5 UX Best Practices: Accessibility

Designs that work for everyone

Illustration of UX designer testing a mobile application with a customer

What to consider when designing accessibly

Accessibility in design means creating experiences that allow anyone, even those with disabilities, to easily use your product. Hence, to design accessibly is to design inclusively. There are special considerations when designing inclusively for websites and digital products. We want the same resources available for everyone, even those who may experience disabilities.

Are your innovative design choices creating barriers for your customers?

When designing accessibly, there are best practices to follow that allow your average able-bodied customer to navigate your product. Furthermore, these basic must-haves are ideal for customers with various visual or hearing impairments. Some of those practices include clear text hierarchy, good sound and image quality, or intuitive and cohesive structures. However, to design accessible, you will need to expand your understanding of how a disability might block a user.

The most common impairments to keep in mind are:

  • Visual
  • Hearing
  • Cognitive or Neurological
  • Physical

While Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) will give an up to date list of best practices, here are some common blocks for customers with any of these disabilities.

By designing accessibly, you design inclusively.”
– Standard Beagle

What to consider for visual impairments

Screen readers give people with visual impairments the ability to navigate the internet. This software reads text on a page from top to bottom, including headers and navigation. A common frustration for these users is when websites don’t design for potential screen reader users, such as the case of the Domino’s pizza tracker. While fun and delightful for able-bodied customers, the elaborate layout, images, and GIFs rendered the screen unreadable for customers relying on screen readers, and barring them from ordering.

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Visual content can be made more inclusive by adding descriptive alt text to images, GIFs, or other images, PDFs should be made with readable text rather than a static image, and language that clearly states the purpose of a button or link. For example, “Review Guidelines” is more descriptive and helpful than “Read More”. Additionally, options for larger text and high resolution images is a step in the right direction, and including additional modes for reading information can only strengthen your product.

What to consider for hearing impairments

Barriers of access for users who are deaf or hard of hearing come in the form of sound dependent information. If a tutorial video includes a voice-over with minimal text, clear diction and good volume levels, it may not be enough for those with a more severe impairment. Often closed captions do not accurately display what is being said and do not sync properly to the video.

Consider adding transcripts or subtitles to video content to improve accessibility and be sure to use wording that is sign language friendly, i.e. avoiding slang and using an active voice instead of passive.”
– Standard Beagle

Beyond high quality audio, giving more options to access information can help users across the spectrum of hard of hearing and deafness.

What to consider for cognitive and neurological impairments

Users with cognitive and neurological disabilities may have symptoms that overlap with visual or hearing impairments. However, designing accessibly for only visual or hearing impairments may not ease these peoples’ web use.

Bright, flashing colors, intricate navigation systems, or cryptic information architecture can render your website or application unusable, or at the very least, frustrating and confusing.”
 – Standard Beagle

Multiple ways to access information removes the need for users to go against their thought processes to utilize the product. It also allows them to navigate in the manner most familiar to them. By keeping information architecture and navigation systems consistent across the product, users can learn and memorize one simple way of using your product. In this way, the mental load of switching the way they take in information from page to page is relieved.

These tips can sound helpful to neurotypical users, but for users with cognitive and neurological disabilities it can be the difference between a smooth and intuitive experience, and giving up on figuring it out.

What to consider for physical impairments

Physical impairments can range from arthritis and tremors to paralyzed or amputated limbs. When users must rely on multiple gestures, or gestures requiring movement beyond a click or keyboard press, your applications and websites may exacerbate their existing strains and pain points.

Functions such as hover or focus can be physically difficult to complete. However, by allowing users an alternate way to access information with a click or descriptive text on a button, they will not need to rely on more physically demanding gestures. Websites with any elements that require a mouse to use can benefit from adding functionality with a keyboard. Additionally, these functions should come with intuitive directions on how to navigate.

For example, allowing users to store data or stay logged into an account when their session expires means they do not need to continually enter in their information. This removes the strain of having to retype every time they want to use your application or website.

Simplicity in design may seem like a small usability tweak for able-bodied users, but can be a big stress relief for users experiencing physical limitations or pain.

Accessible design is inclusive design

Accessibility fixes are not limited to one type of impairment as many disabilities have overlapping symptoms. As a result, removing usability barriers allows a wider range of users to enjoy your product with minimal effort and strain.

At the end of the day, it’s the work of a UX designer to design empathetically. By expanding your definition of who your user is, your product becomes easier for everyone to utilize.

Learn more about accessibility in design

What Are the Four Major Categories of Accessibility? by Bureau of Internet Accessibility

What do I need to know about web accessibility? by Standard Beagle

What is Inclusive Design? by Standard Beagle

Accessibility Guidelines for UX Designers by UX Collective

Understanding Assistive Technology by Level Access