A view from Bradley Gamage, SapientNitro

What accessibility means for creatives in our digital world

Digital creatives must be attuned to put accessibility at the forefront of their ideas.

We have always said that brands are built on great stories – stories that entertain, inform and above all engage the consumer. When it comes to how we engage that consumer in those stories, digital is undoubtedly the most all-pervasive tool that lets brands craft not just communication, but an idea or an ideal.

This is never more important than in the role digital creatives have to play in improving accessibility. The way we think about how to make our content and our stories accessible to all is a vital skillset.

Digital creatives are already working with accessibility in mind, purely by dint of the devices and services they are creating for. On a day-to-day basis digital creatives are being asked to design and create new digital-first services, and so must be attuned to put accessibility at the forefront of their ideas.

Stepping outside the box to draw from the experiences of those who are most reliant on easy access is an eye-opening way to drive home the fundamental essence of why accessibility is just so important. By listening to the different stories and perspectives first hand, creatives can be better placed to pluck various details out and pivot them into new ideas across their work.

Robin Christopherson, the head of digital inclusion at tech and disability charity Ability.net, spoke at the Accessibility through Digital Inclusion event held earlier this summer at SapientNitro, where he outlined the enormity of the challenges faced by large sections of the population for whom technologies and communications were aimed solely at the able-bodied.

In one of his popular blog posts, Robin points out that anyone trying to swipe or text one-handed while carrying a coffee and walking down the street, or squinting at a screen half-obliterated by bright sunlight, is temporarily in the position of someone who suffers that motor or visual impairment 24/7.

If the digital community is already adapting its creative to solve these solutions, integrating fully accessible communications is just a small step away.

The opportunities to embed accessibility across digital are myriad. Some of the top apps for visually impaired students are, for example, simply the top apps for the general population that happen to be focused on audio. Evernote, the note-taking app, stores voice notes and scans photos for text. Audible, the audiobook store and library, is another fully accessible app designed with inclusivity rather than accessibility in mind.

Alongside Robin stood "one of the most fortunate people to be alive you’re likely to meet" – Chris Moon [pictured above]. Chris is a former ex-British Army Officer turned author and inspirational speaker, who dedicates himself to helping people do what they do better. He published the book One Step Beyond, which is his life story so far – encompassing the struggles he has faced, and how simple things can transform a disabled individual’s life. His speech revolved on how digital innovation is most useful when it’s used for the better, not the new.

This point is something we can all humbly take away and use in our creative thinking – how can we position a product or service to improve an experience, rather than doing so to try and establish a new one?

"Content" has become a bland buzzword for advertisers wanting to engage more deeply with consumers. Again, this is where digital creativity is ideally placed to build show-stopping campaigns that also happen to deliver on accessibility.

Remember, it’s all about concepts that are accessible and inclusive. Taking the concept of accessibility and then applying it in its various forms to various briefs, and activating through digital inclusion, can catapult a brand campaign beyond great content. 

When building Dove.com for the Indian market, Dove and Sapient invested a lot of time and technology into ensuring that the website was creatively built for all users – especially those in more rural areas with little network coverage, and those on tight data plans. For this, Sapient designed a feature phone view with heavily simplified pages across the entire site to their most reduced possible format, while increasing the speed for the user. Poor connectivity was the issue, but a closer focus on user accessibility and experience was the breakthrough solution. 

There needs to be a bigger push towards harnessing the creativity that the topic of accessibility provides our industry with – and what better place to start than putting ourselves in the shoes of others?

Chris and Robin not only coped with their own physical challenges but also work tirelessly to help improve accessibility and to raise awareness in a wider forum. Taking experiences and building into digital creations will position convenience and accessibility hand-in-hand. When this happens, unprecedented innovation, interesting apps and life-changing digital services can be formed, and then accessed by all. 

Bradley Gamage is client services director at SapientNitro