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Accessibility in UX Design: A Definitive Guide

Accessibility in ux design

In a world where many people possess some form of disability, businesses must design products and solutions keeping accessibility in mind.

Accessibility is not just a legal requirement. It’s a design philosophy that makes products more usable, ethical, and inclusive. By considering the diverse needs of users, UI UX designers can create products that benefit everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

In this guide, we will explore the concept of UX and accessibility and its main principles, along with guidelines and best practices for aspiring UI UX designers. We’ll also discuss how reputed online UI UX programs can impart more in-depth knowledge of designing a comprehensive and accessible digital application.

What is Accessibility in UX Design?

Accessibility in UX design is the production of digital content, such as images, text, videos, etc., so that users of all abilities can use, understand, and interact with the application. The applications should be accessible to all people with motor, auditory, visual, or cognitive disabilities. The accessibility should also consider people with a situational, temporary, or permanent disability.

For example, providing closed captions on a video is beneficial for people with an auditory disability. However, it is also helpful for people with a situational disability, such as being in a public place and unable to hear the sound of the video through the noise, leading them to rely on closed captions.

Also Read: UI/UX Designer Salary: What Can You Expect?

Why is Accessibility Important?

Accessibility in UX design has emerged as a priority in developing digital applications for several reasons. Here are a few of them:

  1. It has been mandated by law in several countries, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the European Accessibility Act (EAA).
  2. The products can reach a wider portion of the audience. Users from all backgrounds can use the services and products.
  3. Resources are accessible in all situations; for example, mothers cradling sleeping babies can watch videos with closed captions and avoid loud sounds.
  4. Businesses can expand their target customer base for their existing products. They can take a step further by receiving feedback regarding their product accessibility and include additional features that may lead to new products. They can also design customized products aimed at people with specific disabilities.
  5. Existing applications can retrospectively be improved to expand their user base.

For example, a team from Squarespace, a US-based website building and hosting company, worked on improving the accessibility of their content management system (CMS) during an international designation. In their research, the designers found that their CMS lacked easy readability for screen readers and smooth navigation of the CMS for people with visual impairment. They ideated that adding features to their existing CMS would streamline the accessibility.

The features included heading level checkers to prompt the user to add missing headings, auto-check to remind the user to add the alt text and adjust the color contrast, an accessibility panel to check the website in grayscale, and a final general check.

These improvements could be added to the existing and new Squarespace websites. Based on user feedback, the designers further reduced the jargon and added instructional videos to help users add the said features to their websites.

Usability vs. Accessibility

Usability deals with the UX design that creates efficient and valuable products. It encompasses features applicable to everyone. Five criteria are used to assess applications’ usability: memorability, efficiency, errors, learnability, and satisfaction (MEELS). However, it may not always address the discriminatory issues faced by people with disabilities.

Accessibility, on the other hand, focuses on enhancing the aspects of the applications to ensure that people with disabilities can utilize them. This involves modifying features in UX design to expand their usability.

For example, Microsoft Word has an editor that has improved usability for the general public, who can improve the grammatical aspect of their text. However, it also has a predictive feature to help people with dyslexia with the correct spellings.

Another example is an application that enables auto-translation. The usability entails that people speaking two languages can use this app to translate their speech and understand each other.

However, if a person with a verbal disability wants to talk to a person with a visual disability, they can use the app to type out their thoughts and then let the other person hear them. This is accessibility.

Four Key Accessibility UX Design Principles

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are guidelines the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommended to enhance web accessibility. These apply to the UX design of other digital apps as well. The guidelines are based on four fundamental principles, namely perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, also referred to as ‘POUR’:

#1, Perceivable

  1. If there is non-text content, such as audio, images, or test, a text alternative should be available, such as braille, speech, large print, symbols, or alternative, more straightforward language.
  2. Time-based media, such as pre-recorded audio or video, should have a text-based description. They may also have captions or transcripts to follow along with the media.
  3. There should be an option to view the content in different layouts without a structure or information loss, such as text for a presentation and options for sensory components (colored buttons, sounds, and visual location).
  4. Options to distinguish foreground from background for visual and audio content are helpful for people who cannot read them due to situational or physical disability.

