Building a culture of accessibility at Onfido

At Onfido, we help businesses verify people’s identities via our integrated app. Using pictures of identity documents and faces, we give our clients the assurance they need to onboard customers remotely and securely.

Access is at the heart of everything we do. Our entire product is about giving people access to services. It’s vital that our product is accessible to everyone.

Making your product accessible is a team effort

As a product designer, I’ve been learning and applying accessibility principles for most of my career. When talking to other designers, engineers, or product managers at Onfido, I realised we all experienced accessibility differently. We all had different knowledge about it and varying degrees of understanding.

Accessibility shouldn’t only concern designers, it’s a team effort. To ensure we’re taking the best approach towards being accessible, it has been essential for us to onboard the whole company.

Talk to everyone

I’ve started a dialogue around accessibility within the company. My team and I gave presentations in front of everyone. At Onfido, there are a lot of opportunities to talk to the whole team so we regularly mentioned accessibility and the work we’ve done around it.

At one of our recent hackathons, we chose a project related to accessibility. We wanted to include people outside of our immediate team to encourage them to think more deeply about it moving forward. The result was an improved screen reader experience on our Android app!

Build empathy

We often run initial usability testing sessions with our colleagues before running them with users. It’s a great way to make everybody familiar with what we’re building, and the opportunity to test accessibility and build empathy.

We wanted to create more realistic user testing environments. For example, we used the Cambridge simulation glasses to simulate sight loss. Another technique we used was taping the users’ finger joints before they use their phones, to simulate mobility issues like arthritis.

There’s no better way to create empathy than to make people experience challenging situations themselves.

Work with experts

We started working with RNIB and DAC a few years ago. Our main goal, even before auditing our products, was to understand accessibility beyond the WCAG guidelines.

Accessibility is about humans, so it’s almost impossible to grasp without talking to humans. We met with experts, and we learnt a lot. We shared our findings with the team and the whole company.

This introduction to the topic helped us solve simple accessibility issues. Then, we ran audits on specific products to create a roadmap that would help us tackle flagged issues in a smart way.

During our accessibility audit with DAC, we got the opportunity to observe some testing sessions. It taught us a lot about assistive technology. But the most valuable insights came from observing people using our apps and seeing them struggling. It was impossible to make assumptions regarding accessibility problems without seeing how people really used our products. Observing them was a frustrating but eye-opening experience.

Meet the community

Not surprisingly (although still an issue given the lack of diversity on some accessibility panels), people with disabilities are usually the best people to talk about it.

Look out for accessibility meet-ups in your area. Invite your team and enjoy an evening of learning and sharing. My favourite meet-up in London is the London Accessibility Meetup.

Put yourself in your user’s shoes

It’s a common design principle, but an important one to keep in mind.

Most smartphones have built-in accessibility features: explore them, try them, use them. I sometimes challenge myself to send text messages using voice control only. I also try to use my screen reader without looking at my phone to browse through my emails.

Test your product using accessibility features, it’s important. Maybe one day they’ll be vital to you. Read what our engineer Kacper learnt from being a one-handed developer for a month.

Embed accessibility in your process

Accessibility should be something to consider at the beginning of your design process, rather than as an afterthought. Just like making sure you’re solving the right problem, you should make sure your solution is accessible.

Accessibility should be part of your design critiques and quality testing process. Audit your product frequently, and remember that automatic testing can only spot 71% of usability issues, which is why you need real people to audit it.

Make sure accessibility is at the heart of what you do

Almost everyone will experience accessibility issues at any point in their life. Disabilities can be permanent (I was born with one arm), temporary (I broke my arm) or situational (I’m holding a baby).

Disabilities can be permanent, temporary or situational (source: Microsoft Inclusive Toolkit)

Building an accessible product will not only benefit the 15% of people who live with a disability in the world, it will benefit everyone.

Building an accessible product is an on-going challenge that should be baked in into your organisation’s processes.

Making sure your product is accessible is not a box-ticking exercise. It requires the awareness of your entire team. It takes a company-wide effort to make an impact on people in the real world.

❤️ Thank you See Wah, Adam and Marko for helping me make this post better.

Product Design Lead at Onfido ∙ charlottesferruzza.com

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