What is Accessibility?

When discussing a product or service’s accessibility, one must consider whether or not it can be utilised by anyone who comes into contact with it. While accessibility laws exist to help those with physical impairments, designers should make an effort to include as many people as possible. To do so has firm benefits—notably better designs for all.

Accessibility vs Usability

Inasmuch as they share some commonalities, accessibility and usability are oftentimes misunderstood. The two are intertwined and equally important in UX design, but there are also notable differences between them. The term “usability” refers to the evaluation of a design’s efficacy, efficiency, and user-pleasing qualities. Since a product that is inaccessible is also unusable to someone with a disability, this means that usability includes accessibility. In practise, however, usability tends not to specifically focus on the user experience of people with disabilities. However, accessibility is concerned with whether or not all users, regardless of how they interact with a product or service, have access to an equivalent user experience (e.g., using assistive devices). Accessibility, in contrast to usability, prioritises users with impairments.

Accessible Designs Help Everyone

Improving accessibility is not only the moral thing to do, but it can also have practical benefits for users. The reason for this is that accessibility features initially designed to aid people with disabilities often end up benefiting the general public as well. If you’re having trouble hearing a video, try turning the sound down or turning on the subtitles (e.g., in a social media feed). Readable, high-contrast text is helpful not only for those with vision impairments but also for those with normal vision who are using the app outside in direct sunlight. Many users, regardless of skill level, will encounter difficulties in various settings. Making products and services accessible to people of varying skill levels allows you to make things that more people will want to use and enjoy.

Unfortunately, many brands fail to consider accessibility, despite its importance. However, according to a report on disability published by the World Health Organization in 2011, about 15% of the world’s population would be left out if you didn’t make your design accessible. In addition, failing to create accessible designs is punishable in many regions (including the European Union). However, there are many reasons beyond compliance with the law why designing for accessibility is a good idea.

  • SEO boosted by using semantic HTML.
  • Possibilities to communicate with a larger audience via a wider variety of channels and devices.
  • Your company’s profile in the public eye will rise.

Types of Accessibility Issues

You need to think about how many people might have trouble with accessibility and what kinds of problems they might encounter. Common obstacles include the following:

  • Visual (e.g., colour blindness) (e.g., colour blindness).
  • Motor/mobility (e.g., wheelchair-user concerns) (e.g., wheelchair-user concerns).
  • Auditory (hearing difficulties) (hearing difficulties).
  • Seizures (especially photosensitive epilepsy) (especially photosensitive epilepsy).
  • Learning/cognitive (e.g., dyslexia) (e.g., dyslexia).

All users are susceptible to encountering accessibility issues:

  • Incidental (e.g., sleep-deprivation) (e.g., sleep-deprivation)
  • Environmental (e.g., using a mobile device underground) (e.g., using a mobile device underground)

Who might be trying to access your product or service is open to almost infinite permutations.

Practical Guidelines for Accessibility

The most up-to-date version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is a set of rules for making websites more accessible to people with disabilities (WCAG). Use these guidelines as a starting point for making your site accessible to people of varying abilities:

  • Incorporate a CMS that conforms to accessibility standards (e.g., WordPress). Make sure that any previously used templates you modify were created with accessibility in mind.
  • Characters with a range of abilities should be used.
  • Make use of text headers (optimally, use CSS for consistency throughout). Proceed in a linear fashion from one set of headings to the next (without skipping).
  • You should always include alternative text for images that are integral to the message.
  • Develop a plan for how you’ll use links (e.g., “Read more about the Interaction Design Foundation, at their website.”). Highlight links and menu options on mouseover, provide visual cues (such as PDF icons), and underline text for emphasis.
  • Using high contrast colours and careful colour choice, you can make it easier to see.
  • Use icons and geometric references to direct users (e.g., “Click the square button”).
  • Think about the experience of people who use screen readers when filling out forms. Tags are used to describe fields and provide labels for users of screen readers. Put some visual order into the tabs. Give each field either a required or optional role according to the ARIA guidelines (know how to use ARIA). The use of asterisks should be avoided.
  • Lists should employ standard HTML elements. Put them on separate lines from the text.
  • Be mindful of how you present any slideshows or other dynamic content. For overlays, etc., check out the ARIA guidelines.
  • To make sure your code is readable by all browsers, run it through the W3C markup validator.
  • Provide text versions of audio resources and video transcripts.
  • Create content that is simple to comprehend; this increases the likelihood that your intended audience will read it.
  • Test out your layout without the aid of a mouse. It’s not always easy to scroll.
  • Check the usability from a variety of perspectives by using accessibility testing software like WAVE and Color Oracle.

Testing accessibility should, of course, be done with actual end users. Remember that while it’s impossible to please every possible user, your efforts to do so can pay off in surprising ways.

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