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The Value and Importance of Accessible Websites in the Utilities Sector

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man wearing protective equipment looking at electricals

Every home needs access to gas, water, and electricity. But information on utility company websites is not available to everyone because many are inaccessible to people with disabilities. At a time when many Brits are stressed and anxious about the increased cost of living due to the sharp hike in utility prices, this puts vulnerable residents at a significant disadvantage.

Experts predict that the cost of living crisis should ease in 2024. But, with many households still struggling in the interim and winter fast approaching, it has never been more critical that everyone has equal access to online information and the opportunity to tap into the best deal on heating their home.

Why is it Important to Provide Inclusive Experiences on Utilities Websites? 

Most of us take it for granted that we have access to the information and services we need online, but for those who battle with decreased vision, physical disabilities, neurodivergent traits like dyslexia and dyspraxia, attention disorders, autism, or language and literacy issues, life just isn’t that easy.

Disabilities affect more of the UK population than most people think. It’s estimated that one in five Brits has a disability that can make accessing information online challenging. To put that into perspective, that’s around 13.5 million people:

  • Sight loss affects at least 2 million people (NHS).
  • At least 15% of the population is neurodivergent (University of Edinburgh). 
  • Around 1.5 million people have a learning disability (Mencap). 
  • 1 in 6 people is affected by hearing loss (Hearing Link). 
  • 4.2 million people speak a language other than English at home (Babbel).
electricity bill on mobile phone

Helping Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances

There is a proven link between inaccessible websites and financial vulnerability. Providing equal access to utility services is therefore vital in this time of soaring prices. Otherwise, vulnerability levels increase, and financial situations can worsen even further. 

We typically think of ‘vulnerable people’ as those with physical or emotional deficits – like the aged, the sick, and the immobile. In reality, however, anyone needing assistance or special care falls under the definition of being vulnerable. In the online world, that includes anyone who needs additional help to navigate, understand and consume information. 

Of course, it’s not just disabled internet users who are vulnerable. Many people encounter stressful times at some point in their lives when they struggle to register or understand information. Examples include experiencing divorce or bereavement. So, the clearer and easier information is to access, the better it is for everyone.

Optimising Self-Serving Accounts

When websites are accessible, people save time and effort that would otherwise be spent visiting physical locations or contacting call centres. Convenient online access empowers people to access, manage, and control their utility accounts independently without relying on external assistance. 

There are benefits for the utility companies too. When customers can handle routine tasks like submitting meter readings, updating personal information, and making payments online, the company’s administrative burden is reduced, freeing up staff to focus on more critical business tasks. Plus, with accessible self-service websites, organisations reduce the volume of incoming calls to their customer support centres, which decreases the need for additional staffing and results in significant cost savings.

How Can Recite Me Help? 

As an award-winning tech-for-good company specialising in digital accessibility, we’ve made it our mission to help as many organisations as possible to make their online content accessible to everyone. Our assistive toolbar allows individual users to customise your website and consume the information in the way that’s best suited to their individual needs. We also offer a  state-of-the-art accessibility checker that revolutionises the way companies can identify and address accessibility issues on their websites. 

The Recite Me Assistive Toolbar 

No matter how much time, effort, and money you spend on making your website accessible, additional layers of adjustments will always be required to promote inclusion at an individual level. After all, your website isn’t necessarily inclusive just because it’s accessible. True inclusion comes from giving people as many choices as possible. 

To that end, Recite Me has developed an assistive toolbar that helps users with sight loss, cognitive impairments, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, and varying linguistic needs access your website based on their individual needs and preferences. Users can:

  • Personalise font size, type, and colour options to make each web page easier to read.
  • Utilise the mask screen tool, which isolates parts of the page to help with focus.
  • Use the ruler tool to make reading easier.
  • Download content as an audio file as an alternative to reading.
  • Convert page content into over 100 different on-screen languages.
  • Have the page read aloud in a choice of 65 different languages.
  • Customise PDF documents and have them read aloud or translated.
Recite Me toolbar open on different devices

User Spotlight: Jim Woodcock

Jim Woodcock is in his mid-seventies and has two life-limiting health issues. His flat is in a Sheltered Housing block. As a result, he is on the Priority Service Register for the various utilities. Unfortunately, his current utility provider does not have assistive technology like Recite Me on its website. However, Jim can access our services on two other websites he uses, and has this to say about its value.

“In the interest of good business, I would have thought it foolish for any company to deny its patrons adequate accessibility options.  I have found Recite Me really useful, easy to use, and it seems technically robust and responds to touch screen use perfectly. The settings options make it very user friendly, particularly for those of us “with a few miles on the clock and wrinkles to match”. I think it would be a valuable asset to the Octopus Energy website. No one is compelled to use it. It is a matter of choice, surely. But something that those of us who really need it are being denied.” Jim Woodcock

The Recite Me Accessibility Checker

The Recite Me checker has been developed with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at its core. WCAG 2.1 is the widely accepted global standard when planning how to make a website accessible, and compliance for public sector and various customer-facing websites is expected under UK web accessibility legislation

The Recite Me website accessibility checker audits back-end and front-end web development processes by running 396 separate compliance checks in line with WCAG 2.1 and breaking down the issues you should be working to fix. The methodology follows a simple four-step process to help you increase your accessibility score:

  1. Scan Your Domains 
  2. Identify Accessibility Issues 
  3. Fix Accessibility Errors 
  4. Track Your Progress
laptop with accessibility icon and wcag words

Utility Organisations Leading the Way

Recite Me is proud to be working alongside many of the country’s leading utility organisations already. Our current client list includes:

  • British Gas
  • Utilita
  • Northern Powergrid
  • Cadent Gas Limited
  • Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water
  • United Utilities
  • Northern Gas Networks
  • Northumbrian Water
  • Western Power Distribution
  • Severn Trent Water
  • Spirit Energy
British Gas
United Utilities
Spirit Energy
Cadent Logo

We are delighted that so many utility companies are committed to providing inclusive online journeys for the public they serve. Our most recent 2022 stats from across the utilities sector show that:

  • 3,772,882 pages have been viewed using the Recite Me toolbar.
  • 803,959 unique users launched the toolbar.
  • 6,524,583 pieces of content were read aloud.
  • 2,093,809 pieces of content were translated into different languages

Online Accessibility and Inclusion Toolkit

Our Digital Inclusion Toolkit has been developed to help businesses make a real difference to the lives of the millions of people around the world who encounter online barriers. The guide includes:

Get started today by downloading your free copy.

mockup of the toolkit showing a page about colour contrast

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