360-Degree Accessibility Model: How to Create Better User Experiences

Summary

Companies tend to have silos. The team responsible for the digital experiences would be under one department. The team responsible for brick-and-mortar experiences would be under a different department. This causes gaps in customer and company interactions. The digital and non-digital parts are not in sync.

This affects user experiences and accessibility. This is what the 360-degree accessibility model for interactions addresses. Companies need to think about the entire customer interaction process, both the digital and non-digital aspects.

I learned about the importance of 360-degree accessibility as a teen. My mom and I went shopping. I went into the dressing room to try on clothes. Mom went back out to browse the store.

After finishing, I opened the dressing room door to find Mom and the salesperson smiling and chatting. It turned out the salesperson had been trying to talk to me while I was trying on clothes. Apparently, my mom returned and informed her that I was deaf and couldn’t hear her.

The salesperson admitted she thought I was a snob because I didn’t respond. She learned a big lesson about assumptions. While I wore hearing aids, I never knew if someone outside the dressing room was talking to me or someone else. Sometimes, I turned off my hearing aids to prevent them from squealing while changing. Because of this, I often watch for people around my dressing area.

Before a company thinks about 360-degree accessibility, its employees need to receive disability and accessibility awareness training. This is an important step toward company-wide buy-in. One critical piece is to ensure they have accessible communications. This means always having another method of communication ready and pay attention to physical spaces.

The default communication doesn’t work for everyone. And physical settings can create barriers. That was evident in an experience with COVID testing. But first, here’s a look at the process for scheduling COVID testing.

Scheduling COVID Testing Online

Here’s a story I often share because it illustrates how digital and non-digital experiences are siloed. The story spotlights the need to think about accessibility experiences holistically. We must look at the entire 360-degrees of the experience.

Long before at-home tests became available, I needed to take a COVID test as a proactive measure. It required a specific type of test. I went online to my neighborhood pharmacy’s website to schedule the test. Scheduling the appointment was a breeze. But of course, I rarely run into accessibility issues with forms as a sighted person who doesn’t use a screen reader.

A few colleagues reached out. They recommended moving up the test by one day. I went back to the website to schedule another appointment. Once done, I canceled my original appointment.

Moments later, two text messages came in. The first confirmed my appointment. The second canceled my appointment. There was no context. No time and date information in either text. The messages were very basic:

  • “[Pharmacy name] appointment confirmed.”
  • “[Pharmacy name] appointment canceled.”

Thinking the system canceled my new appointment, I panicked. I went to the pharmacy’s website and confirmed it did everything correctly. It canceled the old appointment and showed the new appointment scheduled.

This entire process was digital and took place in two settings. Part of it occurred through a web browser. Part of it in text messages. It involved two tasks. One was creating the appointment and the other was canceling an appointment.

The company had two tasks, which were to notify me of the new and canceled appointments. It failed to provide enough context. I’m sure the pharmacy wanted to keep the text message short to avoid sending more than one message. Some people have text messaging plans where they get charged on a per-message basis.

However, the message is meaningless if there’s no context. Instead, it had me flustered. It also required taking the extra step of checking the website to confirm if it canceled the right appointment and created the new one.

Lesson No. 1: Provide context in all communications, including text messages.

By the way, a year later, I scheduled my flu shot and COVID booster at the same pharmacy. Once again, I had to change the time of my appointment. But it went much better this time! The confirmation message came with a link for “Need to reschedule?” It combined two tasks (canceling and making a new appointment) into a single one of rescheduling.

Taking the COVID Test

Right before the appointment, I received a text message with a link to watch a video of the process. Captioned! Bonus points for that!

Then, I had to do something I’ve never done in the 20+ years I’ve lived across the street from this pharmacy. The test required me to go to the drive-through window. I haven’t gone through very many drive-throughs especially when I’m alone. Because of this, my spouse insisted on going with me.

“Thank you, but they sent me a captioned video, so I know what to do,” I said.

