Accessible web design has slowly come to the forefront for businesses—but doing it right is still proving to be a challenge.
Users representing myriad communities have been vocal about the lack of accessibility while accessing online resources and this is finally leading to change.
No matter what business sphere one exists in, being able to reach more users by incorporating accessible design is good business practice.
Not everyone accesses the online world in the same ways. Users with impairments—cognitive, hearing, motor, speaking, and visual—interact with sites differently.
We share a complete guide to adopting accessible design practices in 2020.
Simplicity in design isn’t just important for accessibility—it also leans into the graphic design trend of minimalism that is taking over in 2020.
The clearer the visual layout, the better the user experience—this is because it creates a definitive hierarchy of elements on the page.
To create a simple and accessible design, one should group similar elements, depending on how they relate to each other in terms of size and color.
Elements that follow one another should be placed in distinct hierarchies so users can easily understand how one section leads to another.
The website design should also include directional signage and icons to help users navigate the site with ease.
The steady rise in smartphone and tablet use has resulted in a greater focus on responsive design—and this is also important for creating accessible designs.
Screens come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and designers should be aware of what information and elements are lost when viewed by different users on a variety of screens.
It is best to define the goals of each page—implement a project management plan for redesigning your website with clear targets for the site pages.
Once these goals have been decided, you will be able to highlight select elements for smaller screens, and determine which can be safely hidden.
But implementing responsive design elements is only part of the process—designers need to test them on multiple devices to ensure the functionality remains close to the web version.
Speaking of responsive design, the smaller a screen becomes, the harder it can be for users to press buttons or icons on the page.
Accidentally pressing the wrong one can lead to frustration for all users—but for people who need more accessible design, the experience can lead to them leaving the site entirely.
When designing CTA buttons for your website, ensure that they are large, and have enough space around them so they can be easily seen.
According to Google, the best size for buttons is 48x48px—this is the recommended size for the most comfortable tap area.
Additionally, buttons should not include too much text—a maximum of two words should be enough.
Readable fonts are necessary for creating accessible designs—if the font is too small, nobody will be able to read it. For users with visual impairments, that will be enough to leave the site.
According to Google’s guidelines, 16px is the smallest accessible and legible size for a website, so that should be the standard for designers.
The heavier and darker a font is, the easier it is to see—light fonts can easily disappear into the background and make it impossible to read.
The kinds of fonts implemented need to be adjusted for users—cursive fonts can convey a certain aesthetic but they are too light for some users and screen-readers to recognize.
Instead, use free web fonts like Roboto, Open Sans, or Alfa Slab One that are readable and popular—so designers don’t need to load new fonts into their CMS.
But it isn’t just the kind of font one uses that matters in accessible design—how one uses it also matters.
Hyperlinked words and phrases need to be made obvious—ensure that they are underlined and are a different color so that users can see them easily and don’t accidentally click on them.
The anchor text for hyperlinks needs to be noted when creating accessible web designs. It isn’t enough to hyperlink to words like ‘read more’ or ‘click here’,
For screen-readers, when the anchor text and hyperlink don’t match, it can cause the user confusion.
Instead, the anchor text should match the URL as closely as possible—if it can be an exact match, even better.
This process has an additional advantage for businesses—not only does matching the anchor to the link make the site more accessible, but it also improves link building opportunities.
Alongside anchor text, designers also need to ensure that alt text or alt tags are optimized for accessibility.
All visual elements should include alt text that can be picked up by screen-readers—the more descriptive, the better they enhance the user experience for anyone with visual impairments.
We have mentioned the importance of hierarchies in the way elements on the page are laid out—but even within the content, there needs to be a clear hierarchical structure.
Screen-readers scan content according to how text is positioned and the headings sections are broken up.
To be as accessible as possible, content must be divided by distinct headers—h1 title headings, h2 for subheadings, h3, h4, and so on, for further subheadings.
