2013_05_02_featured Design

Why You Should Care About Web Accessibility

Research has shown that almost 30% of internet users have a disability of some sort. As such, as user experience designers we need to make sure that we cater for these disabilities so that the widest possible audience can use our website or application. This means designing with accessibility and disability in mind, from the outset.

I’m not going to go into detail on web accessibility as much has already been written about it over the years, with really useful guides and resources available at W3 and Web Credible looks into the act in more detail in relation to websites.

Save on mobile adaptation

Working with both accessibility and disability requirements on websites, I’ve seen an interesting and really useful side to it. What I’ve found is that by building your web application to be fully accessible and to cater for people with disabilities, you end up with an application/website that works really well for smartphones, without much extra effort.

This is because in many instances, designing an experience for someone who CANNOT use your website/software due to a disability also ensures that we are catering for those who SHOULD not be using the website/software in the standard manner.

Design for speech input

One example is designing for speech input. Some disabled users cannot use a keyboard and/or touchscreen device. There are also instances where able bodied people should not be using the keyboard or touch screen – while they’re driving is a typical one – and thus these users would be able to take advantage of a system such as speech input instead of text input.

Continuing with the “driving” theme, designing your click, or touch interactions to be speech activated as well makes it safe for drivers to use on the go. Designing in-car navigation systems – by using speech input and output can be really useful by being less distracting and easier to use for able people and also for disabled or less able people who have poor vision, no use of hands/fingers.

GPS navagation in luxury car
In-car navigation

A few basic rules

Designing the experience for mobile is a little different to web or software, however there are still the same basic rules with regards to accessibility and disability. It’s important to note that the initiative put in place by W3C for mobile accessibility (available here) actually includes devices such as TVs and tablets and not just mobile phones (or cell phones in the USA). Some of the guidelines for mobile are the same as those already in existence for web best practice. As a result, time spent investing in your web accessibility standards is well spent as there is an automatic benefit for when users access your software/website with a mobile device.

Accesibility key
Accessibility is Key

Four key areas of focus

As per the W3C guidelines, our main focus as experience designers is to ensure that our application / website is

  • perceivable,
  • operable,
  • understandable and
  • robust.

For a full breakdown of what’s included in these four areas, have a look at Shared Web Experiences: Barriers Common to Mobile Device Users and People with Disabilities

The mobile challenge

With mobile there are some additional areas that we need to think about. Mobile phones in particular can be challenging to design for, as we have to think about small fonts, small keyboards, no mouse, touch gestures, small screen sizes, poor light and even glare.

Trying to address all disability or accessibility issues with experience design alone won’t solve all your problems, however, and work will need to be undertaken with the supported platform operating system or APIs.

Man in wheelchair with mobile devices
Multi device usage

Platform accessibility APIs

Platform accessibility APIs are the bridge between applications and assistive technology and these are becoming better and more widely supported as time goes by. Knowing what these APIs can help you achieve as an experience designer is crucial, so you will need to get to grips with a little of the technical things, or discuss with your developers. Be sure to also read the Research Report on Mobile Web Accessibility.

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