“I’m going with you,” my spouse replied sternly.

“No, no, no. It’s OK. I’m a big girl. I can handle it, ” I responded.

“I’m going with you,” my spouse replied sternly.

Thank goodness my spouse didn’t listen.

As I drove up to the window, my heart sank. The glass window had a reflection as the next image shows. (Many deaf people know all about glass reflection.) I couldn’t see inside at all. The employee talked through the speaker. I couldn’t understand her. My spouse told me what she said.

Drive-through glass window filled with signs and reflecting the outline of my car and nearby tree
Drive-through glass window filled with signs and reflecting the outline of my car and nearby tree

I explained I was there for COVID testing and provided my confirmation number. She couldn’t understand me at all. I took out my phone and put it up against the window. This lets her see the confirmation number.

While taking the test, my spouse and the employee were conducting another transaction. After swabbing, I sat there for what felt like a long time. One hand held a used cotton swab and the other had a test tube. It wasn’t obvious what to do next and I couldn’t remember what the video showed. I felt exasperated. It didn’t help that I needed to depend on someone to do this.

When I shared this story, a woman told me her mother wanted to use the drive-through. The pharmacy told her to come inside. She had a mobility disability and preferred to stick with the drive-through. The pharmacy didn’t relent, so she went to another testing center.

Around this time, I learned a blind friend couldn’t even make an appointment online. It wasn’t accessible. The friend had to ask someone for help. And this affects their privacy as the person helping may have seen my friend’s personal information.

Three different disabilities. Three different barriers. The online part was accessible for two of us and inaccessible for one. The non-digital part was inaccessible for two of us.

Lesson No. 2: Deliver on people’s expectations. (The customer expected to use the drive-through and the pharmacy said she had to come in.)

Lesson No. 3: Offer at least two ways to communicate at drive-throughs.

Lesson No. 4: Verify the digital and non-digital experiences are accessible.

The Need for a 360-Degree Accessibility Model

Companies tend to have silos. The team responsible for the digital experiences would be under one department. The team responsible for brick-and-mortar experiences would be under a different department. This causes gaps in customer and company interactions.

Thanks to the pandemic, companies do more business online than ever. It’s possible to buy something online and then go to the brick-and-mortar store to return or exchange it. The reverse is also possible. Sometimes one part of the process works while the other falters or requires more steps than needed.

In other words, the digital and non-digital parts are not in sync. This affects user experiences and accessibility. This is what the 360-degree accessibility model for interactions addresses. Companies need to think about the entire customer interaction process, both the digital and non-digital aspects.

They also need to consider the roles in both environments including employees, customers, and vendors. The experiences need to be accessible for all roles and tasks. Your employees and vendors need accessibility too.

How to Use the 360-Degree Accessibility Model

Creating 360-degree accessible and enjoyable user experiences can turn into a complicated process. The model aims to simplify the process to make it doable. Its purpose is to help companies think through the possibilities as they collaborate with other departments.

360-degree accessibility model like a target with tasks in the inner ring, followed by roles and environment
360-degree accessibility model like a target with tasks in the inner ring, followed by roles and environment

Tasks and environment

The way the model works is that you take a task, such as buying an item. The model considers all the possibilities of doing that in the digital and non-digital environment.

  1. Order online and pick up in store.
  2. Order online and pick up in parking lot.
  3. Order online and have it shipped.
  4. Go to the store and buy it there.

Roles

Next, we need to think of who may be involved in each task. What are the roles involved in the ordering process? What are the customer touchpoints? Do all touchpoints offer at least two ways to communicate and interact? Are the in-person interactions accessible? (This includes physical space.)

Here are the possibilities for buying an item:

  • Order: Customer
  • Pick up: Customer or an appointed person and employee
  • Local delivery: Delivery person
  • Shipped: Warehouse

Now, we know who may be involved. It’s important to consider the different interaction possibilities. Scenarios 1 to 3 are online. This means the website needs to be accessible for screen readers, keyboard-only navigation, and so on.

