Designing for Accessibility: Inclusive UX Practices

Accessibility in UX design refers to the practice of creating digital products and services that can be used by people of all abilities. This includes individuals with disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, and mobility impairments, as well as those without disabilities. Even mobile first design, designing with the mobile device as the primary method of interaction, can be considered a type of accessible design. It is easy to take for granted the abilities of a user.

Designing for accessibility is important because it ensures that all users have equal access to information and functionality. It also helps create more inclusive and diverse user bases, as it allows individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the digital world.

Inclusive design is a approach to design that considers the needs of all users, including those with disabilities, from the beginning of the design process. This approach not only makes products and services more accessible, but it can also lead to better overall user experiences for everyone. As UX designers, it’s important to prioritize inclusive design in order to create digital experiences that are usable and enjoyable for all users.

There is no need to reinvent the accessibility wheel. Guidelines and standards that can help designers create accessible interfaces are well documented in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of international guidelines for making web content more accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including in the digital world. It’s important for UX designers to be familiar with these guidelines and standards and to follow them when designing products and services.

To design accessibly, there are several best practices to keep in mind. These include using clear and concise language, properly formatting content, and providing alternative methods for interacting with content. For example, using headings and lists can help users with visual impairments navigate a webpage, and providing alt text for images can help users with visual impairments understand the content of an image. It’s also important to consider the needs of users with mobility impairments and to design interfaces that can be easily navigated with a keyboard or other assistive devices.

An accessible design that is poorly implemented will get no usability brownie points. Sometimes the disconnect is in the communication between the designer and developer. A designer should be able to effectively communicate the accessibility requirements for a design. However, more often than not, a designer is not fully aware of the accessibility requirements or tools available. Basic usability can often be achieved by correctly tagging content, and adding descriptive text.

In my experience, sufficient contrast in text elements is the sneakiest portion of accessibility. The designer doesn’t have to start from scratch here either. By using a well developed and documented design system, such as Google’s material design, and adapting it for the brand, you can ensure most ADA compliance requirements are covered.

Testing for accessibility is an important step in the design process. It’s important to conduct usability tests with users with disabilities to ensure that a design is accessible and easy to use. There are also various accessibility testing tools that can help designers identify and fix any accessibility issues in their designs. These usually take the form of browser and design program plugins. In Adobe XD I have enjoyed the functionality of the Stark plugin. It allows me to simulate several different contrast and color blindness disabilities. As empathy is a key piece to UX design, “seeing it for yourself” is important.

One note about accessibility plugins, they won’t always be able to accurately calculate the contrast of a font. Contrast is calculated based on the foreground and background colors, as well as the size of the foreground element. Different fonts will vary in stroke width, so plugins won’t always be able to accurately calculate the contrast of a font. When using a new font, I will measure the stroke widths of my letters at various sizes and manually calculate the baseline sizes and colors that can be used. This ensures I am always well above the minimum visibility standards required for ADA compliance.

In conclusion, designing for accessibility is crucial in creating inclusive user experiences. By following accessibility guidelines and best practices, and testing for accessibility, UX designers can create digital products and services that are usable and enjoyable for all users. It’s important to prioritize accessibility in order to create a more inclusive and diverse digital world.

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