Page published on 29th March 2023
Page last modified on 29th March 2023


On 9 March 2023, we put on an Inclusivity Unlocked! webinar about online accessibility. “Online, but not forgotten” was a joint initiative by our IP Ability community and The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA). It looked at the challenges faced by disabled (including neurodivergent) people when interacting with online content such as websites, registration forms and event access, and how we can improve our web content to make it accessible to more people.

The webinar was chaired byΒ Debra Smith, patent attorney and IP Ability committee member. She was joined by guest speaker Chris Naylor from Bnode, an ethical environmental digital marketing agency that is championing good accessibility to be the norm for digital assets such as websites. Chris knows a great deal about accessible online content and has helped numerous organisations with accessibility audits to make their technology more inclusive. He shared his thoughts with Debra and with two other disabled IP professionals, Abhishek Dhol and Miriam (Mim) Wollacott, providing practical tips for making websites and digital systems more user-friendly for everyone.

A recording of the webinar can be accessed here and Chris Naylor’s slides here. Read on for our summary of the highlights…


Does your company have strong ethical values towards your customers and internal team members? How accessible is your website?

Chris started by highlighting the numbers of disabled people in the UK – for example, 4.5% of the UK population are colour blind, >1% are on the autism spectrum, 10% are dyslexic – and their significant spending power. These people want to use online services but encounter difficulties every day.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of accessibility guidelines which explain how to make web content more accessible to disabled people. There are four core principles:

  • Perceivable – information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive, eg colour contrast, font, sizes, spaces.
  • Operable – user interface components and navigation must be operable, eg buttons, tab key control.
  • Understandable – information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable, eg “ARIA” markup (this is a structure that tells people what the links are on a page and in an organised structure).
  • Robust – content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Services can be rated as conforming to WCAG levels A, AA or AAA, and typically websites aim for AA conformance. Whilst government websites are required to conform to the AA standard, this is not a legal requirement for websites generally, but Chris would like to see this in the future. He sees it as an important aspect for a company to consider if promoting themselves as an ethical and inclusive brand.


Online accessibility for visually-impaired users

Abhishek is an undergraduate Bachelors of Law (LLB) student at Queen Mary University of London and Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Queen Mary Commercial Awareness Society. He is completely sightless and has little to no light perception. He therefore uses non-visual techniques to carry out the everyday activities of his life: using a screen-reader to read his study materials and deal with online communications. He described some of the problems he faces:

  • being unable to complete visual capture authentications;
  • difficulties in dismissing pop-ups when the dismiss button is in an obscure place;
  • being unable to access certain types of information online – specifically certain formats are not accessible to screen reader users, such as uploaded pdf files when the text has not been converted to optical character recognition (OCR), or posters on social media.

Chris provided a demonstration of a “screen reader” in action, to illustrate some of the challenges it can bring. He also told us about the variety of voice options now available.

He then drew our attention to the following options for making online more accessible to visually-impaired and screen reader users:

  • Alternative text (Alt-text) is descriptive text which conveys the meaning and context of an image. Including Alt-text with your images is extremely valuable for visually impaired people in that it allows them to “see” the image.
  • pdf files can be created using standard software but with the images labelled and ordered in a way that can be read by screen readers.
  • ARIA markup makes websites more usable for disabled people by making parts of the website visible to assistive technologies such as screen readers.


Online accessibility for users with physical constraints

Webinar chair Debra Smith is a registered UK and European patent attorney and director and founder of Mayfin IP Limited. As a wheelchair user, she often needs to rely on online meeting platforms, but she encounters frequent hurdles due to her need to use voice recognition software rather than a keyboard. These platforms often require the user to type an email address and do not accept cut-and-paste text or allow the use of software, which means she is often forced to abandon trying to access a webinar, or request alternative access. She explained how her reduced manual dexterity also makes it extremely difficult for her to navigate websites, especially if they have distracting content such as swirling images or noises, as it is a big effort for her to move the page away from this content.

Chris responded by talking about website design for neurodivergent users. He suggested making use of user interface mechanisms which allow the user to pause, stop or hide any moving, blinking or scrolling information, and avoiding mechanisms that start automatically or last more than 5 seconds.

He talked about providing ways for a user to orient themselves within a website and making it easier to navigate using “breadcrumbs” and by providing a sitemap. He also talked about the importance of making the user experience consistent throughout, eg by locating buttons in the same places. Another tip was to visually highlight focussed elements using two or more methods, rather than just one, eg highlight, underline, colour, box outlines, larger font, etc.

He then showed us the Bnode website which contains many encoded accessibility features, such as:

  • Users can change the font size/colour and background colour throughout the website – to aid those with visual impairments or dyslexia.
  • A user-selectable “dark mode”.
  • A cross-hair function and ruler to helps people with dyslexia to follow the text on the page.
  • Image toggle on/off.
  • A text-to-speech function.

He explained that many of these features can be retrofitted to existing websites.


Online accessibility for users with hearing difficulties

Mim, who is a Senior Scientist in Pharmaceutical Development at Vectura Group Ltd, has profound-to-severe hearing loss. This affects her interactions with online platforms and tools. In particular, she talked about the issues she faces with sound on webpages, especially background noises, music, etc. She also mentioned the importance of clear and accurate captions.

Chris mentioned the use of audio description to enhance the user experience for those with hearing impairments. He also shared his experience of using the auto-generated captions during COP27, which were meaningless at times. This highlighted the value in checking and editing auto-generated captions on your digital videos.


Are there resources that can scan your website for accessibility, and how easy is it to retrofit accessibility features onto a website?

In response to these questions, Chris directed us to a Microsoft Edge extension which you can use to test your webpages for accessibility (see He suggested that you can then pass this information to your web developer or to a company like Bnode to implement changes to improve the accessibility of your website. Web developers can do a lot of the basic markups, but some design aspects will require more substantial work.

The panellists also highlighted the importance of having disabled people test your website, there being no substitute for real experience and feedback.


Please get in touch…

We would love to hear your thoughts, comments or suggestions in response to the above. Please get in touch with us by commenting below or via email to [email protected].

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