As UX designers we have one thing in common: Empathy. We solve people’s problems by walking in their shoes. One element of empathy is commonly overlooked: Accessibility.
People with disabilities are often left out when designers design or developers develop. Taking this group of people into consideration and designing with them in mind goes one step further in our goal of solving people’s problems.
I recently took a course on Accessibility that helped me to better understand this branch of design. I believe it is very important for everyone to take Accessibility into consideration, so I’ve decided to write a series of simplified blogs that easily explain Accessibility.
Web accessibility is becoming an essential part of the design, ensuring that websites and applications are accessible for everyone, including users with disabilities. Good design does not just mean making something look good visually, it also needs to function well. Can a person who uses a screen-reader use your website well? If not, do you think that person would consider your site to be well-designed? As designers, we have the responsibility to create digital work that is usable and provides a great experience. It’s not just people with permanent disabilities that will benefit from your accessible design, it is also those with temporary and situational conditions. When you design for accessibility, you design for everyone.
What is Accessibility?
In terms of Accessibility, empathy is understanding that not all users navigate the web the same way. Individuals with special needs need to use assistive technology to move around.
What kinds of assistive technology are used? There are many. Before we can design for people with disabilities, we need to get to know the tools they use. The most common tools are:
1- Screen Readers: A software that reads the content out loud for people with sight impediments.
Software that reads the content out loud for people with sight impediments.
2.- Screen Magnifiers: Used for people with sight impediments to enlarge the content on their screen
3.- Switch Controls: Allow people with motor impairments to use a device without a touch screen, keyboard or mouse.
4.- Closed Captioning: Used to make videos accessible for users with hearing impairments and users that have problems understanding speech.
Accessibility: Required by Law
Empathy isn’t a UX designer’s only motivation to keep Accessibility in mind. According to the Government Disabilities Act: “Websites and apps are places of public accommodations”
This means that having a website or app without options for people with disabilities is like having a building entrance without a wheelchair ramp; it would be considered discriminatory.
In 2016, Domino’s Pizza was successfully sued by a blind man because he wasn’t able to order a pizza on their website. This case was a wake-up call for every online company regarding Accessibility: they would need to make sure that everyone could use their product or service without an issue.
Debunking Myths About Accessibility
Whether we are approaching Accessibility from passion or practicality, there are many myths about Accessibility that are far from the truth. The two most common myths are:
Myth #1: Accessible design is only for people with disabilities.
Microsoft has a manual for inclusive design called “Inclusive 101”. Here they explain how Accessibility can benefit everyone, not only people with disabilities.
An example of a permanent situation would be someone who doesn’t have an arm, whereas a temporary situation would be someone with a broken arm that will heal over time. A situational disability would be a parent holding a baby with one arm and using a mobile device in the other.
Finding an Accessibility solution for any one of these three scenarios would be a solution for all three — Accessibility for one is Accessibility for all.
Myth #2: Accessible design makes things better only for people with disabilities.
The original intent behind closed captions on video was to help people with hearing impairments or speech comprehension problems to better understand what they were watching. But closed captions are also convenient for people who may be in a noisy environment or would like to read what they are hearing when practicing listening comprehension in a second language.
This is called the “Curb-Cut Effect”, the notion that Accessibility improves the overall experience for every group of people, not just those with disabilities.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
You may be asking yourself, “I want (and need) to design for people with disabilities, but how do I even start?” A good place to start is by understanding the WCAG.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an internationally recognized standard for Accessibility features. It explains a set of rules that we must follow in our designs for them to be approved.
The WCAG is an extensive guideline that can be intimidating, but it can be broken down into four easy-to-understand parts, commonly known as “POUR Principles”. Your product or service must be:
- (P) Perceivable: introducing the information and components of our site in a way that all users can understand.
- (O) Operable: offering different ways in which people with disabilities can operate and move around your content.
- (U) Understandable: make sure that our web content is understandable by people with disabilities so they can use our interfaces.
- (R) Robust: The content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of users, including the ones that use assistive technologies.
How The WCAG Works
In the guideline, each criteria is marked with three levels depending on how difficult they are to achieve. The levels are A, AA, AAA.
AAA is considered the Gold Standard of Accessibility and will help us to better reach the best possible experience for all users. As one might expect, it is very hard and expensive to reach. The minimum accepted level of Accessibility is the AA.
We learned what Accessibility is and why it is important. We also understood that Accessibility is something that helps all groups of people, debunking some myths about it. Finally, we now know the existence of the WCAG principles and how they are a tool to measure our work in terms of Accessibility.
WCAG version 2.1 is what was available at the time of the writing of this blog post with a total of 13 Accessibility guidelines. I will be breaking down each one of them in later posts.