We don’t need to stress the importance of accessibility in today’s world: it’s absolutely crucial and something that more and more people are adopting around in practically every industry. But as the world becomes increasingly dependent on the internet and digital services, (after all, some companies have stopped offering non-digital services altogether!) ensuring that the web is an accessible place is crucial.
Before we dive right into how to make accessibility-friendly designs online, we think it’s a good idea to first chat more about accessibility, why it matters, who it affects, and common struggles that people face when accessibility isn’t a priority.
What is Accessibility?
Generally speaking, accessibility is defined as making sure something, be it a product, service, experience, information, or anything else, can be used by absolutely everyone, regardless of their personal situations. Typically used to only refer to people with disabilities, the importance of accessibility and ensuring equal access to everyone is not a new concept, but since the internet is quite new, it’s essential that the next generation of techies is well-prepared to create inclusive and accessible designs.
Some of the most common reasons for needing accessible services might refer to people with disabilities, such as visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive ones, but creating truly accessible web designs goes beyond that. When designing websites that are supposed to be accessible to children, for example, designers must put themselves in the shoes of children and design attractive, interesting, and colorful sites that direct children where they need to go. On the other hand, a senior citizens’ website shouldn’t have small text or overly technical information.
Okay, we gave away what we’re going to talk about in the rest of the post! So before we dive into making accessible designs for each of the aforementioned areas, let’s tackle another important matter: the importance of accessibility.
Why is accessibility important?
It’s quite simple: accessibility allows everyone, regardless of their age, economic status, disability status, or gender, to access the same services. When it comes to publicly offered services, such as immigration or healthcare, it’s even more crucial that everyone can not only access the information, but also understand their rights.
Allowing everyone the chance to be active and participating members of society is something we should strive for in absolutely every area, including web design.
Accessibility in Web Design
As we mentioned above, the internet’s importance has absolutely skyrocketed, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, practically everything was online and those with diverse circumstances were sometimes unable to access the same information or services as their peers. That’s why accessibility in web design is so crucial; the internet is a tool that can be used to spread lots of information, learn, and connect, but only when the experience yields the same outcome for all users.
For something to be accessible online, it needs to be:
Perceivable: the information needs to be apparent to the user and available to one of their senses; for example, if a website is made up of text, there needs to be an audio option to include blind users.
Understandable: the content provided needs to be understandable to the chosen audience; if you’re creating a website for immigrants, ensuring that the information is available in various languages can make the content understandable.
Operable: if someone is only able to control their computer via voice, the website should work the same as it does for someone who can only use a mouse or a keyboard, therefore being operable.
Robust: the website must function the same as it does for a person without disabilities, meaning that no one has a worse experience.
Are accessibility and usability the same thing?
People frequently use accessibility and usability interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two. They have similarities, yes, but usability focuses on the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction of a design; accessibility, on the other hand, prioritizes knowing that all users, regardless of their disability, can properly use the design.
Accessible Web Designs
Now that we’ve covered what accessibility is and why it’s so crucial, especially in web design, let’s dive a little deeper into specific cases where accessibility is needed and give some suggestions. We’re going to begin with specific disabilities that users will have, but also cover some common ability barriers that are sometimes forgotten.
Important note: as with anything, the levels of a person’s disability vary significantly. Someone may be completely blind or just unable to see colors; a Deaf person may communicate solely by sign language or rely on lip reading.
When creating a web design, keep in mind that those who can’t easily distinguish between similar colors may have trouble with subtle changes; here’s a great example of when you need to incorporate multiple elements into your design. If there’s a mistake, use both the color red and the word “Error” to communicate that to your user.
For users who are completely blind, having accessibility options to hear a reading of the webpage instead of reading it can be a total game-changer. But be careful; if your webpage has a lot of pictures with images or a menu, for example, as an attached document, make sure that there’s an accessible version that can read that information to the user as well.
Creating an accessible design that’s of use to Deaf or hard-of-hearing users requires planning; using captions on videos that are reviewed, synchronized, and accurately display what’s being spoken in the video is essential. And if your only method of contact is by the phone, consider adding in an email or chat option so that those who can’t communicate by the phone have equal access to contacting your company.
Those facing motor impairments might face tremors, involuntary movements, paralysis, lack of coordination, or missing limbs, all of which can make using a website quite difficult. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in this area, creating custom keyboards with more space between the keys or different kinds of mouses. But when it comes to the website itself, make sure all functions are reachable by the keyboard (not the mouse!) and it’s easy to incorporate software that helps the user navigate the website.
Frequently forgotten when talking about accessibility, folks with cognitive impairments also benefit from a personalized web experience. Ensure that your site is cleanly-designed, with easy to read and access buttons and tabs. A user with dyslexia, for example, might be deterred by large amounts of text. Offer information in varied formats, such as infographics, videos, or more, and keep the language clear and simple.
Have you considered that someone might need to access your services from a place where there’s no WiFi or cell service? Or from a public place, such as a library, where they can’t enter personal data? Offering offline services and the ability to browse without entering identifying information can make your site more inclusive.
You can probably remember a time when you entered a website to research something, saw tons of technical jargon, and immediately went back to the search page. Not everyone has the same level of understanding regarding certain topics and creating content that’s overly dense or technical is basically excluding those who haven’t studied it extensively from accessing that information. Use simple, explanative language and go into detail when necessary.
This is also extremely relevant when creating content for children. We’re not just talking about fun websites for games; imagine you’re working on creating a website where children learn about how to call emergency services in the case something goes wrong. If you display and write the information as you would for an adult, it’s very likely that the child won’t be able to understand the crucial details. Use pictures, include video or audio options, and child-friendly wording that makes the content truly accessible to all.
We touched on this above but guaranteeing that your users, regardless of their native tongue, have the same access to services and information should be your priority. Especially when it comes to government, immigration, or refugee services, providing high-quality translations, video captioning, and specific contact methods per language will include an entire population that was previously unable to access that service.
This is probably the type of accessibility that’s least considered, but is just as important. Have you ever had to answer the phone in the middle of the night and been almost blinded by your screen’s blindness? Or accidentally hit the wrong button in your sleepiness, losing your place in your article? Offering users the option to lower brightness, increase font size, or use black and white settings can make your design more digestible.
Tips for Improving Web Accessibility
If the aforementioned points have convinced you of the need to include accessible designs in your next project, take a look at some of our tips to ensuring your next web design is truly accessible:
Include people with various disabilities, ages, and educational levels when creating your buyer personas
Always include alt-text on images or graphics
Research color selection and font size before making a decision, or include the option to adjust as needed
Ensure your site is mobile-friendly
Offer quality transcriptions and captions for videos and anything that has audio
Use clean and simple designs and language
Creating accessible content is an absolute necessity and once you truly commit to creating accessible web designs, your audience will expand and more and more people will be able to benefit from your product or service. If you’re ready to take the next step and dive right into creating high-quality and accessible web designs, Ironhack’s UX/UI Design Bootcamp is the perfect choice for you.