As we all know, designers are responsible for building empathy for users and meeting where they’re at when it comes to inclusive and accessible design. Accessibility is a vast subject that often gets boiled down to a simple set of requirements that designers go through the motion to follow as they design. It’s almost like a checklist rather than a process with creative and empathetic thought. Accessibility requirements are important and should be upheld by designers; however, with increasing awareness of the inclusion and accessibility in tech, we must address/learn how to integrate more inclusive design approaches into the daily practices.
The terms Inclusive and accessible are often used interchangeably. Although there is a significant similarity between these two terms, still, they’re distinct from one another.
Inclusive design is a methodology that focuses on designing for human diversity; while accessibility is focuses on the outcome of a design, making sure that the design provides the equal experience no matter a person’s capability. The ideology of designing for accessibility is often translated as “design for all”.
Although it would be ideal to prioritize the accessibility from initial ideation to final product development in real world, we’ll still notice that this isn’t always the case. Like the older products might now have been designed according to modern accessibility, and the newer products may have been designed by team who viewed accessibility as a legal hurdle. As long as we evolve, we’re more likely to be asked to run accessibility audit on existing products that were created without accessibility as a consideration.
A complete audit include observation, various user and product testing to highlight the accessibility weaknesses and offer areas for improvement. Understand that an accessibility audit aims to define the elements/features needed to be modified and improved. Audit allows us to validate that every user will be able to accomplish their goals equally.
Conducting Accessibility Audit
As we know, to conduct an accessibility audit is to challenge all assumptions around who will and won’t use the product. As you navigate through the product, the goal is to find opportunities to improve the design’s accessibility to better support various disabilities and user limitations.
User tasks and navigations
- Pattern libraries: Use pattern libraries to define an understandable and consistent system for users. Once you establish the baseline hierarchy and pattern, avoid deviating from them. Changing design patterns too often causes user drop off due to the dropdown of usability.
- Forms: Users benefit from a logical, clear and intuitive form. Start with designing with making sure the form can be completed by someone who only uses the keyboard to navigate. Provide clear guidance and information within the form, be sure to associate form labels with controls.
- Time-based tasks: Some people might need more time than others to complete certain tasks. For example, a person poor vision will likely require a few extra seconds to understand and finish a digital task (like a form) than someone with perfect vision. Consider to allow users to turn off, adjust or extend the time limit before encountering it.
- Open-tab links: If there’s a link that a user can open from your digital product, make sure it doesn’t open in a new window or tab. Links that open in a new windows or tabs aren’t accessible to users who are navigating via a screen reader and users with cognitive impairments
- Keyboard-compatible tasks: Believe it or not, some users navigate the web solely using keyboard rather than using mouse/trackpad or tabbing the screen. Make sure all the content, navigation commands and tasks can be found or reached with the use of a keyboard. Creating a logical tab order is critical to making sure the site is accessible.
Interaction design elements
- Be mindful of how often you use interactions on the platform. Users should be able to understand the design of the platform and the tasks that need to be completed without relying solely on the interactions. Since tasks can be completed without interactions, things like hover states may only distract users — especially those with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities.
Visual Design Elements
- If graphs, infographics, charts, etc. are not considered from an accessibility standpoint, it will be harder for some users to understand the information they are supposed to take away from those visualizations. Consider everyone to be able to interpret your visualizations in a way that gives them the info you want to convey, so make sure you’re careful about using color-agnostic coding, clear text, alternative text, white space, distinctive labeling and takeaway titles to give users multiple ways of identifying the “point” of your visuals.
- Menus: Make sure that no matter what type of menu your interface has, users should be able to navigate through them without needing to hover or click their mouse. All menus should be clearly labeled, as simple as possible and be screen reader/keyboard-friendly.
- Links: “Links must look a link” this is the quote I used to heard from my instructor throughout my design process. Links shouldn’t be labeled with language that only provides general direction like “click here” or “learn more.” Consider provide context and guide users with expectations.
- CTAs: When it comes to the CTA (call-to-actions) think bigger than just using colors, shape and size. Keep in mind that those understandings will be totally lost on users who are color impaired. Instead, focus on promoting user understanding by using clear language to define your call-to-actions.
- Headers: Headlines can easily turn into click-bait or marketing fodder that are unrelated to the supporting content. Keep headlines simple and relevant to the content underneath them.
- Content orientation and location: Always ask yourself, if the design was being mounted to a fixed device, how would it look? To reduce cognitive overload, there should be more than one way to find information within a platform.