Accessible Arabia Part 2 – Putting accessibility on the agenda

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

Accessible Arabia Part 2  – Putting accessibility on the agenda

Accessibility Enter IconIn Part 1 of this article we pointed out that whilst accessibility is important, it is often not part of the conversation between agencies and clients, and as a result it is often not built in to the resulting website.

In this concluding part we will briefly 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

Getting the accessibility ball rolling

The best way to start a programme to improve your site accessibility is to have a close look at the current state of your site’s accessibility.  Although web accessibility is closely tied in with the coding of your site, you do not need to be a coder or developer to start to detect some of the accessibility problems.

As demonstrated in the Part 1 article, there are some simple and useful tools that can help you assess your site’s accessibility.  My personal favourite is the WAVE tool from WEBAIM but other good ones are the Web accessibility Toolbar from Vision Australia, and there are others.

These can be used to find some of the “low hanging fruit” issues – the accessibility risks that can be picked up by an automatic programme or spider.  This will not find a full and complete set of issues but it will be a good start for finding things such as missing alt text, problems in forms, or poor colour contrast.  These can be presented in a easy, visual style and allow you to drill down to learn more about the nature of each problem and more importantly the steps needed to solve it.

Another good way to find accessibility problems is to test the site with people that have disabilities.  For instance this could include those with visual impairments or alternatively this could be physical or cognitive disabilities.  Although there will be some extra effort to arrange a short usability test with this audience, the benefit will be strong empirical evidence which really makes it clear where the main barriers lie.

Getting accessibility built into sites in the region

A few years ago we conducted a project for the government of Abu Dhabi that gave us a good insight into the state of web accessibility in the UAE and the region as a whole.  It showed that the standard of web accessibility in the Middle East is generally lower than in most other parts of the world, especially when comparing high profile sites such as government departments or large banks.

Why are these otherwise professional and high profile sites so inaccessible?

Are there users with disabilities that want to book their own flight, access eGovernment information or access information online?   Absolutely.

Is there a strong motivation for these organisations to improve the accessibility provisions on their sites?  Not really.

The situation can improve, but it needs more than guidelines in web accessibility which I will outline later.

The underlying problem is that there is no web accessibility “market” in the Middle East.  Areas where web accessibility has made better progress, such as in the UK, have largely benefitted from the push and pull forces of a market.

The web Accessibility “Market forces”

Web accessibility market image showing how people with disabilities can influence companies who then influence supplier agenciesThe market is quite simple and the critical elements of this are listed below, starting with the most important stakeholder – the users.

  • Disabled users need to be aware of their right to e-accessibility and demand it.  The need for digital accessibility and the benefits it brings should be raised by individuals and through disability-related organisations. Government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can support this effort.
  • Companies and organisations with websites need to hear of this demand and at the same time be made aware of the benefit of improving accessibility.  They then need to demand that it is built into the design and maintenance of their sites, whether that happens in-house or through external agencies.   Stipulating compliance with WCAG 2.0 or national guidelines will not solve the problem overnight, but it will focus the minds of supplier agencies.
  • Digital agencies need to see this as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.  They can shout about how they can create accessible sites, but must be sure they can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.  They can build an accessibility competence in house or with specialist partners and raise the accessibility issue to their clients and keep it in the site development and maintenance plan.

These actions by these three key stakeholders will start the ball rolling and ideally create a “virtuous circle” of ever increasing accessibility online.

To a large degree this combination of increased awareness and pressure on other stakeholders in the market has driven the improvements in accessibility within the UK, and there is no reason why it could not occur in the Middle East.

Regional examples of web accessibility

Having pointed out some regional examples of poor accessibility it is only fair to give credit where things are being done right.  Perhaps the highest profile examples are those from the government of Qatar.  Qatar has set up a centre of excellence in web accessibility called MADA that has set itself the goal of making all the eGovernment channels in Qatar as accessible as possible.  As a result there is a high level of accessibility in the Qatar government websites.

For example on the Qatar government eServices Portal Hukoomi it is clear that accessibility has been addressed.  The image below shows the content area of the page assessed through the WAVE tool and there is good structural markup (Headings H1, H2, H3) and accurate alternative test on the images.

 Accessibility of Hukoomi demonstrated through good markup and use of alternative text

The same level of accessibility continues throughout the site, including the transactional areas with forms, a typical trouble spot for web accessibility.

Resources: Learning about web accessibility

One thing that is definitely NOT a reason for overlooking accessibility is a lack of guidance about how to create an accessible site.  There is plenty of great guidance out there, ranging from the official WCAG 2.0 guidelines  to slightly less formal from organisations such as the RNIB in the UK or WEBAIM in the US.

A final thought on web accessibility.  Its helps people use the web as it was intended, regardless of their disabilities.  In the long run, as we age and collect various impairments, every one of us could benefit from this.


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.


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.

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!

If content is King – The user experience is Emperor


DigitalArabia: (UX) User Experience framework

Many organisations don’t truly understand what they are trying to achieve with their Digital Investment or indeed what the possibilities are. This is reflected in the user experiences on the digital platforms where users are lost, disengaged or at worst disassociated themselves from the brand. In the Middle East there is a clear divide of those that “Get It”, and those that dont.