#2. Operable

    1. The keyboard should be enabled for all functionalities.
    2. The users should get enough time to peruse, understand, and use the content.
    3. Seizures may be caused in photosensitive people due to flashes or high brightness. Hence, the color scheme should be designed to avoid flashes, or there should be a trigger warning before the video.
    4. Users should be able to explore the application, discover content, and ascertain their location in the application.

#3. Understandable

  1. The text content should be comprehensible and easy to read.
  2. The user should be able to predict the appearance and operation of the web pages.
  3. The users should receive prompts to avoid and correct slip-ups.

#4. Robust

4.1. There should be compatibility with various user agents and options to modify the features for future assistive technologies.

Also Read: The UI UX Design Process: Everything You Need to Know

Accessibility Guidelines for UX Designers

A few guidelines have been devised based on the four principles of accessibility in UX design. While the scope of guidelines is substantial, here’s a quick list of the major ones:

  1. The color scheme should have homogeneity and nuance without a drastic transition. The color contrast should be a minimum of 4.5:1.
  2. The font type and size should be legible, easily discernable, and attractive. The user should be able to understand the language and its meaning.
  3. The UI design should include the keyboard elements’ straightforward navigability and the interface’s interactive aspects. It should consider the accessibility for as many disabilities as possible.
  4. For audio and video, the option to pause, slow down, rewind, replay, and read subtitles or transcripts can help users with learning disabilities follow along with the non-text content.
  5. The application should be optimized for all devices and not necessarily require a keyboard or mouse. For example, a website should be accessible on the phone such that people can use the text-to-speech option to understand and navigate it without opening a computer.
  6. User research, the creation of relevant user personas, and an active feedback loop should be critical to the accessibility testing.
  7. ARIA labels should be included in the design to enable screen readers to read object descriptions.

These are critical as almost 96.8 percent of home pages presented detectable WCAG 2 failures in 2023. Dedicated UI UX bootcamps will equip you with the knowledge to detect WCAG 2 failures and ensure compliance.

How to Make Your Designs More Accessible? Tips & Best Practices

Following the principles and guidelines will certainly put you on the right path for UI UX design. However, specific tips and best practices will add a flair to your efforts. Let us look at some of them:

#1. Ensure the contrast between background and text or foreground is sufficient.

Tip: The minimum should be 3:1 for a larger font size of 19 or 24 px with the lightest gray of #959595 on a white background. A gray background should have a darker text.

#2. If you have to give options to select yes or no, ensure they are not color-coded as red and green.

Tip: Use text and distinct symbols so that people with color blindness understand them.

#3. Check your application in grayscale to rule out any confusion caused due to color.

Tip: Include prompts for web developers to check their websites in grayscale if they use your CMS.

#4. Offer text, such as images, sound, video, and audio descriptions wherever possible.

Tip: These descriptions should be small sentences with simple words.

#5. Include trigger warnings judiciously, especially if your application has photosensitive or anxiety-inducing content.

Tip: Avoid high-pitched sounds and provide options to adjust brightness automatically per the time of the day.

#6. Provide text options on the feedback page requiring quick selection rather than pushing the users to describe their experience.

Tip: Include an option to direct the user to the home page after the feedback for easier navigation.

#7. Space and headings can be grouped to avoid confusion about the flow of the content.

Tip: Provide sufficient spaces between paragraphs so that even if the content is viewed on small screens, the text does not overlap.

#8. Avoid dependence on hovering to get more information, as it may not be possible to apply across devices.

Tip: Include alternatives on smaller screens such that the application code will detect the screen and adjust the content accordingly.

Learn More About Accessibility in UX Design Through UX UI Bootcamps

Does the UI UX design seem even more interesting now? If yes, there are great UI UX bootcamps that delve deeper into aspects such as persona mapping, usability testing, empathy mapping, and coding for accessibility, to name a few. The instructors are leaders in their fields and have been instrumental in mainstreaming accessibility in UX design.

Explore the curriculum today and join us on an intriguing journey of UI UX design.

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