Accessible by Design: Making our digital world work for everyone
From our products and services to our offices and websites, we’re working to ensure accessibility is hardwired into all our touch points. For International Day of Persons with a Disability, we browse through the digital optimisation that won our corporate website accreditation from AbilityNet and so much more.
For Emeline Lakrout, Global Associate Brand Manager for Baby Dove, accessibility is not an optional extra.
“As a blind person, when I come across a site that’s been designed accessibly, I notice, “ she says. “It’s not just that I can now easily use something, but I feel seen and considered by the developers of the site.”
Digital accessibility is clearly a moral imperative. But with 1.3 billion people worldwide currently living with a disability, and with an older population rapidly increasing the need for accessibility, it is a business imperative too.
Why accessibility is a priority for Unilever?
“If anyone who comes to our site cannot access it, then we as a business are losing out,” says Val Ashton, External Communications Manager at Unilever, adding that this is especially true when it comes to Unilever’s commitment to becoming the employer of choice for persons with a disability by 2025.
“Why would anyone consider working for us, if they cannot access our website?” she says. ”Making our websites as accessible as possible is just the right thing to do, but it also just makes business sense.”
However, recent research by AbilityNet indicates that this attitude is not always supported by organisations. In their 2023 survey of organisational attitudes to digital accessibility, only 39% of the respondents thought that their businesses had a clearly stated vision.
We are proud to be part of the 39%.
The journey to digital accessibility
Our accessibility journey began back in 2020, when the replatforming of our corporate websites gave us the opportunity to bake in accessibility at every stage of the user journey, from user experience through to design and technical structure.
“The key was not to make any assumptions,“ remembers Val. “The only way to really make progress on our corporate websites was to understand what accessibility best practice meant for people with disabilities.”
“While I love my screen reader, a lot of website developers don’t think about accessibility,” explains Emeline. “This results in experiences which for me often range from frustrating to unusable. It’s a breath of fresh air when I come across a site that was designed for everyone.”
Why accreditation is just the beginning
Three years after embarking on the replatforming process, Unilever.com was awarded the AccreditedPlus AbilityNet accreditation that recognises full compliance with the standards set out by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
“The process was extensive and involved being audited by AbilityNet as well as being tested by persons with disabilities on a range of typical user tasks,” remembers Val, adding that this knowledge had to then be shared in order to ensure best practice across the business.
“To help teams bridge the skills gap, all of Unilever’s design, technical and accessibility standards are now housed in the Accessibility Hub, which is accessible to everyone at Unilever as well as agencies and suppliers," she says.
For screen reader users like Unilever Business Analyst Jeevan Reddy Anupalli, the introduction of these changes has made all the difference.
“With my screen reader, I can easily access the site navigation, understand the images in the site with the supplied alternate text, and jump to different sections of the pages in no time since it has good heading structure,“ he says.
And things are set to get even better.
“We are still improving,“ says Val. “Accessibility is a continuous process of auditing, testing, fixing and improving, so there is much more to come.”
6 ways our website is delivering on accessibility right now
- 1. Digital design
Our pages now have more navigation landmarks so that screen-reader users can understand and navigate content more quickly.
- 2. Alt text
The majority of images on the website have alternative text which provides users who have a visual impairment with a written description. To ensure a smoother screen-reader experience, there is no alt text on images that are considered purely decorative.
- 3. Assistive tech optimisation
Keyboard-only and other assistive technologies can navigate and access most interactive elements on our website.
- 4. Captioning
Wherever possible, we provide a text-based alternative, including captions and transcripts, to audio and video content.
- 5. Contrasting
Dark Mode functionality can be enabled to create more contrast between the content and the background, limiting eyestrain and improving content readability.
- 6. Motion control
We have removed animated components such as carousels and provided options to stop animations using the play/pause button. Additionally, our websites respect a user’s motion preferences within their device’s settings.
Listen to Adi Latif, entrepreneur and advocate for accessible technology, explain the importance of digital accessibility below.