The Value of Accessible and Inclusive UX Design

Written by: CJ McGillivray
Design affects how we interact digitally with the world around us. Web or mobile design choices affect our communication styles, how we do our online banking and how we consume media and entertainment. But how often do you think about accessibility in design? Many people rarely consider the importance of accessibility until they stumble upon a design that is inaccessible or bothersome. Do you ever find that you get frustrated by illogical flow or poorly laid out web pages? Perhaps the layout of your online banking fails to be intuitive or adds an extra roadblock to your day. Maybe your online learning platform is poorly optimized for mobile access or the colours and fonts affect readability. Imagine how major these inconveniences could be if you identified as someone with low vision or you required the use of a screen reader. Accessibility considerations are particularly vital for anyone who is responsible for managing, designing or funding a web page or mobile app. 

Understanding Accessibility 

Design plays a major role in how practical and accessible resources are for the people who need them. The legislation made possible by the Accessible Canada Act aims "to create a barrier-free Canada through the proactive identification, removal and prevention of barriers to accessibility." What does that look like from a user experience perspective? Design should present key information in a logical and accessible style. Websites should have structure and flow so that users can easily find their way around. By creating clever and intuitive designs with an emphasis on user research, you can really make a difference and improve lives. One of the most important steps in the process is to first identify potential barriers that you may be unaware of. Identifying the needs and preferences of users is also a major emphasis in ux design certification programs. 

Identifying Barriers 

It can be challenging to pinpoint accessibility challenges or pitfalls in your own designs. The logic and flow will probably be seamless to you as the designer. If you do not have any particular accessibility or accommodation needs, then it will be nearly impossible for you to intuit and anticipate the needs of others without some useful resources and guidance. The good news is that there are plenty of resources to help you out. 

Utilizing Resources 

Where should you start? The Web Accessibility Initiative offers a collection of resources and recommendations to encourage and enable accessible website design practices around the world. Their summary pages include useful information around defining and evaluating accessibility to promote more inclusive practices. Web Accessibility in Mind is another online resource site complete with an accessibility checker. Their mission statement is to expand "the potential of the web for people with disabilities by empowering individuals and organizations to create accessible content." Many of their resources would be beneficial for a user experience designer or web developer. Their breakdown on Web Accessibility for Designers encourages designers to evaluate accessibility early on in the process during the web development stage. When accessibility is prioritized and embedded into the process, the odds of inclusion are much higher. The page also includes specific recommendations for heading structure, contrast and adequate font size. 

Supporting Diverse Needs 

Designing truly accessible content requires a broad awareness of the needs and challenges people face. The Government of the United Kingdom published a popular series of posters recommending what to do and what not to do when designing for accessibility. Their fantastic initiative outlines particular recommendations for how to support users who are deaf or hard of hearing and users with screen readers, low vision, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder or motor challenges. The specificity and insight of this particular campaign.

Moving Forward 

Focusing on accessibility and inclusion will only make your designs stronger. In the words of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, "accessible design is good design." It really is that simple. If you are curious and inspired by accessible design principles and practices, consider taking a ux design course or additional continuing education courses to support your career progress. Down the road, remember to reflect back on the need for accessibility. 


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