Accessibility is creating wheelchair ramps in modern architecture, so people with disabilities can access the building with ease. It’s never all right with viewing disability as a barrier, excluding someone from obtaining a feature of novelty.
Accessibility connects and unites everyone on the same platform of usability, functionality, and equality.
Accessibility is synonymous with creating accessible designs for people with disabilities. In web design, it is the practice of creating a website that brings usability in the equality spectrum for all individuals – regardless of their ability/disability status. Other than the access and ease of use, web accessibility also accounts for several benefits for multi-device usage and slow connections.
The World Wide Web is a global platform devoid of any discriminating features. According to the World Wide Web Creator and Director of W3C, Tim Berners-Lee,
The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Apart from easing the access, the web platform is designed to remove the barriers that stand between communication and interaction that several people face around the world. With that in mind, when websites are poorly created, they become barriers, hence limiting the ways of contact and creating a negative outlook.
In the meantime, website accessibility is a fundamental aspect for developers and designers alike. It enables them to dig deep into the requirements for accessibility concerning the users’ needs and their interaction with a website, irrespective of their physical, mental, personal, cultural, and socioeconomic status.
In this guide for website design accessibility, you’ll learn about why web design holds importance for accessibility with a detailed view of the areas to consider. We’ll also talk about who needs accessibility features, and how you can design a website that helps you create a functional and productive design.
Benefits Of Accessibility In Web Design
Accessibility offers innovation for those who find it hard to access a web design with or without a disability. As mentioned before, an accessible website is beneficial for all. The following are the benefits one achieves with web design.
- Built on the accessibility guidelines (discussed in the following section), accessibility helps eliminate discrimination and complies with the legal specifications. Such measures help raise awareness and allow users to communicate with the design.
- It also facilitates the availability of different design elements people of disability might have trouble accessing. Overall, it improves usability for all kinds of users.
- Accessible website design is a sign of social responsibility and helps one exceed the competition.
- Search engines favor alternative descriptions for content (including the visuals). This not only helps improve the content’s appearance for the disabled but also helps improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- A website designed with accessibility also provides a more significant mobile-user experience without much hassle for the users.
- When the web design is created with clear accessibility guidelines and targets all the usability and functionality problems, users of all kinds and ages find it easy to interact with the content.
- The accessibility criteria follow clean, clear, and simple navigational patterns of the display, adding to the convenience of all types of users. With such designs, customization becomes easy, and flexibility becomes more than a necessity.
By diversifying the context of accessibility, technological acceptance among the general population increases multifold, while complying with the global standards. Such innovation aims to reach the maximum number of people without any sorts of constraints.
With that said, who does accessibility aim to target in a narrower context?
Areas Of Accessibility To Consider
The critical focus of accessibility is to focus on providing web services beyond any constraints. Web design accessibility isn’t just about disabled people. Sure, it’s about responding to their needs, but more than that, it’s for anyone who isn’t able to access their desired web content. However, the priorities of accessibility to consider are:
People With Visual Impairments
Visual impairments account for blindness, color blindness, and low-level vision. On the web, most people with ocular complications use aids, such as magnifiers, to enlarge the content. Others use software that reads the text out loud for them.
According to WHO, about 285 million people have their vision affected globally, of which 35 million are blind, and 246 million have low-vision problems. The vast number of population misses out the significant ‘accessibility’ factor due to several complications in the web world.
People With Auditory Complications
People with hearing disabilities ranging from limited hearing to no hearing fill this category. About 466 million people worldwide are affected with hearing disorders. The number keeps increasing as old age, and noise pollution takes a toll on the hearing of average citizens.
Usually, these individuals use assisting devices for hearing, but not all of these are specified for web use. For their feasibility, text alternatives are provided.
People With Physical Disabilities
Physical disability refers to the lack of ability to move. It involves impairment of limbs as well as physical motion due to weakness and loss of control. Such individuals not only struggle with daily routine tasks but also have issues with using computer and web accessibility.
