Digital Accessibility will take centre stage in 2024, after catapulting in 2023

Ronise Nepomuceno
EE Design Team
Published in
6 min readJan 11, 2024

--

2023! What a wild ride of a year! Saying it had highs and lows is an understatement. It was not just a rollercoaster. It was a record-breaker of all rollercoasters. But instead of dwelling on challenges, we see everything as a learning curve and opportunities for innovation.
“Onwards and upwards always” is our mantra!

We kicked off the year by presenting at the British Science Week in Adastral Park about digital accessibility to school children.
We hope to have inspired some of the next generation to not only consider digital accessibility as an exciting career option but also to think on it as part of everything they do.

In 2023, we broke down silos and fostered collaboration between design and engineering. Our Engagement Process helped us with producing monthly reports on how we are doing regarding accessibility, bringing more transparency and buy-in from our teams. We are getting more involved at very early stages of the life cycle of new journeys, including brainstorming sessions on new requests and RFI (Request for Information) for new products. We also built collaborations externally and, like many of our peers, we were inspired by our several visits to the Google Accessibility Discovery Centre.

A colleague at the Google Accessibility Discovery Centre experimenting an online game using Assistive Technology.

In May, during the GAAD (Global Accessibility Awareness Day) celebrations… we launched our online courses and the A11y Club, a peer-to-peer digital accessibility support network for those involved with product development. Both activities became a milestone, empowering our colleagues with the knowledge to implement digital accessibility within their roles. So far, almost 300 colleagues have completed one or more of our courses. Those who completed all the courses received our Digital Accessibility First-Aid Certification.

Disabled and non-Disabled colleagues working together on the development of products at the A11y Club.

Our commitment resonated beyond our online courses, extending accessibility across the entire life cycle of customer interaction.
With the A11y Club, we invited disabled customers and colleagues to join us for hackathon sessions with non-disabled colleagues working on our products. In these sessions, disabled participants were more than subjects of observation, becoming active team members whilst also providing valuable insights from their first-hand experience. There were light bulb moments for our non-disabled colleagues working on products. I heard someone saying with loud enthusiasm in the room more than once:
“How come we didn’t think about that?”

We published a collection of nine Digital Accessibility courses, ranging from simple techniques on headings, colour contrast and use of colour, images, links and buttons to engagement process.

Winning Gold at the Digital Impact Award caught us all by surprise.
After all, we are just a tiny team, still in the early stages of our journey. The award, given by Cravenhill Publishing, is part of an industry-leading awards programme that benchmarks and rewards best practices in the field. It has been running since 2009, and the recognition made us all very proud, and spurs us on to continue to do more.

Digital Impact Awards 2023 — Gold Best Digital Accessibility: The trophy is green and in a triangular shape.

In November, I represented the team at the Sustainability panel of the Total Telecom Congress 2023 in Amsterdam, where we talked about Making Connectivity Accessible to All Customers.
In the fantastic company of Chris Lewis (Founder Director of Lewis Insight, one of the best and most experienced experts in the Telecoms industry and famous for his irreverence and innovative approach), Ludivine Chevy De Lavison (Head of Sustainable Marketing and Design for Orange Group in France) and Lisa Varga (Founder of Digico, a non-profit organisation promoting Digital Inclusion).

We linked digital accessibility to sustainability. After all, telecoms provide an essential service that enables everyone to participate in the digital economy. Furthermore, in addition to being key in the provision of these services, it also has the capacity to contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions by avoiding convoluted, redundant and inefficient coding, while following best practice.

AI was unsurprisingly a hot topic during the congress.
Chris Lewis did an excellent job demonstrating how AI has always been intrinsic to accessibility. After asking for the audience’s permission, he pointed his mobile camera to them and caused gasps of awe while using “Be my Eyes” app new feature, called Be my AI.

The app, used by blind people, is one of many AI tools capable of describing the surroundings, including the number of people in the room. BE my AI has been mentioned by Tim Enthoven, 2023 Good Tech Awards article in The New York Times, as an accessibility breakthrough in 2023.

Four panellists speaking at the Telecom Congress on Sustainability and the Future of Telecoms.
Total Telecom Congress 2023. From left to right: Ludivine Chevy De Lavison (Head of Sustainable Marketing and Design for Orange Group in France), Chris Lewis (Founder Director of Lewis Insight), Ronise Nepomuceno (Accessibility Manager at EE/BT) and Lisa Varga (Founder of Digico).

While at the event, it was intriguing to hear the interest from representatives of European Telecoms firms regarding digital accessibility. But this is not entirely unexpected. The EAA (European Accessibility Act), adopted and published by Member States in June 2022, will be implemented in 2025. It requires all the essential services, regardless of whether they come from the public or business sector, to be accessible by 2025. It impacts every company based in the European Union doing business in the European market.

The year ended with the International Day of People with Disabilities celebrations, organised by our Able2 Network of Disabled and Neurodivergent colleagues. It was a fantastic event at the iconic BT Tower in London, bringing together everyone invested in Digital Inclusion.

Our 2024 forecasting

While we don’t have a crystal ball, it is not difficult to anticipate the trends that will impact digital accessibility in 2024.

Stricter accessibility regulations, coupled with a greater awareness of the benefits that digital accessibility brings to business and everyone, will continue to create more jobs — and more challenges for digital accessibility professionals.

The days when digital accessibility was promoted by a lone champion in an entire organisation are moving further into the past. There is growing recognition that digital accessibility is a multi-disciplinary specialisation that requires a team of experienced professionals.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the requirements for the job are changing and demanding a greater variety of hands-on skills. After all, digital accessibility is much more than just the standardised use of colour and typography. It goes further into best coding practices. It includes ethics and requires professionals to constantly keep up with the latest developments on assistive and communications technologies, setting governance, policy, and much more.

AI and digital accessibility have, in many ways, always been like twins separated at birth. Their symbiotic relationship will strengthen in 2024 as we see new and improved tools enhance native accessibility features and offering more personalised, context-aware solutions. Providing we ensure disabled people are always actively involved throughout the whole life cycle of these solutions, and we apply the principles of ethics and sustainability at all times. AI won’t be an evil twin, but a power we can harness for good.

In 2024, we should expect the collaboration between AI and digital accessibility to result in striking developments. In 2023, a research team at the University of Texas in Austin started working on an AI language model to translate thoughts into speech, enabling people who have lost their voices or have any other speech impediments to put their thoughts into words. This is basically mind-reading!
While this development could also bring concerns about misuse and risks to privacy, it could make features such as synthetic voice, something that only came out recently, redundant — before even becoming mainstream.
In technology, this is a potent stimulant for innovation.

The standards for accessibility will continue to evolve to reflect technological advancements and address emerging challenges.

In the new year, expect a symphony of collaboration among industry, government bodies and advocacy groups to promote and implement best practices on digital accessibility. Brace yourselves!
2024 will be the year when digital accessibility will take centre stage.

--

--

Ronise Nepomuceno
EE Design Team

Environmental Journalist by training and first love. Digital Accessibility Professional by accident and discovered love.