Perkins Access and Spaulding Rehab open new digital door to patients with disabilities

The renowned hospital has launched a new leading edge digitally accessible website in partnership with Perkins Access.

Perkins Access team having a meeting and looking at the new Spaulding Rehab site on a projector.
April 23, 2019

With help from Perkins School for the Blind, Spaulding Rehabilitation just gave patients with disabilities a new online avenue to access information about their own healthcare.

The Massachusetts-based teaching hospital, recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best rehab hospitals in the country, recently launched an entirely redesigned website, one built from the ground up with the many needs of diverse populations in mind.

Perkins Access, which provides digital accessibility consultation, collaborated on the project, ensuring website architecture, design and coding decisions took into account the needs of people with disabilities.

“We have a major commitment to people with physical challenges, whether they be mobility, hearing or visually related,” said David Storto, president of Spaulding. “Unfortunately, in most aspects of society, including in healthcare, digital spaces haven’t kept pace with physical ones in terms of accessibility. This website was designed to meet all of our patients where they are.”

Among a host of new accessibility characteristics, the streamlined site features color contrasts between typeface and background to ensure maximum readability, alternative texts for images that describes the subject matter in a picture, and full keyboard functionality, which enables users to easily navigate the site without a mouse.

Digital Accessibility puts patients first graphic highlights contrast, alternative text, accessible labels, and keyboard access. More in plain text version

Graphic in plain text

Spaulding realized after repeated “fits and starts” that they needed help to get an accessible website redesign done, Storto added. For starters, they needed guidance from an organization that was savvy in inclusive design, a creative approach that prioritizes accessibility from the earliest stages of the process resulting in the best website experience for everyone. They also needed input from a partner with a strong grasp of the compliance standards that govern web accessibility.

To truly provide patient-first web services, though, they knew they needed a partner that could pair those skills with a unique understanding of the different populations they sought to serve. Added Storto, “That’s who we are. We go above and beyond.” For that reason, they hired Perkins Access to help bring their vision to reality.

Working alongside HERO Digital, a customer experience agency, and Klish Group, a digital consulting firm, Perkins brought expertise in inclusive design to the project and a clear understanding of best practices outlined in the authoritative Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Yet most vital to the partnership was how attuned Perkins Access was to the needs of people with various abilities, as well as its capacity to cultivate a diverse base of testers with disabilities to assess website usability.

“We like to test the site with a cross section of users representative of the people who are actually going to be using it,” said Gary Aussant, director of digital accessibility for Perkins Access. “Our goal is to make sure the experience will work for any user of the Spaulding website. It’s important to have those people weigh in at an early stage.”

Luiza Aguiar, executive director of Perkins Access, went on to herald Spaulding for their own embrace of inclusive design. Too many organizations, she added, do not “build in” this approach, rather they wait and “bolt on” accessibility later, which inevitably creates problems down the road when it takes more time and money to fix. But that isn’t the only reason to prioritize accessibility, she said.

“Accessibility is the law. It’s also a gateway to a community of millions of Americans who have disabilities that affect how they use the web, enabling healthcare organizations to reach and serve more potential patients. So there are clear business reasons for embracing digital accessibility,” said Aguiar. “Most importantly, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Indeed, the redesign will have real life implications on scores of web users.

Chris Hoeh, a spinal cord injury survivor and Spaulding patient, has limited mobility in his upper extremities. This makes web navigation difficult, particularly on his phone, he said.

“I use my phone for everything, but there are some websites I go to where the font is really tiny, or the buttons are hard to click, and it’s difficult to expand the screen,” he said. “It’s just frustrating.”

Having participated in the user testing trials, he was able to offer input like that to project leaders, which he also discussed in a video promoting the project, who could work to ensure the redesigned Spaulding site was accordingly accessible.

“To have a website that’s easy for me to use my thumb to navigate is incredible,” he added.

The project, though, was always about more than any one organization making over a website. It was, from the start, about creating a more inclusive society. As Hoeh himself put it, “The more we can do to make the world accessible to all people, the better.”

Aguiar agreed, adding, “This is Perkins' legacy – we understand accessibility from the perspective of the people who it matters to the most, so we are stewarding technology to build a more inclusive world.”

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