Not only do these headings make it easier for readers to follow the flow of the content, but screen-readers can organize the content accordingly.
Another way to improve accessibility is to add captions wherever possible—videos and animations should always include descriptive captions, as should audio content.
Structuring content will improve the user experience and improve the conversion funnel.
Colors are a massive part of marketing—they are used to evoke emotions and connections that fuel brand relationships and conversion rates.
But while colors have several marketing uses, are they being optimized for all website visitors? What about people with visual impairments such as color blindness?
The guide above explains what colors should be used in conjunction with each other to be accessible to all readers—contrasting colors are always more readable.
Another point to note for designers is not to use color as the sole indicator for actions, directions, or differences.
Instead, use text for labels, placeholders, and buttons so users know how they are differentiated from other elements.
Also, add clear notifications within form makers when a field is mandatory or there is an error—do not rely on color to convey these as it may not be clear and will lead to frustration.
When creating accessible designs, it is important to give users flexible controls over the website.
Add toggles to change the size of the font—if users need larger than standard font sizes, they should be able to make that change to make it easier to navigate the site.
Page layouts accessed on web browsers and mobile should be scalable so that users can zoom in and out as needed.
Always remove autoplay settings for audio and video on the website—give users the option to turn on the sound if they want.
Avoid timed forms as much as possible—if it is necessary to add a timer, give users the option to take more time, and clearly state how much is allotted.
Most website builders give designers control over these aspects—make use of them to improve accessibility.
Accessible design needs to be a priority for businesses—not only does it enhance the user experience, but it allows brands to reach wider audiences.
With the above guide, designers can create more inclusive websites that will appeal to more audiences and improve long-term conversions.
Image Credit: Photo by Tranmautritam from Pexels
How Can Technology Help Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues unfolding, technology solutions and government initiatives are multiplying to help monitor and control the virus’s journey. Their aid includes reducing the load on the health system and reinforcing the efforts of overworking and burned-out healthcare workers.
While smart technologies cannot replace or compensate public institution measures, they do play a crucial role in emergency responses. Let’s take a look at the promising use cases of how technology can help fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Technologies Used for Good
People tend to think of technology as a heartless machine, which is true, but only until it’s used for good. Just look at all the wonderful things we’ve managed to do with its help.
Telemedicine is gaining traction by offering remote patient monitoring and interactive remote doctor’s visits. At the same time, 3D printing and open-source solutions are facilitating the production of more affordable face masks, ventilators, and breathing filters as well as optimizing the supply of the medical equipment. Even more, the pandemic has driven scientists to desperate measures. They are now experimenting with gene editing, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology to develop and test vaccines faster than ever in the history of humanity.
Smart technologies like the Internet of things (IoT), big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) are being massively adopted to help track the disease spread and contagion, manage insurance payments, uphold medical supply chains, and enforce restrictive measures. Let’s go step by step to see how IoT, AI, big data, and mobile solutions are actually enhancing medical care.
IoT for Smart Patient Care Management and Home Automation
IoT has already found its use among healthcare providers. Today, connected patient imaging, health devices or applications, worker solutions, and ambulance programs are being adopted globally. But COVID-19 made the technology take on new applications to help the world combat the epidemic. Tracking quarantine, pre-screening and diagnosing, cleaning and disinfecting, innovative usage of drones, reducing in-home infections, are all “new normals” thanks to IoT.
For example, an American health technology company Kinsa creates smart thermometers that screen and aggregate people’s temperature and symptoms data in real-time. Having gathered data from over one million connected thermometers, Kinsa rolled out its US HealthWeather™ Map.
The map is updated daily, highlighting how severely the population is being affected by influenza-like illness (ILI). This real-time information helps health authorities see an increase. In fevers as early indicators of the community spread of COVID-19 to streamline the allocation of health resources. These areas are marked in the “Atypical” mode of the map.
To slow down the spread of COVID-19, a team of Seattle engineers created Immutouch, a smart wristband vibrating every time a person wearing it tries to touch their face.