Bringing it all together

How does a customer or appointed person pick it up in the store? Do they bring a receipt? Do they give their name? How does the store know the appointed person is legitimate and not a thief?

Perhaps, they have a bar code that can be on their phone or printed. The employee can scan the bar code. This would not require any communication as the employee knows a bar code means the customer is picking up an order. But sometimes conversations will happen. It’s important to ensure there’s at least two ways to communicate. At a minimum, simply keep a pen and paper at the customer service desk.

Let’s add something expected. The employee is blind and won’t see the customer showing them the bar code. The employee can ask how they can help. The customer can confirm they’re picking up an item. The employee asks about a bar code.

Parking lot pickups would work in a similar way. This may involve a bar code or the customer may be using the app. In the app, the customer will let the store know they’ve arrived. In this case, the app should be accessible and work with the phone’s screen reader. Remember, blind people aren’t the only ones who use screen readers.

One time I went to an airport coffee shop. It was loud, so I entered my order on my phone and showed it to the masked employee. Thankfully, she didn’t have questions. But if she had, I bet she would’ve responded by talking rather than writing it down.

Yes, I could’ve planned ahead and made a note to please respond in writing. But the customer doesn’t always think of all the possibilities. Companies need to be prepared.

Putting the 360-Degree Model of Accessibility to Work

Let’s try another example. Something that’s frustrating for many people whether or not they have a disability: the job application process. A lot of things can happen while filling out an application.

How many times have you started filling a form only to find you need external documents? Or you need to go get the document with the information to add to the application?

Perhaps, the power goes out or the app times out and you lose all your work. Unless you absolutely have to do whatever it is, you may not try again. People need time to fill out forms. They need to know what information the form will need. They need reassurance the form will automatically save their progress.

The task is to fill out the application. The application is online, so the environment is digital. What can happen in a digital environment? The company’s servers go down. The applicant’s internet connection breaks.

How can a company plan for these things? How can it prepare for problems out of its control? The first thing to do is collect contact information and provide options. Let’s say the application freezes or the person loses their internet connection. No problem. The candidate will receive an email, text message, or phone call with information on how to access their application.

What if someone struggles with the application? Sometimes you can’t catch all the possibilities of what would make it inaccessible. You put in a fail-safe. Make it easy for someone to find contact information. The contact information, of course, should have at least two contact options. Make it as effortless as possible for people to reach the company.

Build a Brain Trust of People with Disabilities

One powerful way to ensure all your processes are inclusive, accessible, and use proper language is to create a brain trust of people with different disabilities. They review web pages, communications, products, forms, and anything that is public-facing or affects the company. This role needs to be part of their jobs and salaries. It shouldn’t be something to do outside of their full-time jobs.

A brain trust of people who don’t work for the company would be valuable. They’re not tied to the company. They’re not worried about speaking up and losing their jobs. They won’t have the curse of knowledge that comes with being an employee. (Curse of knowledge is having information that others don’t have. Those with the curse of knowledge communicate something that doesn’t make sense to outsiders.)

Does your company think about all these interactions? How can you set your organization up for 360-degree accessibility success for everyone including customers, employees, and third parties?

This 360-degree model is a work in progress. Feel free to comment and ask questions. The point is to make it easier for companies to ensure all parts of its processes are inclusive and accessible.

Level up Your DEI Efforts

Many companies have diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. However, they need help with creating an accessible and inclusive workplace. You can level up your DEI with my help as I can educate your employees by speaking or providing training. Contact me or get to know me.

Image credit: akiragiulia on Pixabay

 

 

2 thoughts on “360-Degree Accessibility Model: How to Create Better User Experiences”

  1. I’m new to the term “360-degree accessibility”, but not the concept. This is a great explanation with relatable examples and I appreciate that! Now, off to learn more on this! Thanks, Meryl! 🙂

    Reply

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