Web Hosting Blog
“People’s feelings of loneliness go down by 80% when they’re online and their confidence goes up by 60%. When you are talking about some of the most disenfranchised and excluded groups in society; those are interesting and important numbers.” Martha Lane Fox, founder of doteveryone.org.uk
A few weeks ago now, we published a blog about web accessibility, however this focused primarily on web accessibility for the visually impaired. There are many technologies and apps around that are designed to make the web more accessible for a number of disabilities, but in today’s blog, well be focusing on web accessibility from a socio-economic perspective.
Web accessibility is a social issue and is essential for equal opportunity. So any organisation that operates a corporate social responsibility policy should therefore be considering socio-economic factors in their website and/or app designs.
You may have previously heard the term “Digital Divide”. If you have not, this is an umbrella term used to refer to any economic and social barriers of internet and technology access for people that aren’t caused by disability (though that is not to say that people with disabilities cannot be affected by socio-economic issues too, many are affected by the very same issues in addition to disability).
The digital divide is a global issue that can be caused by a number of factors that vary from country to country. The main causes of the digital divide here in the UK are:
Financial – Money is needed to buy the devices that access the internet such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. Money is also needed for internet access which is usually paid to a provider on a monthly basis in exchange for internet access on the premises. People with little or no income are much less likely to be able to access the internet as their money is likely to be spent on things more critical to survival, such as food, water, heating and housing as a priority.
Location – Access to networks and speed of connection can vary greatly depending on where you are in the UK, though this disparity is improving with time. Despite that, it’s still the case that most cities and their surrounding areas will have the best network coverage and speeds, but the coverage in rural areas is much more limited. Without the coverage, internet access is made extremely difficult or maybe even impossible in some cases.
IT Literacy – People who have learned how to use technology correctly are in a much better position to use it to their full advantage. This is especially true of most young people who have been of school age at some point in recent years, as they’ve had education in the relevant technologies as part of the curriculum. People who have never learned how to use internet connected devices simply do not enjoy the same advantage and opportunity level of someone who is IT literate.
Your location in the world can also shape where you are in the digital divide. For example, South Korea has the fastest internet in the world, with an average connection speed of 28.6 Mb/s (South Korea also has the fastest mobile internet in the world at a massive 52.4Mb/s). On the other side of the spectrum, we have Paraguay, where the average internet connection speed is just 1.4Mb/s. The UK clocks in at a semi-respectable 16.9Mb/s, but this demonstrates that on a global scale, your income isn’t everything in terms of where you sit in the digital divide. That is to say, someone on a low income in South Korea could still enjoy a greater speed of connection than someone on a high income in the UK, and so you can see that the issue is far from straightforward.
So, how can you, as a company with a website or app of it’s own, help with the issue? In truth, unless you are an internet provider or an education institute, your ability to directly improve the bigger situation is quite small. But, that is not to say there aren’t things you can do to make it easier for anyone impacted by the digital divide to access and enjoy your website.
Simple design – By going for a minimalist approach to web design, you can get your company’s message and services to people on even the slowest connections. Think simple formatting and as little scripting as possible. Of course, this isn’t going to be suitable for all sites, particularly if you have other users who expect a dynamic and feature rich design. So in that case, you might want to try…
Providing an alternative – This way, you get the best of both worlds. You can offer a full featured version of your website to cater for your content hungry users, and a stripped down version for those on a weaker connection. Of course, the main downside to this option is needing to maintain two sites instead of one.
Clarity – Clear and consistent design, especially when it comes to navigation, can help people less familiar or newer to web technologies find their feet on your website. Using clear and simple language, supplemental illustrations and non-moving text can also greatly help those with low literacy levels or people not fluent in the language your site is written in.
You can visit the site of the Web Accessibility Initiative here.
You can find out more about doteveryone here.
To read the Office of National Statistics’ position on the United Kingdom’s Digital Divide, go here.