Accessible Design

Posted on Friday, 24 January 2020 by Marissa Sapega

Good design is invisible. The best designed products are usually taken for granted because the experience is natural and intuitive for all types of users; only when a product is not well-designed do you realize how flawed it is.

Good design considers how users in different contexts could potentially engage with a product and takes this into account during the design process. In this sense, “good design” and “accessible design” are almost parallel concepts.

Focusing on accessibility results in an accessible design

By designing a product with the intent for it to be used by people with a variety of physical and cognitive abilities you end up with a design that works for everyone. This does not mean sacrificing complexity or “dumbing it down”; but, rather, taking into account different use cases during the design process. The more contexts you consider, the better the experience will be for all users.

You may be thinking that it’s easier to produce accessible designs for simple products but the more complicated a product, the harder it is to make it accessible – and you’d be right. As you add more features or complicated uses, it gets exponentially more challenging to maintain an accessible design. (It’s a lot easier to design a product that makes sense to the designer and few others!) However, products like that rarely last; designing with the customer and ease of use in mind is critical to a product’s success.

Physical accessibility design standards

Physical accessibility design standards are well documented. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design clearly communicate building regulations for public accommodations.

But accessible design extends far beyond curb cuts and appropriately sized bathroom stalls. Take accessibility in web design, for example. Go to one of your favorite sites and consider how a person who can’t use a mouse would navigate it. Is it possible to perform a transaction using only the keyboard? If not, it’s an example of inaccessible design.

Technology accessibility design guidelines
Just as the ADA includes standards for physically accessible design, there are guidelines and standards that provide specifications for designing accessible digital experiences. One set of guidelines is known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. Referring back to our earlier example, one of the WCAG 2.1 success criteria specifies how to support people who use a keyboard to navigate digital content. If website functionality is not operable using a keyboard, it violates this success criterion.

In addition, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines provide technology accessibility guidelines under Section 508.

Along with WCAG and the ICT Standards, you can also refer to universal design principles and guidelines as the basis for designing for accessibility.

Designing for different contexts

Designing for accessibility requires considering multiple scenarios and users. Of course, with an infinite number of possibilities, this may seem like an exercise in futility. Not so fast! Think about it like you are designing for the best user experience and this change in mindset will give you a fresh view on things.

Accessible design examples

Consider these products and how designing for different contexts made them a better product and created a wider user audience:

  • Closed Captions: While Closed Captions (the text version of the spoken words that accompany videos or movies) are designed for those with hearing difficulties, they are also incredibly useful for those without hearing difficulties. With YouTube and video-streaming capabilities at your fingertips at virtually all times, there are many situations in which Closed Captions will prove helpful. For example: using public transportation without headphones, a waiting room with televisions set on mute, a trade show with loud background noise and a monitor running a video at a booth. These all situations in which technology created for people with disabilities benefits a much larger group of individuals.
  • Hands-free navigation: It’s impossible (and unsafe) for drivers to look at a map and keep their eyes on the road at the same time. That’s why eyes- and hands-free navigation is so popular. As it turns out, Google maps are also a valuable tool for people who are visually impaired as they navigate unfamiliar neighborhoods on foot.
  • Remote control: The intent of a remote control is to allow people to do things like change the TV channel or increase the volume without having to get out of their armchair. A convenience for many people, it becomes an essential tool for people with significant mobility impairments, allowing them to control their TV independently.

When you think about accessibility as one context of use, it fits naturally into the process of designing the best possible user experience for everyone. Moreover, an accessibility feature that adds an element of convenience for some people might be a necessity for others. Trust me – all your users will thank you.

The Paciello Group’s expert UX team offers a variety of accessible design services and will help you ensure your digital properties are created with an accessible design in mind.


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