What is Accessibility? A brief guideline for designers

Product Design May 31, 2023

In today's digital landscape, Accessibility has emerged as a critical aspect of design. With an increasing emphasis on inclusivity and equal access, designers play a pivotal role in ensuring that digital experiences cater to individuals of all abilities.

This article serves as a concise guide for designers, unraveling the concept of Accessibility and providing valuable insights on its importance, principles, and implementation strategies.

By understanding and incorporating Accessibility into their design practices, designers can create inclusive digital environments that empower and enrich the lives of all users.

What is Accessibility?

The main goal for every designer is to achieve the utmost level of accessibility for the web, ensuring equal participation for individuals with disabilities. When we reach this goal, the web becomes inclusive for people with hearing, motor, visual, and cognitive disabilities.

Consequently, the web profoundly impacts disability, as it eliminates the obstacles to communication and interaction that many individuals encounter in the physical realm.

What does Web accessibility really mean? Well, it refers to the design and development of websites, tools, and technologies that people with disabilities can effectively utilize. In more specific terms, individuals should always be able to perceive, comprehend, navigate, and interact with the web and contribute.

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web, including:

  • auditory
  • physical
  • cognitive
  • speech
  • neurological
  • visual

Web accessibility relies on several components that work together. Some of these include:

  1. Web content - refers to any part of a website, including text, images, forms, and multimedia, as well as any markup code, scripts, applications, and such.
  2. User agents - software that people use to access web content, including desktop graphical browsers, voice browsers, mobile phone browsers, multimedia players, plug-ins, and some tools and techniques.
  3. Authoring tools - software or services that people use to produce web content, including code editors, document conversion tools, content management systems, blogs, database scripts, and other tools.

Why is Accessibility so important?

Accessibility is critical because it ensures that all users can interact with and use digital products, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Here are a few reasons why Accessibility is so important:

  • Legal Requirements: Many countries and organizations have laws and guidelines that mandate Accessibility for digital products. For example, in the United States, websites and applications must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  • User Inclusion: Accessibility ensures that all users can access and use digital products regardless of their abilities. This includes people with visual, hearing, cognitive, and motor impairments, as well as those with temporary disabilities, such as a broken arm or a migraine.
  • User Experience: Designing for Accessibility can also improve the user experience for all users. For example, clear and consistent labelling can make navigation easier for everyone, not just those with visual impairments.
  • Business Benefits: By designing with Accessibility in mind, companies can increase their potential customer base, improve user satisfaction, and avoid legal liabilities.

In short, Accessibility is essential because it ensures that digital products are inclusive, easy to use, and legally compliant. By prioritizing Accessibility in their designs, designers can create products that are accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities.

Accessibility Principles

These principles serve as a foundation for Accessibility in digital product design, and they provide a framework for designers to evaluate and improve the Accessibility of their designs.

By following these principles, designers can ensure that their products are inclusive, easy to use, and accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities. The principles are:

  • Robust: This principle means that the content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This includes using standard HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code and ensuring that the content is compatible with different browsers and devices.
  • Understandable: This principle means that the content and operation of the user interface must be understandable. This includes using clear and simple language, providing help and documentation to users when needed, and ensuring that the user interface operates in predictable ways.
  • Operable: This principle means that users must be able to operate the interface and navigate the content. This includes providing keyboard accessibility, giving users enough time to read and interact with content, and avoiding content that can cause seizures or physical reactions.
  • Perceivable: This principle means that information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can perceive it. This includes providing text alternatives for non-text content such as images, videos, and audio, as well as ensuring that the content is easy to see and hear for all users.

The key aspects to look up for Accessibility

When designing a digital product, there are several important aspects of Accessibility that designers should consider. Here are some of the most critical ones:

  • Keyboard Accessibility: Many people with disabilities cannot use a mouse, so it is important to ensure that all interactive elements on the website can be accessed and activated using only the keyboard. This means that all links, buttons, forms, and other interactive elements should be reachable and operable via keyboard navigation and that the focus should be visible on the element being interacted with.
  • Color Contrast: People with visual impairments, such as color blindness, may have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors. Designers should use high-contrast color combinations for text and other elements to ensure all users can read and understand the content. Specifically, the contrast ratio between the text color and the background color should be at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.
  • Text Alternatives: For users who are visually impaired or using screen readers, alternative text (alt text) is critical for understanding the content of images. Designers should include descriptive alt text for all images on the website to ensure that all users can access the information. The alt text should describe the purpose or content of the image concisely and accurately.
  • Readability: Designers should ensure that the website's text is easy to read and understand. This includes using a legible font, appropriate font size, and adequate line spacing. Sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana are often easier to read on screen than serif fonts. The font size should be at least 16 pixels, and line spacing should be at least 1.5 times the font size.
  • Clear Navigation: Navigation is critical for all users, but especially for those with disabilities. Designers should ensure that the website's navigation is clear and consistent, and that users can easily locate the information they need. Navigation should be intuitive, with clear labels and grouping of related items, and a breadcrumb trail can help users understand their location on the website.
  • Audio and Video Accessibility: For users who are deaf or hard of hearing, closed captions and transcripts are necessary for understanding audio and video content. Designers should ensure that all audio and video content on the website is accessible to all users. Closed captions should be synchronized with the audio, and transcripts should be provided for videos that do not have a voiceover.

By following these guidelines, we can ensure that our digital products are accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities. This can increase the usability and inclusivity of the digital product, and make it available to a wider audience.

Karen Falconi

Product Designer at Acid Tango