The internet is an ever-growing place where people can work, study, find entertainment, and perform all kinds of activities and daily tasks.
But we have ended the 20th century, and people with disabilities still encounter many barriers to accessing digital products and services.
As technology becomes more and more embedded in our lives, it is paramount that everyone has access to digital products.
How can we make digital products more accessible? Please keep reading to learn more about it.
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility is about creating solutions so everyone can use a software, website, or app, regardless of age or impairments.
But is not only about enabling people with disabilities to access digital products. More importantly, it worries whether they are having a pleasant experience while doing so.
Therefore, products and services need to be designed with inclusion in mind from the very first start of a project.
Websites developed with accessibility have the power to include potential customers with disabilities but can also be more intuitive and effective for your visitors as a whole.
Why is accessibility important?
Accessibility should be democratic and therefore, include everyone. Notice that even people with no disabilities might experience a temporary condition that will make them rely on more accessible products.
Temporary impairments can include eye surgery, a broken hand or leg, or even a terrible migraine. A large part of the population might not even be included as a person with a disability; this includes senior citizens who might have vision or hearing problems or even people who simply lack computer literacy.
Also, a ramp for wheelchairs might come in handy when you have a giant suitcase or a stroller. For example, in a library where you have to remain silent, you need accessible hardware or software in order to watch a video. In this scenario, headphones (hardware) or a caption (software) on the video would be essential to enjoy the content you want.
This way, ensuring accessibility is essential to expanding your business, making your company stand out, reaching more people within the market, and setting an example.
So, the next time you think about accessibility, don't forget to take into account:
- surroundings: reflect on the contexts in which people will use your product, consider noisy and quiet places;
- physical and mental health: whether it is a permanent impairment, a temporary one, or mental problems such as anxiety;
- devices: interface responsiveness is essential to provide a pleasant experience on any device, whether on a computer or mobile.
The myths around accessibility
Ok, we have seen above how solutions for inclusion benefit not only a few individuals but society as a whole and that the need for more accessible products exists. So, we ask ourselves: why hasn't it happened yet?
Well, there's are myths about accessibility and its importance. But they might just as well be seen as apologies for the prejudice and the lack of empathy.
1) Accessibility makes the interface ugly
There's truth in this because to design an accessible interface, there are a couple of guidelines to follow, and they can be restricting for designers.
But there's technology and innovation available to dribble that and develop interfaces that can be both: your website can look good and still be accessible.
Besides, there are accessibility features that won't even be visible to usual users; they stay hidden, like the images with alternative texts.
It's also important to remember that UX design is not just about creating products that look cool. User experience and usability should be the main focus of designers, as UX requires a human-centered design approach.
In a certain way, accessibility is a way to ensure a good user experience.
2) It costs too much
Taking accessibility into account requires a greater investment of time, this is true.
However, thinking about this aspect early in development can lead to lower costs in the long run.
Eventually, your product will have to go through revisions and new versions. This way, considering accessibility first will mean less time spent including these tools later.
In addition, reaching new users and strengthening the brand are benefits that cannot be underestimated.
3) It's not worth it because it's not an expressive number
When companies look at their data, they might perceive the market as too small for such an investment because people with disabilities don't even visit their websites.
But, this myth is quite ironic. Who came first, the chicken or the egg?
If your interface is not yet accessible for people with disabilities, how do you expect them to come to you?
People with permanent disabilities are just a fraction of users using accessible tools; individuals with no impairments find themselves in many situations where they need to turn to accessible tools and features.
When companies build products with accessibility in my mind from the beginning of a project, the outcome is rewarding. They will not only grow their number of potential customers but attract a generation that fights for inclusion.
4) Accessibility is not mandatory
It depends. Some countries now have laws to ensure that companies comply with accessibility guidelines, so a user can legitimately sue a company for digital discrimination depending on the country.
How to improve accessibility in digital products?
There are different solutions for inclusion according to the type and level of disability.
Officially, we can classify impairments in three ways:
- sensory: visual and hard of hearing;
Solutions for the visually impaired can revolve around two factors:
- the color contrast between text and background;
- font size.
When talking about people with severe blindness, it's crucial to add tools that can read web pages and write messages. We already have software that does just that, like Voiceover and Jaws, which describe the content and read interface texts.
Another helpful tool designed for users that are not entirely blind is magnifiers. A software that allows zooming in and out on whatever part of the interface the user wishes. This way, texts and images designed for general users have the option to be expanded by people with low vision.
