Lessons from Skandia Bank’s accessibility journey

Thursday, 7 May 2015 11:20am

Norwegian bank Skandiabanken’s Snorre Kim discusses why a major national bank decided to put digital accessibility at the front and centre of its recent website redesign and move to a new banking platform.

Skandiabanken logo

Snorre spoke to Media Access Australia following his presentation at Funka’s Accessibility Days conference, which was held April 14-15 in Stockholm, Sweden.

You presented on how Skandiabanken (Skandia Bank) has decided to include web accessibility in the creation of its new website. Could you tell us when, how and why Skandiabanken decided to take web accessibility seriously?

Snorre Kim: We were faced with the challenges of providing customers access to our banking services and products across different platforms and devices, on a technology stack that was really showing its age. By 2013 we’d decided that we would create a new and more sustainable platform and rethink our user experiences, based on the principles of responsive design. At the same time there was new legislation passed in Norway that mandated that all services had to be accessible by 2020 and that all new projects should be so from 2014 onward. These facts happily coincided and allowed us to include web accessibility in our project.

What was the process for creating a business case for accessibility?

Since we were creating a whole new bank platform we saw that it would be prudent to take steps now to assure we would be compliant when the legislation went into effect. This meant that we did not have to make a formal business case for accessibility, as it was already a requirement.

However, the potential gains in reputation and better design are compelling reasons to do more than simply the minimum. Accessibility is pushing in the same direction as we are already going and helps us build on a reputation for being generally accessible and easy to use.

Skandiabanken now views accessibility as something positive and a competitive edge, rather than simply a requirement. How did you create that change?

We have strong incentives to include accessibility in our projects and processes. We also believe in being a bank unlike the others. By focusing on the individual customer we want everyone to be able to use our services so we really focus on users’ needs to ensure that they are happy with our quality of service. Accessibility is still in its infancy on the Norwegian scene, and only time will tell if accessibility will give a direct competitive edge, but it has proven to be a driving force behind good UX (user experience).

That is why we started by having everyone in our organisation take part in a two-day introduction course in what accessibility really is, why it matters. We also made sure to partner with some great consultants that would be on hand with us to coach our team and conduct user tests with actual customers.

An important part of my work with accessibility has been to share knowledge with the rest of the organisation. An organisation needs someone with a deep knowledge of web accessibility to be able to see and ensure that the different departments understand and comply with our accessibility requirements. Everyone does not need to know the technical details. The marketing department only needed to know things like how to write understandable text and correctly name pictures, whilst customer service need to know how to best support customers with disabilities.

It’s often surprising how well accessibility is received. It’s a very self-evident thing that helping people with disabilities is a good thing to do. Even though the problems and challenges are often very technical I have still been met with engaged interest. Most people want their site to be accessible.

Convincing the organisation that we need to be accessible was made easy by the legislation. But I was surprised to find that it was also easy to convince them that we should be good at accessibility. Skandiabanken’s goal to continue to be the best at UX and self-serviced processes overlaps well with what accessibility brings to the table.

What were Skandiabanken’s goals in including web accessibility in the creation of the new website?

Before we started the project we sat down and thought hard about what our end goals should be. One of the leading principles we had was to ‘humanise’ the banking experience, which meant to reduce clutter and to redefine what it entailed to interact with ‘your’ bank for everyone.

You shouldn’t need to activate a high contrast stylesheet to be able to use our site. You shouldn’t need to squint at your screen, or zoom in and out and in again. The many pitfalls someone with a disability needs to navigate when online should be as minimised as possible to ensure that our bank stands out as the one that doesn’t give you any problems.

And there is a large amount of accessibility practices that makes the site better for all users, and we wanted to benefit from an increased focus on that. High contrasts, more comprehensible text and keyboard navigation is for the benefit of all users.

By including accessibility from the very start we were also able to take lessons on the development side. Semantically correct HTML, best practices, component libraries and maintaining a clean and correct code base are all things that development can benefit from.

What was the web accessibility implementation process like? Did any challenges or surprises emerge?

I think the first big surprise must have been exactly how huge the documentation for WCAG 2.0 (the rules the legislation uses) was. Even with the more limited set of guidelines the legislation tells us to follow, it was a rather massive amount of knowledge that we somehow had to integrate into our development. When we sat down and actually condensed the material into something readable and relevant for our site, it became a lot less daunting. We also had help from some great consultants to keep us focused on tasks we were capable of solving until we reached a point where we now have a few great resources internally, capable of directing our own work. At the moment we are confident that we have the skills needed to do accessibility work, but although the work of spreading these skills across the entire organisation has been a part of the process so far, it still remains one of the challenges going forward.

One of the other challenges was finding that our external partners did not fully understand the processes or had a proper understanding of what accessibility meant, so we’ve had to use quite a bit of our time and resources to help them make deliveries that met our requirements.

Third party software, typically open source JavaScript libraries, has also given us some headaches. Generally, JavaScript libraries that claim to be accessible are often only accessible on a narrow set of screen readers, and in a narrow set of configurations. We have had to spend a considerable amount of time customising accessibility into them.

But just by going for a responsive web design and focusing on best practices before we even started considering accessibility, we found we had a very good foundation for an accessible website. We were able to tackle a good deal of issues through existing practices like semantically correct code and larger mobile friendly clickable elements like links, input fields and buttons.

How did including web accessibility in the website’s design improve the user experience for all Skandiabanken’s customers?

There were certainly points of making the site accessible which took a lot of effort, but won´t be noticed by most of our customers. In some cases we had to prioritise accessibility over usability but overall we think that in most cases we were able to provide the best of both worlds.

Having better colour contrasts means our site is more readable for people with bad screens, projectors, or on laptops and touch devices where you might want to turn down screen brightness to save on battery usage. And if you make sure your text is as comprehensible as possible for those with mental deficiencies or language problems, then everyone else will also have a much easier time understanding our products. And keyboard navigation is used by a lot more than just those with disabilities.In general, many of the principles of accessibility could simply be considered good design, and accessibility helps us put more focus on that.

Is web accessibility now mainstream, or a necessary consideration for business? Why?

Fortunately, the legislation went into effect at the best possible moment for us to include accessibility in our project.

We’re still only seeing the beginnings of accessibility on the web here in Norway and unfortunately it is still not quite mainstream yet, but the legislation has proven itself to be a positive force for change.


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