Alice Rose, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Money and Mental Health

Accessibility is too often forgotten about in website design

12 April 2021

Accessibility issues don’t often make headlines, but today they did after National Rail grey-scaled their website to mark the death of Prince Phillip. Many visually impaired users were left completely unable to use the website. Purchasing tickets and checking timetables became inaccessible to them.

Following complaints, National Rail have reverted their website back, but this has served as a reminder that accessibility is more than ramps and disabled toilets – businesses and other organisations also need to consider how accessible their websites and other communication channels are too.

At Money and Mental Health, I spend a lot of time talking to companies about accessibility. I frequently ask them to think about the accessibility needs for those with mental health problems, and what adjustments they make for this group – in the same way that they would for people with physical disabilities. I’ve seen some companies implement some brilliant things, like listing call wait times on on-hold messages to help manage expectations, and giving customers communications options and multi-channel access so that they can use a method of communication which they are comfortable with. But even with companies who are otherwise doing lots of great things for mental health accessibility, in many cases their websites let them down.

The challenges people with mental health problems face using websites

We’ve all struggled to find something on a website and we’ve all probably felt frustrated by this. But for people with mental health problems, things like poor navigability, forms timing out and losing your data without warning, or not being able to easily get details to contact someone can lead to much more than just frustration. They can make what was already a challenging and stressful task feel like too much. This might even lead to a person giving up and not completing the action they were trying to do.

When this comes to banking, or paying bills, giving up because the website is too stressful can easily lead to debt or higher costs. We know that people with mental health problems are three times as likely to be in financial difficulty, and in part this is often due to difficulties actually accessing and using the services that are designed to help.

Website designers need to think about vulnerable customers too

We urge all firms to have accessibility needs at the forefront of their digital tools and to consider how things like making the ‘contact us’ page deliberately hard to find might impact some of your more vulnerable customers.

We also know that firms will often have frontline teams who are well trained in the needs of vulnerable customers and customers with mental health problems. This understanding of their needs allows them to offer better support. We’d love to see website and app teams adopt the same approach. Afterall, your website is often the very first frontline touchpoint for many of your customers. And for financial services firms this echoes what the FCA has called for in the vulnerability guidance – inclusive design.

Mental Health Accessible Digital

In 2020, after hearing about the challenges many people with mental health problems were having with the websites and online access provided by banks and energy companies, we created a new Mental Health Accessible consultancy service which focuses entirely on digital accessibility. This consultancy programme reviews a firms’ digital accessibility, looking at website and app, evaluating both functionality and the quality of content across these channels. We assess ease of navigation, quality of digital forms, quality of webchat and how communications help to manage customer’s expectations. 

For more information check out our Mental Health Accessible page or contact Alice Rose at [email protected]