Smart speakers, lights, and security systems are being used to open doors and switch on lights to reduce in-home infections. These gadgets allow people to avoid touching the surfaces of doorknobs, switches, mail, packages, or anything that could easily spread germs.
The Role of Big Data in Fighting Coronavirus
Tapping into big data is a must to develop real-time forecasts and arm healthcare professionals with a profound database to help with decision-making.
IBM Clinical Development system is an advanced Electronic Data Capture (EDC) platform that allows an accelerated delivery of medications to market and reduces the time and cost of clinical trials thanks to cognitive computing, patient data assets, and IoT. Additionally, the U.S. government had been in active talks with Facebook, Google, and others to determine how to use location data to glean insights for combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Could Mobile Apps be Used to Control the Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a game-changer for the healthcare continuum. Today’s mobile apps are on guard to help patients receive online therapy, at-home testing, conclude self-checks, and improve mental well-being. Thanks to smartphone apps, it is now possible to trace the virus’s journey and help limit its spread.
Apple COVID-19, for instance, was created in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the White House, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The application contains vital and relevant information from trusted sources on the coronavirus pandemic: hand hygiene practices, social distancing FAQs, quarantine guidelines, self-checking tutorials, tips on cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces. On top of that, it has a screening tool that advises people on what to do when a person has COVID-19 symptoms, has just returned from abroad, or has come in close contact with someone who might be infected with the disease.
Meanwhile, health authorities in Abu Dhabi have created the TraceCovid app for Bluetooth-enabled smartphones to minimize the spread of the disease. The service allows tracing individuals who have come into proximity with a person tested positive for COVID-19. Thanks to it, medical professionals сan react faster and render the necessary healthcare. Germany, in turn, is going to roll out a smartphone app, which will use Bluetooth to alert people if they are close to someone with the confirmed viral infection.
Telemedicine has also proved to be an efficient tool for flattening the curve. The Sheba Medical Centre, the largest Israeli hospital, launched a telehealth program for remote patient-monitoring to control the pandemic spread. Doctolib, a Franco-German company, Qare (France), Livi (Sweden), Push Doctor (the UK), Compugroup Medical (Germany) are offering virtual doctors too.
Using AI to Identify, Track and Forecast Outbreaks
Artificial intelligence-powered by natural language processing (NLP) and location monitoring is crucial for identifying, tracking, and scanning outbreaks, predicting hotspots and helping make better decisions.
For example, Microsoft collaborated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create an AI-based COVID-19 Assessment bot to treat patients more effectively and allocate limited resources. The bot, nicknamed Clara, can evaluate symptoms, advice on the next steps to take and track users who need urgent care the most.
The Canadian startup BlueDot has applied AI to spot and track the spread of COVID-19 and predict outbreaks, and the Japanese company Bespoke rolled out Bebot, an AI-powered chatbot that was developed specifically for travelers. This mobile app informs and assists them with coronavirus-related questions as they move about.
There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has become a real-life test for everyone. It has caused tremendous damage, but at the same time, it has forced tech innovators to roll out advanced solutions, and it seems that they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Healthcare providers across the globe are continually switching to smart technologies. So if you are in the smart technology niche, consider the current trends to steer your business in the right direction.
Chatbots and Intelligent Automation Solutions Paving the Way towards Seamless Business Continuity
Frequent business disruptions in the form of storms, pandemics, lockdowns, etc., pose risk to seamless operations and revenue generation in service industries. One day of operation disruption leads to losses worth millions. Semi-automation is not able to stop the cascading business effects of an unprecedented business disruption. Services such as banks, financial services, insurance, healthcare, information technology services, etc., cannot afford the risk of downtime. Chatbots powered by Intelligent Automation is that indispensable solution in the omni-channel customer interface that keeps the business moving 24×7 even in the face of a major business disruption such as long prevailing pandemic.
