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How to design accessible interfaces - part one

Accessibility is when people, regardless of ability or disability, have access to the same information and function

UX/UI Design
3 minute read 

How to design accessible interfaces 1: An introduction to Accessibility

Before you read this, I’d like you to try something. Go to your laptop/desktop. Open up a favourite website - one that you use frequently. Now stop using your mouse and try to navigate through that website with just your keyboard. Were you successful?

If the stats haven’t improved since 2018, you have a 30% chance of finding and using the main call-to-action (CTA) without frustration. This is what life on the internet is like for lots of people. Because, as a collective, we’ve failed disabled people/people with disabilities in creating accessible experiences.

Wait, hold up. What does any of that have to do with accessibility?

Why don’t we start with what accessibility is? My favourite definition is from Sharron Rush (Executive director of Knowbility, a non-profit organisation focused on improving digital accessibility inclusion). Accessibility is when people, regardless of ability or disability, have access to the same information and function. So, when you tried to use the website earlier without your mouse, you were trying to access information and function on it and should have been able to do so. Just like disabled people who navigate through websites with joysticks, screen readers and other assistive devices.

Another definition of accessibility is that it’s a standard. Our goal is to try to be inclusive and create user experiences that don’t exclude disabled people. The accessibility standards are a way to measure how successful we are in achieving this goal. Please note that they aren’t the only way.

Why should I care about accessibility?

You might wonder why you should create more accessible interfaces. Here are three reasons.

It’s the right thing to do.

How did you feel if you were one of those people who couldn’t use one of their favourite websites earlier? Frustrated? Irritated? Annoyed? Angry? Now, imagine if most of the time when you tried to do some banking, order groceries, or read the news, you couldn’t do it. Simply because you were disabled/you have a disability.


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You could get sued

There are laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act for example, that codify the right to inclusion for disabled people. This means that your product or business could be embroiled in a lawsuit for failing to meet accessibility laws. This could get expensive and sully your reputation.

You’re leaving money on the table

The latest statistics from the Family Resources Survey estimate that there were 14.6 million people with disabilities as of 2021. That’s 22% of the UK population.

Imagine that you made your products accessible and those 14.6 million people would not be excluded from being able to use them. More people probably means more conversions and more money.

How can I make my products more accessible?

It has been my experience that there are three paths that we could take in trying to effect change.

  • Aim for 100% - making websites and applications accessible is a cross-functional effort. So you'll need a lot of other people to be bought in.
  • Find an ally in engineering - it will be easier to make an impact with one other person in your corner.
  • Do the best you can - designers have so much that they can influence. If we all did what we can, we would collectively create a better experience for disabled folks than if just a few people did things perfectly.

Where do I start?

The rest of the series will walk you through

  • Accessibility standards and how to test web accessibility
  • Making your interfaces more accessible for people with vision impairments
  • Making websites work for D/deaf people
  • Making websites work for neuro-divergent people
  • Ensuring people can use your website regardless of mobility status
  • Accessibility of native mobile applications