To achieve seamless accessibility for digital products and websites, it is essential to integrate accessibility concerns into every stage of the design process. Before you even begin, it is helpful to broaden your definition of disability.
I believe in including people with disabilities early in the process. Designers may pat themselves on the back for involving people with disabilities in usability testing. In reality, it is a better practice to include them in all aspects of the design process. Consult a disabled designer or engage with disabled stakeholders at every stage.
Accessibility must be baked into the process when a digital product is designed, otherwise you’re selling your users short, and it will be obvious to anyone with a disability. Here are my suggestions for producing accessible, inclusive digital products.
What is the definition of disability?
We tend to default to a very narrow definition of disability. Accessibility is not just for someone with a white cane or a wheelchair. Once we start broadening our view of disability, we can start to consider conditions such as cognitive impairment and color blindness, and temporary situations like having one arm in a cast.
Microsoft’s inclusive design methodology is a useful framework that presents the concept of disability as a continuum or a spectrum, ranging from transient (situational limitation) to temporary to permanent. Perhaps the user has lost an arm and is permanently disabled. A broken arm is a temporary disability. A mother cradling a baby and using only one hand to access a digital product has a transient disability. Yet they all require accommodation for single-handed functionality.
Know the accessibility rules in your market
Familiarize yourself with the appropriate jurisdictional rules and regulations for making a website accessible. If you’re operating in the United States, there’s Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies “to develop, procure, maintain and use information and communications technology that is accessible to people with disabilities.”
In Canada, there may be provincial and national regulations, and the federal government has its own rules for accessible digital products, the Standard on Web Accessibility.
The familiar W3C WCAG guidelines are just a starting point.
Take advantage of free accessibility tools
There are many free tools available to help assess whether digital products are accessible. Website accessibility checkers may measure specific attributes like tab order, languages, APIs and responsiveness.
A few that we use at DFFRNT are Dyno Mapper, Accessibility Checker, contrast checker from WebAIM, a Figma plug-in called Able – Friction Free Accessibility, and the Google Chrome extension Font Changer.
Contributors at every level of the design process should be cognizant of website accessibility concerns. At the informational stage, the infrastructure, taxonomy and nomenclature should all be designed with accessibility in mind. For example, it is wise to understand how your text will be read by assistive devices such as a screen reader. At the interaction design stage, information requested for forms should accommodate alternate methods of input: voice input, keyboard and mouse, or mobile device keyboard.
Each stage of design has its own challenges (and solutions!) to achieve seamless accessibility for all users. Don’t settle for half-measures tacked on at the last minute. The aim should be to create a product that meets users’ needs, not just one that meets regulatory requirements.
Check out our case studies to see how we have applied user-centred, strategic design to large and small challenges in the corporate world and the public sector.