About 20% of users live with a disability, making inclusive design more important than ever
During the past decade, evolving mindsets and high-profile lawsuits have pushed accessibility to the forefront of the conversation around user experience and technology. What once was an afterthought for many designers and developers is now a goal from the beginning of the project.
Anthro-Tech works primarily with government agencies, non-profits and social-impact groups, so accessibility has been vital to our design process for almost 20 years. We partner with these organizations to create the digital products that millions of people rely on every day, so it’s incredibly important that users of all abilities can get the information they need.
That’s why we keep this principle in mind on every single one of our projects: Accessibility means providing equal access to services, products, and technology.
“Access to information is a civil right.”
For a website or digital product to be “accessible” a person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability. Access to information is a civil right, which means releasing inaccessible technology discriminates against people in disability communities.
The repercussions of inaccessibility
Inaccessible content can be costly
If a user has an accessibility problem with a federally funded organization’s service or technology that is not resolved in a timely, effective manner, they might file a discrimination complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
And several recent, high-profile lawsuits and complaints against large, independent and federal organizations – Penn State, HobbyLobby, and the US Department of Education – have served to highlight the legal ramifications of inaccessible products.
For example: In 2008, retail chain Target paid more than $10 million in damages and attorney’s fees after the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit alleging the company’s website was inaccessible to blind and visually impaired users. After settling the lawsuit, Target then had to invest considerable resources in retrofitting its web products to meet accessibility standards.
Accessibility measures make products more usable for everyone
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” goes the old saying, and it holds true for accessibility. Inclusive design features and modifications simplify the complex, resulting in usability improvements that better the experience for users beyond the disability community.
Think about your smart phone. Many of the features you use every day – changing text size or screen contrast, talk-to-type and other hands-free options, zoom and magnification abilities – were originally developed to support the disability community.
From a business perspective, making your products accessible expands your market potential. Almost 1 in 5 users live with a temporary or permanent disability. That means if you’re not considering accessibility in your design, you’re excluding about 20 percent of your potential market.
How do I make sure my content is accessible?
Follow the POUR Principles
The federal Section 508 law’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 dictate that accessible website content must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
Let’s break down each of the POUR principles:
Website content must be presented in a way that is perceivable to audiences of all ages and abilities. Have you ever encountered website text that was too small to read? Or video without captions? Read a “click here” link? Ever forget to add alternative text to an image? Those are accessibility violations because users with visual, auditory, cognitive, or motor disabilities can’t perceive that content. Consider these elements when designing:
- Visual: Is content easy to see and scan?
- Auditory: Can information be heard properly using assistive technology?
- Motor: Is it easy to interact with in different ways?
- Cognitive: Is it simple to understand, not too complex ?
Users with disabilities employ a variety of assistive technologies when operating websites, so it’s important your content supports these tools. The website interface and its functional parts (navigation, buttons, forms, and controls) must be usable for those using assistive technology, screen readers, and mouseless navigation methods. Beyond assistive technology, your website’s innate functionality needs to accommodate all user abilities. For example, secure sites should allow users ample time to operate by keyboard without logging them out.
Website content should be easily understandable for all users. Use plain language, favor simple functionality over the complex, and use consistent design patterns and text hierarchy. And don’t forget to declare the language in your website HTML! We see this one a lot. Properly setting the language allows assistive technologies to detect the language and read out content correctly.
Your website’s code must be clean and function reliably across most browsers, operating systems, devices, and with assistive technologies. You can’t account for every version of every browser ever developed, but when creating a digital product, you should always consider the many options users have to access your information. Maintaining simple, clean code accounts for current guidelines and allows you to easily evolve your platform to meet future compliance standards.
Make accessibility a shared responsibility
Everyone in your organization plays a role in ensuring your digital product is inclusive. Make accessibility part of your organizational culture by employing these tools and techniques:
- Include users from disability communities in your UX research and product testing phases. It’s important to work with these audiences from the beginning of a project to gain insight into their needs.
- Use site crawlers – like WebAIM Wave or SiteImprove – to check web properties for accessibility issues. These tools sweep websites and find accessibility standards violations. Initial audits with a site crawler will help you identify where to manually review for further accessibility problems.
- Take advantage of the accessibility tools embedded in your systems. Content management systems such as Drupal and WordPress include extensive accessibility functionality. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide image and video captioning tools to ensure everyone can access your messaging.
- Check your files for accessibility before you share them with others. Adobe Acrobat, and Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all have built-in accessibility checkers to identify errors and fix issues before information leaves your drive or inbox. Ensuring the accessibility of even inter-office documents will help reinforce an inclusive mindset.
- No automated tool can find all accessibility issues. Human judgment is needed to discover certain accessibility issues. Test that your website and systems work well with assistive technologies and keyboard-only navigation. These tools are often free, and many are already built right into your computers and mobile devices.
- Appoint an ADA coordinator. This person does not have to know all the answers. The role is about communicating with accessibility auditors and defining a workflow to address accessibility issues.
- Take a training class in accessibility and increase your awareness of common accessibility problems and solutions. We offer an Accessibility 101 workshop. Let us know if you’re interested in attending.
If you’re just beginning to tackle accessibility at your organization, the best thing you can do is to be vigilant and empathetic. Approach each project from the point of view of a user with a disability. You’ll soon discover inclusive design leads to better, more usable products that benefit everyone.