UX Challenges:

Emirates NBD. HSBC UAE. Mashreq Bank

  1. Go on to any of these bank websites and try to find out clear information regarding mortgage rates today?
  2. Log onto the site via your tablet or mobile. Request a mortgage meeting?
  3. Try to sign up for any account online
  4. Try to transfer money!
These are basic banking functionality that some do well, most dont!

Think about it (particularly in the Middle East), how many times have you searched for a product or service and been truly let-down by the experience or content that exists on the resulting website and have wasted endless hours flicking through various sites, only to end up phoning for re-assurance or simply never following through on an idea that inspired you? Or you have accessed a site that has not been updated in months, years or uses technology that is not working on your handheld device?

Customers & Companies lose out!  

This is really not a new issue, while companies put so much focus on creating, developing and enhancing technology solutions (e.g. booking functionality, eRetail shops, very creative & flashy experiences), they put very little consideration into the importance of the user experience or the relevant content that meets the varying needs and requirements of the multitude of “types” of visitors to their website. UX is a strategy in it’s own right, which requires clear thought processes, structure, definition and execution. It answers to business needs, brand essence, visual design, SEO etc. but ultimately it focusses on the User and their experience.

User experience strategy (or UX) incorporates content, individually approached, the customers experience is broken, and so is your online relationship with your customer.

So what is the benefit to your business? 

It may simplistic, but at the very essence, quality UX will grow your business and return shareholder equity!

This is clearly demonstrated through:

  1. Increased traffic to your brand through improved search engine rankings
  2. Increased self-service of users (lower your costs in other business units)
  3. Increased equity through higher value purchases
  4. Increased footfall to your offline business units (if you direct them!)
  5. Increased association & positive relationship to your brand

You can build a Ferrari, but unless you put the engine in it, it is just a good looking box! 



So what to do?

There are many approaches to getting UX right. The below steps will provide a basic outline to enhancing the user experience, through quality content and overall truly enhance your customers association to the brand.  This is based on large online developments, but the hypothesis can be utilised across the spectrum.

Start with research. What is the actual (today) experience of users on your platforms (website, mobile, application, intranet etc.). Bring your customers to the table – get them to call your baby ugly!

  • Depending on the size of company, this could be as simple as online surveys and assessing analytical info to address error pages, through to very complex and detailed Usability analysis and structured assessment.
  • Is the  experience; Useful, Compelling, Usable? Does it do justice to your physical brand or service? Can users fulfil their needs? Are the business objectives being met?
  • What is your content gap? What are you leaving unfulfilled or unanswered?
  • What are your competitors doing better?
Define the dream!
Align this section with the overall companies vision.
  • We will be the best at…
  • We will be number one for…
  • We are here to do… best…

Identify what you are truly trying to achieve with the experience

  • This is your business analysis. Is your website a transactional experience, a self-service platform, a brand communication tool or a mix of everything?
  • Create the objectives for your website and create the business KPI’s that you would associate success to
Define the user persona’s
  • Create personalities of the people that you are trying to target. There will likely be a multitude of these and all will have a varying degree of importance to your business objectives.
  • Instil these persona’s in all stakeholders minds – these are the people we are going to service online, these are their needs.
  • I recommend putting actual faces on the persona’s, creating a story and always relate to this throughout your internal communications.
Wire-frame, before design!
  • Create user journeys based on interactive wire-frames before you even touch a design easel.
  • Test the user journeys extensively – sweat them.
  • Do they pass the tests of the persona’s?
  • Identify the content that you need to put in there. What are your gaps? Start to identify content sources.
Technically, can we do it? 
  • Bring in the tech experts to identify (based on your infrastructure, systems etc) what is feasible in the wire-frames. During this session, be prepared to make changes!
Let the Artists Loose! 
  • Finally, let the creative guys run wild with your design. Make sure that the association to your brand is clear and that the user experience is always top of mind.
Test Test Test.
  • Throughout the journey, make sure that at every milestone, you have clear considerations for testing that the UX remains strong and the Persona’s requirements are always met.

Content is still King!

  • Make sure that your content fits the user persona requirements per page. Don’t simply re-use the same content that you had before as the requirements per page have changed.
  • Recommend using a barometer appraoch to balancing the needs of the user, with the business, brand, usability needs etc. Do this per page and assess the needs per user persona.

The truth is in the numbers…

  • Believe it or not, but now you have a new UX centred online experience, the real work has only now begun!
  • Make sure that your analytic structure / tagging methodology is sound. Only by measuring quantitative impact of your investment in UX will you be able to A, quantify the shifts and B, make ongoing and iterative improvements
  • Implement A/B Testing, Multi-variant testing, emotional auditing to constantly improve upon UX and the changing consumer needs

Hope that this provides a valuable  top level overview of how to strategically approach UX in order to enhance the users perception of your brand. The return on investment can be considerable by starting with the human elements of the online experience and always maintaining these throughout the cycles.