The practice of establishing digital accessibility has been gaining authority recently, likely because it is an essential consideration for any digital product or service. At the end of the day, digital accessibility is something that concerns all of us, not just designers and developers.
In this blog post, we are going to take a look at digital accessibility and explain why it concerns us all (designers, developers, consumers, and clients), and why it is important to incorporate into every digital project. By the end of this article, you will understand how digital accessibility can help improve any business by adding value to the product, targeting the right audience, and helping to avoid any possible exclusions or penalties. You will also walk away with a list of best practices for establishing digital accessibility within your own product/service.
What does Accessibility mean?
Accessibility refers to the quality of being easy to access. When something is accessible, everyone has the ability to use the product/service on equal terms. To be even more specific, digital accessibility refers to the ability of a digital platform to be visited and used successfully by the highest number of people possible, no matter the limitations coming from the environment. This is because those limitations aren’t defined by the person itself, but by the context in which the person is performing an action.
When thinking about accessibility, the term disability often comes to mind. For several years, disability was defined as a personal attribute. Specifically, it referred to a restriction of a personal health condition. Today, we understand how narrow that definition is. In order to start developing more accessible products, we first need to understand that disability is better defined as a mismatched human interaction and that we, as designers, developers, or any other professional in this business, can help create environments wherein any individual is able to interact with complete autonomy.
Who needs Accessibility?
Well, everyone! Accessibility is not only relevant to people with disabilities. Remember that disability occurs at the points of interaction between a person and society. Disabilities can be physical, cognitive, or social. Even an injury (long- or short-term) or a context can affect the way people interact with the world around them. Considering these points of exclusion can help us create new ideas and more inclusive products; by defining and targeting more diverse audiences, we are able to produce better results.
Think about a case where moms and dads are part of the target audience. When holding a baby, a person likely has only one hand available. So, if this person wants to send a message on their phone, it will probably be easier to send it as an audio message, rather than typing it. Enabling a messaging app to send messages by text or audio makes the product more accessible, and even more so if that person doesn’t have to hold a button for the period of time that they are speaking (like Telegram does).
See? Accessibility is relevant to us all. We are not just talking about specific groups, such as people with vision or hearing disabilities. Remember, a disability is not just a health condition. Rather, it’s a reflection of an interaction with a system in a specific environment. It is related to the context, senses, and other human capacities (learning, neurodiversity, mental health, etc.), and the periods of time they are presented (permanent, situational, or temporary).
“When referring to people, there is no such thing as “normal.” The interactions we design with technology rely a lot on what we can see, hear, say, and touch. To assume that all these senses and capabilities are completely enabled all the time ignores a big part of humanity.” – Inclusive Design Methodology
How can you achieve digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility is not only a rule and a concept, but is also a grade. Websites that fail to meet these standards may be penalized.
In order to meet accessibility standards and avoid penalties, you can guide yourself with a series of guidelines established for digital products. You can start by implementing the following basic principles:
- Color contrast: Add enough color contrast to your site, especially between the text and the background, so that the content can be easily read and identified. You can use a color contrast checker tool to ensure proper color contrast.
- Don’t depend only on color: When communicating something important, don’t depend on color as the sole visual differentiator. Complement your messaging with labels or patterns in order to make it more comprehensible.
- Use labels: Use labels or instructions on inputs and text fields. These serve as a guide for the information the user needs to enter on the screen. They are also very helpful to screen reading software.
- Focus states: Design useful focus states. These indicators help people to know which element they are at when using the keyboard to navigate, helping them to better understand what it is on their screen.
- Highlight the content: Use the appropriate structural components to establish a hierarchy in the page’s content. Headers are a good way to do this, as they highlight where the content starts; that’s why it is very common to use a specific font style for them.
- Use alternative text for images: People with impaired vision often use screen readers to help them understand what’s on their screen. Using alternative text for images on your site helps visitors with impaired vision best understand your page’s content.
- Include time-dependent media: Include text-based descriptions of any audio and video on your site. You can also implement subtitles, audio descriptions, and sign interpretation.
- Keyboard navigation: Enable keyboard navigation of your site to make sure it is accessible to people who depend on it as a navigation tool. Establish a logical reading order and organize your layout by applying a hierarchy and focus states. Be sure to pay attention to the number of links and overall content length.
- Other considerations:
- Don’t limit the orientation of the content (vertical or horizontal).
- Manage the font size.
- Manage the audio and video.
- Allow pausing, stopping, and hiding of page elements.
- Consider the right text spacing.
- Don’t include important information in your images only.
- Don’t use background audio or use it at a very low volume.
- Communicate time limits.
- The motion should be used only if necessary.
- Inform any change originated by an action.
- Apply consistency.
Implementing digital accessibility standards on your site can help break down exclusive barriers and make your product/service more inclusive. And, as the Inclusive Design Methodology establishes, it increases access, reduces friction, and adds more emotional context to the systems.
If you’re not sure where to begin, a Custom Software Development Service like Gorilla Logic can provide unparalleled expertise for your most strategic software builds.
A change of mindset
Establishing universal digital accessibility requires more than implementing a set of guidelines, though. When developing a digital product/service, one should do so with a diverse population of people and their respective challenges in mind. While you may not be able to build a product/service that is relevant to 100% of the world’s population, you should always strive to make it accessible by the highest number of people possible.
By creating a digitally accessible product, you are helping eliminate barriers and ensuring a great user experience for a wider audience. Remember that as long as there are people, there will be a need for accessible products; accessibility is a human right, not a trend.
Want to learn more?
If you want to learn more about this topic, be sure to check out the following resources:
- W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative
- A11 Project
- Inclusive Design Methodology
- Web Accessibility in Mind
- Online Contrast checker
- IT Accessibility program
- Stark Plugin for Sketch/Figma/Adobe XD for color checking
- ADA Compliance
- Line Height Adjuster Plugin for Chrome
- Accessibility Checklist