Physical disability can also come with age, disease, or some trauma, which results in limitations. Using computer hardware becomes a challenge, resulting in reducing their chances of accessing the web.
People With Low Cognition
Cognitive impairment refers to the range of mental and cognitive issues, struggling with their limited capabilities to think, learn, and remember things. This group includes people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, dyslexia, ADHD, and so on.
With a standard set of functionality problems, they confront several issues with understanding content, retaining the memory of task completion, and getting confused while performing simple tasks.
Others Non-Disability Impairment
Other than the conditions mentioned above, several non-disability states might also come as barriers. For instance, older people might not have too much familiarity with clicks and tabs.
Or maybe you’re at a noisy subway and don’t have earphones to listen to a video, or perhaps you need to perform a task with one hand while you’re multitasking with the other.
Laws Of Accessibility To Consider
You can see every other website claiming to be accessible, but that’s a rule of thumb all have to follow. Since it’s a way for disabled people to extract information from the web, it’s also about how you design your site and develop it. Several laws regulate and govern the world of accessible web design.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a worldwide community that focuses mainly on web accessibility for everyone. Each of the guidelines is devised at the W3C under the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, which aims to promote professional standards with the best practices. Recently, W3C collaborated with FIDO to bring practical and straightforward global web use.
Here is their mission statement:
“W3C is committed to maintain a positive work environment. This commitment calls for a workplace where participants at all levels behave according to the rules of the following code. A foundational concept of this code is that we all share responsibility for our work environment.”
According to Section 508, an accessibility principle that guides the designers and developers to create information accessible for disabled users,
“Accessibility is about more than compliance with standards. It’s about developing solutions. Universal design is a concept in which products and environments are designed to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design to meet the needs of all users, with and without disabilities. Universal design, a concept now widely used in the private sector, provides a path for federal agencies to shift to this broader focus.”
United Nations Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities
With the government and World Wide Web Consortium emphasizing the ease of internet access, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities brings forth access to information (including the internet) as the right of every human.
This convention also recognizes the essential principles and policy guidelines outlined in the World Programme of Action regarding disabled people. It describes an all-encompassing motive based on a variety of considerations related to accessibility for almost everyone.
Americans With Disability Act (ADA)
As per the U.S. Department of Labor, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is established in favor of the disabled, so to remove discrimination in several areas, including transportation, employment, communications, and access to state and local government programs. While this law assists the notion of jobs and job seeking, it can be assumed to have integrated its compliance with the web accessibility laws.
While these are some of the governmental and non-governmental laws monitoring, regulating, and implementing the digital rights of the disabled and other accessibility requirements, defiance to these laws result in prosecution of the site, as occurred in several cases.
The sites not complementing with several accessibility measures are fined and have their reputation tarnished. In case the laws aren’t clear about the requirements of accessibility regarding a particular area, business sites can be designed with possible needs to avoid the risk of fouling the laws.
Designing For Accessibility
Accessibility focuses on implementing changes in the website, like making the font more visible or adding captions to the videos. Ranging from simpler ones, measures for accessibility can proceed to become involved and might require programming and technicality.
However, most of the accessibility requirements fall under the natural category. To implement these, one must put in the effort to learn the issues and come up with solutions.
Designers must first gather thoughts on how they can respond to accessibility by checking the requirements and standards put forward by national and international organizations. Second, they can start testing web page accessibility and understand the common barriers. They can also use some tips and tricks, resources, tutorials, and support material to guide themselves through the path of accessibility.
The following are the best practices for creating a web design that provides maximum accessibility for both disabled and non-disabled populations.
Web Design Accessibility For The Visual Disability
As mentioned before, people suffering from visual disparity might have complications accessing the site and its features thoroughly. This group can include the entire or partial blindness, color blindness, difficulty recognizing colors, long- or short-sightedness, dyslexia, epilepsy, and so on.