How do Intelligent Automation powered Chat-bots offer seamless business continuity?
Chatbots engage diverse skill sets such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) / Machine Learning (ML), in short Intelligent Automation, and offer a lifeline to the service industry businesses. Chatbots are located on the key pages of a business website or social media pages of the business, and can be accessed by customers and prospects round the clock in different international languages. They augment the services of the regular service desk and helps tide over most emergency situations.
Chatbots can handle complex queries and the functioning depends on training data set and the streamlined data in the CRM database. All chatbot interactions can be further cleaned and stored in the CRM and analysed. Based on these interactions at different stages of the customer journey, the chatbots can make intelligent suggestions to the customer during the subsequent customer interaction.
The chatbots offer tremendous business benefits. The responses are highly accurate and relevant and have a minuscule turnaround time. The on time responses right from order booking to bill payment while taking care of customer preference ensures high productivity and thereby generates high revenue even when a business executive is not able to interact directly with a customer.
Chatbot solution powered by Intelligent Automation is that indispensable tool in the omni-channel customer service desk of a service industry business. It helps to keep the business up and running even when customer executives are not able to interact directly with the customer due to unprecedented business disruptions. Chatbot solutions thereby enable businesses to stay up and functioning at all times in a 24x7x365 scenario.
Image Credit: https://www.freepik.com/yanalya
How Hazelcast hopes to make digital transformation mainstream
Commentary: Even as the coronavirus pandemic has hastened digital transformation efforts, success remains elusive for many companies. This one-stop shop to digital transformation might help.
It’s no secret that, as CircleCI CEO Jim Rose put it, “The pandemic has compressed the time[line]” for digital transformation. What is perhaps surprising is just how broad and deep that transformation is spreading. In an interview with Hazelcast chief product officer David Brimley, he stressed that while Fortune 500 e-commerce and finance companies have historically paid the bills for Hazelcast, provider of an open source in-memory data grid (IMDG), mid-sized enterprises “are coming to us and saying, we want to start digitizing and [adding digital] channels for our business.”
How they get there, and how fast, is the question.
SEE: Digital transformation road map (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
A one-stop shop to digital transformation
As keen as companies are to move workloads to the cloud to facilitate digital transformation, not all companies are alike in their readiness, Brimley said. In particular, these mid-sized enterprises may lack the personnel or other resources to push aggressively into the cloud, whatever their intentions. As such, he said, many companies are trying to figure out “the quickest way I can get the applications and hardware I’ve got today in my own data centers and add a digital channel on the top of it as quickly as I can.”
No PhD in Computer Geekery required.
SEE: Special report: Prepare for serverless computing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
By pairing Hazelcast IMDG for distributed coordination and in-memory data storage with Hazelcast Jet for building streaming data pipelines, Brimley said, organizations can build digital integration hubs without having the technical chops of a Netflix or Facebook. “There are a lot of companies that can’t make head nor tail of this plethora of Cloud Native Computing Foundation products [Kubernetes, Envy, Fluentd, etc.], and they just want to stand up a Java process, have it clustered together, have some way of running their ‘microservices’ on this Java cluster, and off they go.”
Once, a company (and open source project) like Hazelcast would have had to pitch themselves to banks and credit card companies for low-latency, high-performance distributed systems; these were the types of organizations that valued IMDGs. Today, however, such concerns span a much broader range of companies, particularly with this crushing need to achieve digital transformation.
For Brimley and Hazelcast, they’re not pitching themselves as a database or any particular technology. Even the IMDG label might not fit particularly well. After all, the company isn’t positioning itself as about technology, per se, but rather about solving business problems; about how developers can use Hazelcast to capture “interesting new architectural patterns,” in Brimley’s words. It’s taking on the “I need to embrace an event-driven architecture crowd,” and not selling a data cache or, yes, not even an in-memory data grid.
Disclosure: I work for AWS, but these are my views and don’t reflect those of my employer.
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