Accessibility means usability for users who interact with products and services differently. This covers blind, colour-blind or visually impaired people, deaf people or people with hearing problems, people with temporary or permanent mobility impairments or people with cognitive disabilities. A designer's job is to consider accessibility as part of the user experience to ensure that everyone, regardless of their limitations, can use the product or service. To be upfront, taking this aspect into account is not an obstacle to innovation but ultimately leads to better designs and a higher quality experience. Which at the same time doesn't force you to make an ugly, boring or cluttered product.
" People ignore design that ignores people." — Frank Chimero
But looking at the current state of affairs, it is already clear that accessible experiences are becoming more and more the norm and it is great to see that designers care about the 19 % of users who have some form of disability. At the same time, this aspect contributes to achieving the social goal of inclusive coexistence.
Regrettably, the design generally places more emphasis on aesthetics than on accessibility. But with the right planning and design for all users, we can advance accessibility.
In some instances, designers may feel that designing accessible experiences is a limitation. So let's try not to think of accessibility as having design constraints, but rather as creating a more inclusive experience that benefits all users. One of the most important steps is not only to create awareness for oneself, but to try to bring the whole team along and show the importance. A corporate culture that is designed not to remain in routines but to initiate change can be an additional help.
As there are different levels of accessibility, you should consider which points you want to include before you start planning, as it can be difficult to adapt or add certain features afterwards. Furthermore, you should think in advance about how to test these aspects during the prototype phase. For some topics like contrast or colourblindness you can find useful plugins or programmes, but when it comes to testing focus orders or similar, it will be better to test with the people it affects. Here are some initial questions you can ask yourself before starting to plan:
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets standards for accessible design in its latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG). They are divided into the three levels A, AA and AAA, whereby the middle level can already be seen as the minimum that should be implemented. Below you will find a list of important aspects. In addition, it is advisable to get your own impression on the Consortium's website.
App MeldeHelden that we designed and developed for HateAid uses simple language as language option.
App rbb24 that we designed and developed for Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg uses several in-app accessability features.
It stands to reason that accessibility features that help people with disabilities often help other people as well. So not only is everyone happy about better readability, but the right contrasts and colours can also counteract the symptom of eye fatigue or, for example, improve legibility under bright sunlight. Furthermore, video captions can not only help people with hearing difficulties but also everyone else has the possibility to watch the video on mute. Another example is content that cannot be barrier-free due to its complexity, which is not directly related to a disability, but must be taken into account due to the different ability levels of society.
Even though the EU is already thinking about effective measures to implement accessibility, it is important not to start at the point of imposing penalties, but to seize the moment, as designers have a fundamental social responsibility.
If you want to know more about how you can make your digital products more accessible feel free to contact us.