You may be aware that creating visually attractive and user-friendly interfaces is an essential piece of the UX puzzle. As designers, we hold the key to making or breaking an experience for a user, especially when it comes to accessibility. In this article, we'll dive into why UX/UI designers need to embrace accessibility and explore the current standards and best practices for creating designs that are inclusive and user-friendly.
The Importance of Accessibility
Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room – why should designers care about accessibility? For starters, it's not just the right thing to do; it's an absolute necessity. Inclusive design ensures that your product or website can be used by people of all abilities. Besides being a moral imperative, here are a few more reasons:
Legal Compliance: Many countries have laws and regulations that require digital products and websites to be accessible. Ignoring accessibility could land you in legal hot water.
Expanding Your Audience: By making your design accessible, you open the door to a broader audience. Approximately 15% of the world's population has a disability, an important indicator of potential users.
Improved User Experience: Accessibility features often benefit all users, not just those with disabilities. Think about how voice assistants and captions have become mainstream, benefiting everyone. This played out in my former teaching career as well. When I provided specific differentiation to content or materials for learners who needed it, I often found that careful consideration helped all learners access the learning materials in the ways they needed.
Accessibility matters, period. Let's look at some current patterns and best practices to incorporate into your design process.
Current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Best Practices
First of all, let’s talk about these WCAG standards. WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) Standards are a set of internationally recognised guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to ensure that digital content, such as websites and applications, are accessible to people with disabilities. These standards provide a comprehensive framework for designers and developers to follow, offering specific criteria and techniques to make digital content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users, including those with visual, auditory, cognitive, or motor impairments. WCAG standards are organised into different levels of conformance—A, AA, and AAA—each representing a higher level of accessibility. By adhering to these standards, designers and developers can create digital experiences that are not only compliant with legal requirements but also welcoming and inclusive to a diverse range of users.
Let’s get granular!
Typography and Contrast (WCAG 1.4.3, 1.4.6)
Pay close attention to text legibility. Use clear, easy-to-read fonts, and ensure there's enough contrast between text and background colours. Tools like WCAG's color contrast checker, or the Figma plugin, Stark (for contrast) or Color Blind, can be your best friend.
Keyboard Navigation (WCAG 2.1.1)
Not everyone uses a mouse or touchpad. Ensure that all interactive elements can be easily navigated using only the keyboard. This benefits users with motor impairments and keyboard enthusiasts alike.
Alternative Text for Images (WCAG 1.1.1)
Always include descriptive alt text for images. Screen readers rely on this to convey information to users who can't see the visuals. Remember, "a picture is worth a thousand words," so make those words count.
Use Semantic HTML (WCAG 1.3.1, 2.4.10)
Properly structured HTML is the foundation of an accessible design. Use headings, lists, and semantic elements to ensure content makes sense when read aloud.
ARIA Roles and Attributes (WCAG 4.1.2)
ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) roles and attributes can enhance the accessibility of complex web applications. Use them to provide context and convey information to assistive technologies.
Practical Tips for Designing Accessible Interfaces
Now that you know some key WCAG standards and best practices, here are some practical tips to help you and your design team incorporate accessibility seamlessly:
Consider accessibility from the very beginning of your project. It's much easier to build it into your design process from the start than to retrofit it later.
Get feedback from users with disabilities. Conduct usability tests with screen readers and other assistive technologies to identify issues early and iterate on your designs.
Work closely with developers and content creators. Accessibility is a team effort, and collaboration ensures everyone is on the same page.
Accessibility guidelines and best practices evolve. Make it a habit to stay updated with the latest standards and trends in the field.
Tools and Resources
Utilise accessibility tools like screen readers and browser extensions. They can help you understand the user experience from a different perspective.
In the world of UX/UI design, accessibility isn't just a checkbox to mark off—it's a fundamental part of creating inclusive and user-friendly experiences for all. By following the standards and adhering to all current best practices, you can make a positive impact on the lives of users with disabilities and enhance the quality of your designs for everyone.
So, don’t forget about accessibility and start designing with inclusivity in mind. Your users will thank you, and your designs will shine even brighter.