We also reviewed analytics for video views by region, social media channels demographics, the loyalty program (Sirius) and our CRM data.

In order to add an equity value, we assessed the value per viewer in terms of resident country. This was evaluated against other channel costs in those countries and also against our transactions online. This gave us a quality score internally – a benchmark to track success. We have always been very aware that for a luxury brand, it is not only the number of viewers that we attract, but also the brand advocacy. Additionally, in order to seek funding, you need numbers.

Knowing that a brand effort such as this was difficult to track to immediate bookings, we decided to benchmark success also on SEO rankings for both keywords and Jumeirah videos on search engines along with visitors to the site, email sign-ups and social media channel growth.

Once the research was complete, we created the global seeding strategy which took into account more than the standard channels. We also wanted to give our most loyal customers and brand advocates a “back stage” glimpse. This in itself created a considerable viral effect and we saw the numbers jump immediately.


The video has been viewed more than 700,000 times within the first two weeks of campaign on Jumeirah’s YouTube channel.

The video received more than 60 likes on Jumeirah’s UK Facebook page when it was first released, and was viewed more than 3,700 times on its account on Chinese kaixin001 (the Facebook equivalent in China)

Jumeirah was the first brand in the Middle East to run a YouTube video pre-roll campaign, and this video was the most watched hotel video in 2011 (*Source: Digital IQ).

Traffic to Burj Al Arab homepage increased by 9.99% in the two week period following the video launch, and the homepage increased its new visitors by 11.17% in that period only.

The impact of the campaign on search engine rankings was exceptionally high and positioned the video in the top search results on Google.

YouTube campaign results: – UK: 121,812 clicks, Germany: 98,734 clicks, US: 399,988 clicks.

Additionally the film inspired Adam Young, founder of electronic project Owl City, to compose an original score for the video.

Jumeirah also won the BRAVE AWARDS 2012, including the GRAND PRIX, a significant endorsement of a well defined and well executed strategy...

Digital_Arabia_Braves WINNER e_badge