Nevertheless, remember that these tools will not provide a good experience for the visually impaired if designers and developers don't consider them as soon as a project starts. The information architecture and all the content must be planned and developed to facilitate comprehension by people with disabilities.
So it's important to include alternative texts for image description so software like Jaws can read them and visually impaired users can better understand what's happening in the interface.
Hard of hearing
Solutions for hard-of-hearing users revolve around turning videos and audio content into text content. This way, providing subtitles for video or sound content is the best practice to make information accessible.
Keep in mind that developing accessible subtitles helps any user caught in a situation where they can't watch a video with sound.
In these cases, accessibility is possible through alternative devices, such as adapted keyboards and other devices able to identify the blink of an eye or a hand movement.
Of course, motion limitations mean fewer possibilities for commands, so websites with too much information or multiple links can be hard to navigate. Therefore, a good practice for inclusion is to divide your content into different pages.
Fewer commands, such as keystrokes, allow users with a restricted motion to perform tasks and navigate faster, which brings us to another solution: enable keyboard navigation. This way, users with mobility impairment can control the interface entirely through keyboard keys.
Another alternative for accessibility is allowing voice commands. A couple of virtual assistants are already on the market, like Siri, Alexa, and Google Now. They can be extremely helpful in improving the overall navigation experience for people with disabilities.
Cognitive impairments include dyslexia, TDAH, down syndrome, among others. The best way to improve accessibility in these cases is to make your screens consistent.
Establish rules and standards to help users understand and navigate quicker through interfaces. So use icons, symbols, and design patterns already familiar to users, so they don't need to learn new ones.
Memory barriers stop people with cognitive disabilities from using content, so avoid having your users rely on memory; this may include long passwords to log in or voice menus where users must remember a specific number or term.
Remember to use straightforward content, short sentences, and blocks of text, using titles and subtitles in cases where your textual content is more extensive.
Interfaces aimed at desktops only are long gone. Today, you should always think about responsiveness; websites have to be functional and optimized for all kinds of devices to improve user experience.
Just as well, accessibility should also be present on the many screens out there, such as:
- Smart TVs;
- Devices integrated into cars and other means of transport;
- Any IoT object (Internet Of Things).
Therefore, accessibility in these devices should deliver features like:
- Touch screen sensitivity;
- Possibility of adjusting screen brightness and contrast;
- Voice commands and screen readers;
- Responsiveness of screens and interface content.
Another golden tip is to check the existing guidelines for creating accessible digital products, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
This document explains how to introduce accessibility to websites, mainly. But its recommendations can be applied to any digital product, being actually mandatory in countries like Britain, as a guide to best practices in accessibility that must be followed.
WCAG is based on 4 main principles to develop more accessible products:
These principles should be considered when creating products for impairments like:
- hard of hearing;
Let's take a look at those 4 main principles:
The Perception principle determines that users must be able to identify all information and UI elements in the interface.
Therefore, it is important that interface design includes:
- Alternative texts for the description of images and non-textual information;
- Subtitles or other alternatives for any video content;
- Responsiveness or adaptability to simpler structures;
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content, including separating foreground from background.
This accessibility principle determines that all UI components, content, and navigation must be operable.
Accordingly, product design should pay attention to the following:
- Users must be able to perform any task through a keyboard interface;
- Giving enough time for users to read and access content;
- Being careful with animations; don't design content that may cause physical reactions such as seizures;
- Allow users to operate functionality through various inputs beyond the keyboard.
This principle is all about making sure that users understand every information and UI operation.
Therefore, it is paramount to create interfaces that are:
- Readable: users must be able to understand what their reading avoid jargon or unusual words;
- Predictable: navigation should be logical and consistent, make web pages appear, and operate in predictable ways.
- Input Assistance: interface should help users avoid and correct their mistakes, so errors with its according instruction must be provided and described to the user in text.
This last principle determines that the content must be robust enough to be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Hence, developing a robust interface means maximizing the compatibility with all possible integrations to make your products more accessible to users.
Conformance levels: how successful is your product towards accessibility?
As mentioned above, WCAG is a thorough document used to analyze interfaces regarding their accessibility. Thus, it is a guide to help develop and assess the accessibility of an interface.
The document also indicates the criteria involved to evaluate each of the accessibility principles and outlines levels of compliance.
The more criteria a product meet, the better its accessibility compliance level will be.
There are three levels of compliance:
- Minimum: A;
- Intermediate: AA;
- Max: AAA.
To better understand the criteria and further study the principles of accessibility, we recommend that you visit the WCAG website and read the entire document.
With this article, we wanted to show you the importance of accessibility and how essential it is to make your interface more available and reachable to more users.