Designing with Accessibility in Mind

Accessible Design - Shows a graffiti wall with a sign for accessible entry.

When I started talking, my mom noticed I wasn‚Äôt pronouncing words correctly. This lead to exploring with medical professionals to discover I was born with moderate to severe hearing loss. I have worn hearing aids ever since and developed a fun party trick as a fabulous lip-reader. ūüėČūüĒģ

As one of the approximately one billion people with a disability, I have been faced with difficulties in receiving information where accessible design is not considered. Aside from creating aesthetically pleasing and functional designs, it is important to ensure the final products are accessible to everyone.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider designing with accessibility in mind:

1. It‚Äôs the right thing to do‚ÄĒboth morally and ethically

When people are cut off from information, they are effectively cut off from filling basic needs, shopping, learning, and connecting with other human beings. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but a crisis combined with a lack of accessibility has the potential to effectively isolate those most vulnerable, including those with disabilities.

2. It’s a legal requirement

Today, all companies in the U.S. must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. If your first questions are: ‚ÄúHow many people are really disabled? Are they really going to be coming to our website or using our product?‚ÄĚ then you are likely not going to be a great digital leader.

3. It’s good business

In 2018 the purchasing power of working-age adults with disabilities was approximately $490 billion. What’s more, with $21 billion in discretionary income, people with disabilities are a larger consumer group than the African American and Hispanic markets combined.

4. It makes for better design

While it may add more steps to the research and development process, this approach often produces more effective and intuitive products. If a product is usable for a small set of people; it’s likely much more usable for very large sets of people.

Ready to implement accesible design in your projects?

Here are a few resources designers/agencies can embed accessible design into their DNA from a wonderful article on Medium:

> Books:

‚ÄúAccessibility for Everyone‚ÄĚ by Laura Kalbag

Laura Kalbag’s book is one of the best accessibility resources. Throughout the book, Laura gives you a thorough overview of accessible design, and she explains how to create accessible designs during each stage of a design project. As her book explains, accessibility is not something we consider once during a project, then move on. It needs to be a consistent part of the design process.

‚ÄĚA Web for Everyone‚ÄĚ by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery

Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery‚Äôs book is another excellent read about inclusive design and accessibility. The book covers a broad range of accessibility ‚ÄĒ everything from cognitive limitations to visual impairments and beyond. The book provides tools you can either use as-is or customize to fit your team‚Äôs needs.

‚ÄúDesign for Real Life‚ÄĚ by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher

In this book, Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher explain how our users are not always in a relaxed and happy state. Eric and Sara show you how to design for stress cases ‚ÄĒ situations where users are in a heightened state of stress or panic. The authors also challenge you to consider the outcomes of design decisions that seem harmless but can have a detrimental effect on users ‚ÄĒ even something as simple as asking users to indicate their gender on a form.

‚ÄúJust Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design‚ÄĚ by Shawn Lawton Henry

Shawn Lawton Henry generously published this book for free online. You can read it as a series of web pages. While the book was published over ten years ago, the principles are still relevant to how we design today. This book was one of the first resources I came across that encouraged UX designers to include people with disabilities in user research.

> Articles:

Designing for Accessibility is Not That Hard

In this article, Pablo Stanley gives an excellent overview of why accessible design is critical and how to infuse it into your process. As Pablo says in the article, ‚ÄúDesigning a product from scratch that meets the requirements for accessibility doesn‚Äôt add extra features or content; therefore there shouldn‚Äôt be additional cost and effort.‚ÄĚ

Designing for Accessibility And Inclusion

Steven Lambert’s article takes a deep dive into the breadth of designing for inclusivity and accessibility. The author uses the approach of lenses to explain how you can design for a diversity of needs throughout a design project.

Usability Testing with People on the Autism Spectrum: What to Expect

A great way to determine if your design is appropriate for someone on the autism spectrum is to conduct user research with people who have autism. Yet very few UX researchers include people with autism in their research. In this article, Zsombor Varnagy-Toth explains how to conduct usability tests with people on the spectrum and what to expect in the process.

The Audience You Didn’t Know You Had

Angela Colter explains how to write simple content that‚Äôs easy to read and understand. While simple, plain language helps users with cognitive limitations and users who are not are fluent in English, it also helps everyone. Even ‚Äúadvanced readers‚ÄĚ appreciate content they can understand quickly. And as Angela explains in the article, writing in plain language is¬†not¬†dumbing down your content.

Think Like an Accessible UX Researcher Part 3: Five Common Mistakes in Usability Testing and How to Avoid Them

In this article, David Sloan explains how conducting user research with people with disabilities is a great way to learn from a historically neglected audience. While David’s article focuses on usability testing with people who use screen readers, you can apply these concepts to conducting research with people who have a range of impairments.

Color Accessibility: Tools and Resources to Help You Design Inclusive Products

Color in our designs can affect users in many ways. A Stephanie Walter explains in this article, some users may be color blind, some may be visually impaired, and some may be using our designs in environments we didn’t consider. Stephanie explains how we can apply color in inclusive ways that help users rather than hinder them.

How To Advocate For Accessible And Inclusive Tech Events

It‚Äôs important to make our designs inclusive and accessible. We also need our design¬†events¬†to be inclusive and accessible to attendees. In this article, Mikey Ilagan explains how to organize design and technology events that are accessible. In the article, he addresses the question, ‚ÄúWould the same people we‚Äôre hoping to serve with our technology feel welcome and included at our events?‚ÄĚ

> Other Resources

Inclusive 101: A Microsoft Toolkit ‚ÄĒ Manual (PDF)

This manual is a comprehensive introduction to the world of inclusive design. Learn the basics and shift your design thinking toward universal solutions.

You can find more resources from Microsoft on their inclusive design website.

Considering and incorporating accessibility from the start of your design process ensures an inclusive experience for all your users. This is just a quick glimpse into accessible resources but they should provide a great start to designing with accessibility in mind. As the digital design world continues to evolve, it’s important to stay informed, keep learning what’s new and remember that you can have a huge impact in making digital design a more inclusive space.

designed by kelly brito