Within the vicinity of accessibility, you can also design for the general audience requiring adaptable and flexible designs to cope with day to day needs. Keeping the scope of your visually-impaired audience, how can you create for them?
Three things should be considered first when it comes to design: content, format, and overall design and layout. Without proper implementation of these, the user remains unable to read out the words with ease, the navigation gets tacky and inflexible, and the color codes remain indecipherable. Below are the tips you must follow to make the experience much better.
1. Improve Page Title Description
If the title doesn’t describe the page clearly, blind users using assistive screen readers might find the title conflicting with the page’s content. For that reason, you must make sure you keep the title as per the content and help the readers consume the page with maximum clarity.
2. Site Optimization
Searches must be simplified for everyone – especially the blind audience. If the design is optimized better, chances of your site appearing in the search results get bigger. Optimization also helps other several factors, like page ranking and its loading speed, and so on.
3. Make Navigation Easy Via Voice Search
Instead of a mouse, most visually-disabled people use voice command for searches. Problems arise when your site doesn’t have a voice search implemented, or the menu has navigational issues. Here, you must make sure that your website has a voice search feature that supports a drop-down menu or buttons to help the impaired users select the option of their choice.
4. Alt Text For Images
Alt texts allow the users to decipher what a picture is when either the picture fails to load or if the user is unable to view it. Here, you must make sure that the search option should constitute of text, instead of a magnifying glass image. If there’s text present, it’s convenient for the users aided with an audio screen reader.
5. High Contrast And Readable Text
Using light color font over white background masks the overall purpose of accessibility in this context When you use high contrasts (dark text over the light background or vice versa), the text becomes apparent on the screen, so the viewer has no issue noticing it.
However, the text must be large enough to read. Just make sure you use color palettes designed for people having difficulty differentiating between colors or are disturbed with the sight of bright colors. For instance, if you’re designing a site for an expense tracking software, you should test different versions with control and affected population to see which variation works for them.
6. Add Audio Alternatives For Every Video
At times, the videos on your site might not be accessible due to a technical error or loading problem. This halts the users from attaining their desired information.
This affects not only the disabled users but also the abled ones. However, the best practice to include here is to have a text or audio alternative which loads faster and must be accessible through screen readers.
7. Don’t Use Too Many Or Too Big Images
Using too many images or too big ones confuses the people dealing with vision issues. If the picture is big and high-quality, it’s going to take time to load or might not even load due to the large size. Moreover, you must also be conscious of the color preference of the users. Always consider the color choice from the user’s point of view.
Web Design Accessibility For The Auditory Disability
People suffering from auditory disability struggle to use the internet as the visually-disabled ones, but in a different context. These include the ones who’re born deaf or lost their hearing due to a disease, accident, or old age. It also consists of the ones with reduced hearing and the ones who cannot distinguish between different sounds.
Apart from disability, normal humans can also experience distortion and other barriers obstructing their hearing ability.
While these people use sign language to communicate their ideas, using the internet and reading the text becomes a struggle. For that reason, the language used for this disability type must be straightforward, along with aiding images on the side.
Below are the ways to make web design a more natural path for people affected with auditory disability issues.
1. Add Images That Complement
Since they’re good with hand signs, you can use images that come with sign language instructions and text that provides an in-depth explanation. The complementing images and text help deaf users understand the content easily.
2. Provide Captions With Videos
Adding captions in videos provide great aid for everyone – disabled and healthy. Unlike the visually impaired, the affected can use captions to understand the video. Other than that, users can use these captions in their daily life if they’re passing through a construction site or a busy subway.
3. Remove Sounds That Cause Distortion
Some sounds can be irritating and might hurt the listener’s ability. Warning alarms, sirens, and beeps, to name a few, can be removed from the audio to be replaced by other sounds. If you’re using something for a warning, make sure the audio comes with clear and distinguishable voice instructions.
