Your constantly-updated definition of Accessibility and collection of topical content and literature

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility defines users’ ability to use products/services, but not the extent to which they can attain goals (usability). Designers should create output accommodating the needs of all potential users, be they disabled (e.g., color-blind users) or anyone facing situational barriers (e.g., being forced to multitask).

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

While accessibility is different from usability, it has a clear impact on the user experience and should always be considered as part of a great user experience.

Learn how accessibility affects SEO and usability.

Accessible Designs, for All

In practice, accessibility is about designing for users with disabilities. Philosophically, it isn’t so much about designing for disability as it is about designing for everyone. Designing Interactive Systems author, David Benyon, offers five reasons an inaccessible product excludes users:

  1. Physical – takes too much strength to use.
  2. Conceptual – has hard-to-understand instructions.
  3. Economic – is too expensive.
  4. Cultural – users can’t understand metaphors regarding product interaction.
  5. Social – on joining a group, users don’t understand that group’s social conventions.

A 2011 W.H.O. report revealed about 15% of the world’s population had some disability. When designing, you should consider the number and type of potential accessibility issues users will have. Barriers include visual (e.g., color blindness), motor/mobility (e.g., wheelchair-user concerns), auditory (hearing difficulties), seizures (especially photosensitive epilepsy) and learning (e.g., dyslexia). Also design to maximize ease of use when users (of any ability) encounter your creation in stressful/mobile situations. By designing to reach all ability levels, you’ll produce output virtually anyone can use and enjoy (or find helpful/calming), whatever the context. Designing for accessibility thus helps all users.

Accessibility Through Universal Design

“When UX doesn’t consider ALL users, shouldn’t it be known as “SOME User Experience” or… SUX?”

— Billy Gregory, Senior Accessibility Engineer

Helping all users by designing for accessibility is also known as universal design. You can increase accessibility by applying the following Universal Design principles:

  1. Equitable Use – Design to accommodate users with diverse abilities (e.g., deafness).
  2. Flexible Use – E.g., accommodate right- and left-handedness.
  3. Simple, Intuitive Use – Simplify complex information. Use a proper information hierarchy, progressive disclosure and effective prompting towards task completion.
  4. Perceptible Information – Optimize readability of vital information and present information redundantly (i.e., use pictures and text).
  5. Tolerance for Error – Arrange elements to minimize accidental actions. E.g., ensure users have data validation so they can only book reservations in the future.
  6. Low Physical Effort – E.g., minimize repetitive actions.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use – E.g., accommodate touch target areas for average-sized fingertips.

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Practical Guidelines for Accessibility

When designing for accessibility you can follow these guidelines:

  • Use a CMS supporting accessibility standards (e.g., WordPress); when amending any pre-used template, ensure themes were designed for accessibility.
  • Use header tags in text (optimally, use CSS for consistency throughout). Move consecutively from one heading level to the next (without skipping).
  • Use alt text on content-enhancing images.
  • Have a link strategy (i.e., describe the link before inserting it – e.g., “Read more about the Interaction Design Foundation, at their website. Offer visual cues (e.g., PDF icons), underline links and highlight menu links on mouseover.
  • Improve visibility with careful color selection and high contrast.
  • Consider forms vis-à-vis screen readers. Label fields and give descriptions to screen readers via tags. Make tab order visually ordered and assign an ARIA required or not required role to each field (know how to use ARIA). Avoid the asterisk convention.
  • Avoid tables for layout (only use for data presentation). Use the HTML scope attribute to describe relationships between cells.
  • Use proper HTML elements in lists (don’t put them on the same line as text).
  • Try using your design without a mouse. Scrolling can present difficulties.
  • Present dynamic content carefully (consulting ARIA standards for overlays, etc.), including slideshows.
  • Validate markup using the W3 standards site to ensure all browsers can read your code.
  • Avoid Flash.
  • Offer transcriptions for audio resources, captions/subtitles for video.
  • Make content readable – simpler language reaches more users.

Furthermore, include personas with varying abilities and use accessibility-testing tools (such as WAVE and Color Oracle) to assess output. While testing on real users is vital, designing with these considerations in mind will give you an early advantage.

Learn More about Accessibility

Some revealing insights on Accessibility, including examples:

A helpful resource featuring examples of accessible design:

Learn how to design with accessibility in mind with the IDF’s course addressing Accessibility:

Literature on Accessibility

Here’s the entire UX literature on Accessibility by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Accessibility

Take a deep dive into Accessibility with our course Accessibility: How to Design for All.

Good accessibility is crucial to making your website or app a success. Not only is designing for accessibility required by law in many countries—if you fail to consider accessibility, you are excluding millions of people from using your product. The UN estimates that more than 1 billion people around the world live with some form of disability and as populations age over the coming years, that number is expected to rise rapidly. Add to that the 10 percent of people who suffer from color blindness, and you start to get an idea of why accessibility is so important—not just for moral and legal reasons, but also so that your products can reach their full potential. You need to design for accessibility!

So… what is a proven and pain-free way to well-executed accessibility? If you’ve ever tried to optimize your site or app for accessibility, you’ll know it can be a complex and intimidating task… and it can therefore be very tempting to leave it until last or, worse still, avoid it altogether. By understanding that accessibility is about more than just optimizing your code, you’ll find you can build it into your design process. This will ensure you are taking a disability advocacy approach, and keeping the focus on your users throughout the development process.

This course will help you achieve exactly that—from handling images to getting the most out of ARIA markup, you’ll learn how to approach accessibility from all angles. You’ll gain practical, hands-on skills that’ll enable you to assess and optimize for common accessibility issues, as well as show you how to place an emphasis on the quality of the user experience by avoiding classic mistakes. Whats more, you’ll also come away with the knowledge to conduct effective accessibility testing through working with users with disabilities.

The course includes interviews with an accessibility specialist and blind user, as well as multiple real-world examples of websites and apps where you can demonstrate your skills through analysis and accessibility tests. Not only will this give you a more practical view of accessibility, but you’ll also be able to optimize your websites and mobile apps in an expert manner—avoiding key mistakes that are commonly made when designing for accessibility.

You will be taught by Frank Spillers, CEO of the award-winning UX firm Experience Dynamics, and will be able to leverage his experience from two decades of working with accessibility. Given that, you will be able to learn from, and avoid, the mistakes he’s come across, and apply the best practices he’s developed over time in order to truly make your accessibility efforts shine. Upon completing the course, you will have the skills required to adhere to accessibility guidelines while growing your awareness of accessibility, and ensuring your organization’s maturity grows alongside your own.

All Literature

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