The designer’s guide to digital accessibility
The notion of accessibility in digital designs may bring to mind ideas of screen readers and voice control, but it’s about much more. Some impairments, for example, often go unnoticed. Take colour blindness: one in 12 suffer from the condition, so a design that uses only colour to convey information is useless to a large number of users.
Then there are those who aren’t technically blind but do have some level of visual impairment. Designing with these users in mind not only helps them, but makes your work easier on everyone’s eyes. The fact that most people can read grey text on a white background doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable to do so.
With websites, some users will have some kind of cognitive impairment. It might be permanent, such as a learning disability, or it may be a temporary impairment such as drunkenness (imagine designing for a taxi service, say) or even shock (think materials for a hospital).
Designing for these people means minimising clutter, using smart, simple copy and making user journeys easy to understand. These attributes are something that everyone appreciates.
Accessibility as an extension of UX design
Expert in accessibility Heydon Pickering advises that you think of accessibility as an extension of UX design. “Imagine how people with different disabilities experience the same content. It’s part of the design process, not something you ‘bolt on’ later.”
Think about how screen reader users will experience your page as you write your markup: the order is important. “If your navigation menu is positioned at the top of the page visually, but located at the bottom of the HTML document, then the experience for keyboard users will be frustratingly different to those who can point-and-click. They will have to tab-key through all the page content just to access the menu.”
If you’re a print designer and you haven’t done much web work, it can be painful to realise that your attention to detail is lost when your designs can’t be implemented on the web exactly as you made them.
“Don’t be a slave to the tyranny of ‘pixel perfection’,” Pickering advises. “In print design, you can be exacting, but on the web it’s pointless to attempt it. Design interactions, not approximations. Users are not gallery visitors, they are participants.”
Keep designs simple
Above all, try to keep things as simple as possible. “The biggest enemy of accessibility is complexity,” says Pickering. “Complexity makes interfaces inaccessible to anyone, but especially those who have content announced procedurally by assistive technologies.”
Complexity also makes things harder for those with cognitive differences, such as autism, dyslexia or ADHD.
Jamie Knight, senior accessibility specialist at the BBC, breaks down the cognitive process required to do something into three parts: receiving information, processing information, and then taking actions. He then assesses how well a website enables someone to do each part.
‘Receiving information’ covers whether a person can take in the information that’s there and spot things that they can use to achieve a task, such as buttons, menus and text areas.
‘Processing information’ …read more
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