4. Tag Each Audio With Simple Text
The audios you use in your web design must have a detailed text attachment. If there’s an issue in playing the sound, the text can provide immediate help.
5. Include Easy-To-Use Controls
When putting audio or video in your design, add in options to stop, pause, and rewind the file. Adding these measure support the accessible design you’re opting to create for your specific audience.
6. Implement High-Quality Audio
Make sure that the audios you add are all high quality and optimized. The users shouldn’t feel uncomfortable when hearing the sound, which is why it’s mandatory to remove all kinds of background noise and distractions.
Web Design Accessibility For The Physically Disabled
Physical disability is an outcome of several causes, but they require the solutions within the same context. It could be people with amputated arms and limbs, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, dystrophy, poor muscle coordination.
When you’re designing a website for the physically challenged, you help them access the internet in a way that they find no constraints in using the resources provided. The first thing to make sure you’re on the right track is to see that the website must be accessible without a mouse.
Some more favorable accessibility recommendations are listed below.
1. Create Larger Buttons
Making the buttons bigger enables the users to click without requiring much physical effort. Regardless of the type of site you’re creating, creating buttons will maximize the prospects of accessibility for everyone. With these, they can click within the button field without having to try repeatedly.
2. Extend The Page ‘Time-Out’ Session
Sometimes when you’re on a page too long, it times out and fails to load. Here, the physical disability might play a crucial role in hindering the person’s ability to interact with the page. As a designer, you should allow plenty of time to let the individuals perform their tasks by increasing the page time.
3. Organize The Content
Having a clear and organized content assures a simple logical following where the users can easily navigate their way through the website without getting confused. When your visitors follow the sequence, they can follow the content with a clear idea of what to do next.
4. Support Assistive Tools
Make sure your website is designed to support assistive readers and other tools used by the physically disabled. Format, add content and display in a better sequence to support via visual cues.
Web Design Accessibility For The Low Cognition
When using the internet, people with low cognition often find themselves having difficulty understanding how the internet and its components work, whether it’s due to a disease or trauma or a genetic disorder, the ability to remember and concentrate ends in distraction.
While cognitive disability spans a broad spectrum, it also touches on the areas that include people who aren’t native language speakers, are not used to using the internet, have low literacy, and are showing signs of old age.
The design begins with the content, which should be simple, precise, and concise with direct instructions. Don’t think low cognition synonymous with low intelligence. Here are the few other things you need to implement in your design:
1. Use Simple Language
This is the first rule to apply here. If your audience is based mostly on people experiencing cognitive difficulty, the rule of thumb is to use direct and straightforward language. The message must be communicated with the utmost clarity.
2. Include Relevant Images And Illustrations
If your visitors have the mentioned issues along with auditory impairments, you can use images and illustrations to clarify your point.
3. Avoid Long Paragraphs
The reason why you shouldn’t design websites with content brimming to the top is that it not only tires the eyes but also looks appealing, besides making the material even more complicated. If you have lengthy content, space it out and keep each paragraph no more than three sentences.
4. Keep The Navigation Logical
Like your content, make the navigation as apparent and straightforward as possible. Consider providing a precise, logical order, so the users may find no difficulty in accessing it. Also, make sure to design a simple site map of the site as well.
5. Avoid Using Auto-Play Audios/Videos
Web design can get super confusing and distracting when auto-play audios and videos show up as soon as the page loads. If it’s necessary to include such media, make sure they don’t start without the user’s action.
Web Design For All, Accessibility For All
Creating a website is a serious job. You not only have to employ the design basics but also have to consider the laws that help you shape your website’s flexibility and approach towards your audience. For one thing, accessible design is usable for everyone, not just the disabled. It helps everyone stand in a line of understanding, equality, and tolerance.
With an accessible approach, you make your website visible for most of the population; your exposure grows without compromising the needs and requirements of the users. Start with small changes first and then move on to the complicated ones. It may take time, but it will be something for everyone.
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