Adrian Wegener - Ergosign

On the Journey to Greater Digital Accessibility

Adrian Wegener Senior Project Manager • Accessibility Expert

27/09/2022 • 7 minutes reading time

In this insights article, Adrian Wegener, Project Manager at Ergosign and founder of Eye Build It, shares his knowledge and offers tips on how to approach the topic of digital accessibility, especially as a company. Adrian has been working deeply on the topics of accessibility and inclusive design for years and has received awards from the German Design Council, the EU and the UN, among others.

There have been innovative people who have worked to make technologies accessible ever since the time of the typewriter (source). And our society is increasingly focusing on accessibility through legislation, such as the European Accessibility Act (source). The effort required by companies overall to ensure true digital accessibility varies greatly. But there’s good reason why this effort is worthwhile:

„Accessibility measures aim to include the world’s largest minority, 15% of the world’s population (source), who have disabilities, in everyday technological life."

For many companies, ensuring digital accessibility represents an unclear hurdle because of lack of experience or personal connections. What do you need to do if you want to engage with this topic – or the laws surrounding it?

In order to find and remove barriers to accessibility, we first need personal experience with accessibility and inclusion. Learning by doing. Sounds like a long process. When we’re learning something, we often think: “If I’d known that earlier, I would be in a much better position.”

Today we can make this wish come true – without a time machine. Below are answers to some questions I asked myself when I first started learning about accessibility. These answers, which come from several years of deep experience in the field of inclusive design, are intended to accelerate the learning process for readers.

How many people does it take to screw in an accessible light bulb?

Screens consist of a lot of lights and are often the access point for our daily digital lives. How do we ensure that as many people as possible have this access?

We can, for example, increase the contrast so people with poor eyesight can also see the information. We’re concerned that some people can’t see these lights, so we offer alternatives. Or we might find that people with intellectual disabilities can perceive the light but, depending on the structure, they might not understand the information behind it. The individual measures for addressing these issues might seem simple. But they only work if they’re seen in context and with the involvement of all users.

So, regarding the light-bulb question: We need a lot of people – in order to determine whether the light is actually broken and whether some people would prefer to have a better speaker or instructions.

I’m heading out on the road to greater digital accessibility. What should I pack in my suitcase?

As you can see from the first question, accessibility has a lot to do with mindset. Accessibility isn’t something you can just work through like a checklist.

But with that in mind, here’s a checklist of things that can help on the road to greater digital accessibility:

  • Mindset of collaborative design, partnership and openness.

  • Conversations with friends, family, acquaintances, at work or in public. Many disabilities are invisible. They might only become clear through conversations in an open and positive environment.

  • Try using simulations – not the kind in the Matrix, but simulations of disabilities. They can help you better understand people’s different abilities (e.g. visual impairment filters, screen reading software, contrast calculator, dyslexia simulation).

  • Plan specific steps toward accessibility: Implementing measures after developing applications and services is usually more complicated than doing things right from the outset.

  • You also need the understanding that checklists aren’t enough because they are never complete. Requirements and technology, norms, and the technical state of art change regularly and we have to adapt.

Adrian bei seinem TEDx Talk.

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What are the barriers to barrier-free accessibility?

This can be an intimidating topic and may put some people on the defensive. We’ve all heard people say: “We don’t need that! We don’t have any users with disabilities.” It’s sometimes difficult to convince people here. But it often turns out that this assumption is mistaken and that they just haven’t discussed the issues with their users.

So what should you do if you really don’t have any users with disabilities? Then you might be missing a huge opportunity! No project should voluntarily or out of ignorance exclude so many people and give up 15% of the market. After all, greater inclusion also means greater potential for success.

Illustrative representation of exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.
Presentation of 4 phases from exclusion to separation and integration to inclusion. Greater inclusion results in societal, social and economic added value, since all people can interact with each other in the same context without hurdles.

This social topic is often met with open arms, and we’re happy go into concrete implementation with support.

Do I need to worry about lawsuits from accessibility laws?

The rules of the BITV Regulation, which regulates the implementation of accessible digital services, has been in force for public bodies for several years.

A similarly functioning regulation with the abbreviation BFSGV will apply to the private sector starting in 2025. These rules are meant to ensure products are easier to understand and use. That’s a win-win for everyone. If the rules aren’t implemented in time, penalties can be imposed by lawyers, supervisory bodies, or even class-action lawsuits, as is the case with the GDPR data protection. That is why it’s advisable to start implementing the requirements in good time, as these can’t just be “added on” like a GDPR privacy policy.

Presentation of some laws for accessibility
Graphic showing some accessibility laws. Key statement: BITV and BFSGV are based on EU guidelines that use the international WCAG standard

What if I don’t know any people with disabilities, and I don’t know what their needs might be?

It is important that the needs of users with and without disabilities are taken into account. Nobody should be left to handle the implementation alone. People with disabilities cannot make every product and service in the world accessible on their own. This requires the kind of user-centered processes that usability experts are familiar with.

The fear that “I don’t have any disabilities myself, so I can’t do anything in this area” is completely unfounded. That would be like thinking that only pregnant women can develop products for pregnant women. That doesn’t make any sense either.

I’m convinced. Now how do I convince others?

  1. Set a good example and develop with accessibility in mind!

  2. Convince other decision makers of the benefits: These include social inclusion, usability optimization, legal certainty, market expansion, SEO optimization and many more.

  3. Delve deeper into the topic together with experts and users. This will help you determine what actually needs to be done. We’re happy to support you here.

  4. Share content about accessibility to make more people aware of it.

  5. Support accessibility by purchasing inclusive products.

Ergosign is working intensively on the issue of accessibility internally and in numerous customer and research projects. More Insights articles on this topic can be found here:

Research Project AVASAG

You can also use the following button to report barriers to accessibility on our website: