Is Personalisation the answer to Web Accessibility?


APRIL, 2024

Poor accessibility is detrimental to every user. Web design should always be inclusive, and web accessibility should not be an afterthought. 

A 2019 survey of one million websites revealed 97.8% of homepages failed to meet web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). That number renders those websites inaccessible to people with disabilities, along with those that use assistive technology. 

We've previously discussed how disability is now widely considered a spectrum. There are people with physical, sensory, cognitive, and behavioural impairments who don't identify as disabled. These users are still having trouble when trying to access sites and apps that don't consider usability and accessibility. 

Businesses need to consider accessibility within their frameworks and designs, and take advantage of the opportunities that digital transformation presents. In this case, why not integrate personalisation into the user experience? 

Below we will discuss how personalisation can help to improve accessibility with some web accessibility insights. 

What is web accessibility? 

Web accessibility is the process of creating a website or application that caters to all users with disabilities. It is about creating an inclusive user experience through simple, intuitive designs and development requirements outlined by the W3C’s accessibility fundamentals

Why is web accessibility important? 

Embracing web accessibility demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and all users across the disability spectrum. Creating an accessible platform makes it easier for disabled users to buy products, services, and access digital material. 

Those who refrain from designing and developing for disabled users are alienating a vast number of consumers. They're effectively missing out on significant leads, conversions, and engagement. 

What is web personalisation? 

Website personalisation is a strategy dedicated towards creating a unique digital experience for customers. Through collecting user data and analysing their behaviours, an online business can tailor product recommendations, dynamic content, and personalised offers for their customers. 

Businesses implement personalisation to improve the user experience, which keeps users engaged and feeling valued. This helps businesses to generate a healthy customer lifetime value

Tailoring website content to individual needs and preferences? A strategy to improve the user experience? That seems extremely suited towards complying with WCAG and designing for accessibility, don’t you think? 

Personalisation could be the catalyst for improving website accessibility and making the web far more inclusive and generating greater user-friendly websites. 

Web accessibility and personalisation: Coexist or Conflict? 

It is not a forgone conclusion that personalisation and accessibility is a match made in heaven. Website accessibility is often paired with usability. Both are processes that are created and refined in the original design and development process. 

But with personalisation, businesses can go deeper. They can cater to disabled users on a greater scale so their user experience is not limited to the constraints of a tech stack. 

Personalisation can have a significant impact on the user experience and the success of engagement rates and customer loyalty. Personalized experiences based on user interests can help individuals find what they are looking for quicker and easier. It can also help improve the overall usability of a website by adapting to each user’s requirements.

There are instances where users can adjust font sizes for greater readability and provide alternative functionalities and navigation options. 

Website personalisation can effectively improve accessibility for users with visual, auditory, behavioural, or cognitive impairments. Web accessibility guidelines involve changing font size, colours, and text-to-speech features to accommodate various user needs. 

This could be actioned through an ‘Accessibility Mode’ feature, or a personal profile users can create online. Adding features and settings for disabled people can improve site accessibility and show a commitment to online inclusivity. 

Although, it's important to emphasise that personalisation should complement other digital accessibility measures. This includes adherence to web accessibility standards and thorough testing with assistive technologies. Personalisation, when combined with key practices, helps make a welcoming and accessible environment for everyone's different needs. 

The Benefits of Personalised Web Accessibility 

Here are some reasons why it's important to design for accessibility and personalise for disabled users in modern commerce. 

  1. Tailored User Experience:

    Personalisation allows websites to adapt their content and functionality based on individual user preferences and needs. Enable users the ability to change font size, colour contrast, and navigation options to optimise their online experience. 

  2. Greater Audience Reach:

    Websites that prioritise accessibility commit themselves to a larger range of users. They're dedicated to improving the user experience for individuals with specific needs and expanding their potential market reach. 

  3. Improved User Experience:

    Personalisation features designed for users with disabilities often benefit all users by improving overall usability and accessibility. A website featuring straightforward navigation, easily readable text, and intuitive interfaces generates increased satisfaction and engagement among its users. 

  4. Effective Risk Mitigation:

    Various countries have established legal requirements mandating digital accessibility. Embracing inclusive web design ensures compliance with these regulations and mitigates legal risks.

  5. Enhanced Customer Loyalty:

    When online businesses prioritise digital accessibility, it sends a message of respect and recognition to disabled users. It acknowledges their needs and values their participation in the online community. This creates a sense of inclusion and belonging that could become the start of a loyal bond. 

  6. Better Insights and Analytics:

    Personalisation allows websites to gather valuable data and insights about user behaviour, preferences, and accessibility needs. By analysing this data, businesses can gain a deeper understanding of their audience. This helps make informed decisions to improve accessibility and user experience over time. 

The Challenges of Personalised Web Accessibility 

Building an inclusive platform does not come without its own set of challenges. 

  1. Addressing Complex Needs:

    One of the primary challenges for designers accommodating the diverse range of disabilities. Disabilities vary in nature and severity, requiring solutions that cater to a broad spectrum of users. Designers must ensure their solutions are inclusive and accessible to as many individuals as possible. 

  2. Privacy Concerns:

    Personalisation often involves collecting and analysing user data to tailor the experience. However, privacy concerns arise when sensitive information is involved, especially for users with disabilities who may have additional privacy considerations. Balancing personalized experiences with privacy protection is a significant challenge for adhering to web accessibility initiatives. 

  3. Over-reliance on Automation:

    Automated personalisation algorithms may not always account for the diverse needs of users with disabilities. Relying solely on automated systems can lead to overlooking specific accessibility requirements or inadvertently creating barriers for certain users. 

  4. Maintaining Multi-Platform Consistency:

    Personalised experiences should be consistent across different devices and platforms to ensure a seamless user experience. However, achieving consistency while accommodating various accessibility needs and device capabilities can be challenging and may require additional resources for testing and optimisation. 

  5. Tech Limitations:

    Technology can pose significant barriers to accessibility. Certain assistive technologies may not be compatible with all digital platforms or may have limited functionality. Designing solutions that seamlessly integrate with assistive technologies while maintaining usability and aesthetics can prove challenging. 

  6. Lack of Awareness:

    Many businesses may not be well-versed accessibility principles and guidelines. This can result in unintentional barriers being introduced during the design process. Educating teams about the importance of accessibility and providing training on best practices is essential to resolve this. 

  7. Balancing Accessibility with Aesthetics & Functionality:

    It may be a challenge for designers to balance visually appealing and feature-rich designs together with accessibility requirements. Finding creative solutions that prioritise accessibility without compromising on design integrity can prove difficult. 

Dos and Don’ts of Designing for Accessibility 

Below is the work of Karwai Pun, an interaction designer who advocates for disabled users online. The poster below is featured in the GOV.UK website as an accessibility initiative. 

Her poster highlights just how intricate digital accessibility can be. 



How to balance accessibility and personalisation 

As personalisation grows, it becomes crucial to prioritise inclusivity and accessibility for all users. This will entail pioneering innovative technologies and methodologies to craft personalised experiences compatible with assistive technologies. Additionally, embracing best practices in designing and developing accessible personalised experiences is paramount. 

The future dynamic between personalisation and accessibility is promising and remains interesting at the very least. It is still imperative to diligently consider the potential impact of personalisation on accessibility. As the technology and methodologies progress, ongoing attention to addressing accessibility concerns is essential. 

We understand the challenges of designing for accessibility. No one-size-fits all solution exists, and personalisation won't address all the nuances of every user’s disability. The technology do so is not quite there yet. 

However, we can continue to listen, improve, and adapt. By embracing universal design principles, flexibility, intuitive navigation, and multimodal interaction, we can create a digital space that caters to everyone. The advantages extend beyond the bottom line and legal compliance. They grow user engagement, better user experiences, and nurture an audience that the digital world has failed for years. 

Instead of prioritising business standards, place user needs at the forefront. Empower them with options to tailor your platform to their requirements or abilities.