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The importance of accessibility in UX design

This article introduces the origins of accessibility and inclusive design which help put users first.
A mobile smart phone. The screen reads 'Web Design'.

When we talk about accessibility in relation to design, we are really talking about how to make our design open to everyone in our society.

Accessible design arose out of the work done to allow people with disabilities greater freedom to engage with services and the environment. Today, it is widely acknowledged that the concept of accessibility applies to society as a whole. Even though some of us may not have an identified physical or neurological impairment, some level of reduced capability will inevitably affect all of us at some point in our lives. With this in mind, research and development of accessibility-focused designs benefits everyone in society and allows for incredibly robust and effective interfaces.

Key principles

Similar to Ben Schneiderman’s eight rules for UI design we introduced in Step 1.4, here are an additional seven principles for inclusive design that are intended to help designers put the user first. Produced by the Paciello Group, these principles are about designing for the needs of people with all types of disability, whether that be permanent, temporary, situational or changing. As you can probably see, these can apply to all of us in some way.

The seven principles are:

  1. Provide comparable experience:
    Your interface should provide a comparable experience for all so people can accomplish tasks in a way that suits their needs without undermining the quality of the content.
  2. Consider situation:
    People use your interface in different situations. Make sure your interface delivers a valuable experience to people regardless of their circumstances.
  3. Be consistent:
    Use familiar conventions and use them consistently.
  4. Give control:
    Ensure people are in control. People should be able to access and interact with content in their preferred way, not one imposed by the interface.
  5. Offer choice:
    Consider providing different ways for people to complete tasks, especially those that are complex and non standard.
  6. Prioritise content:
    Help users focus on core tasks, features, and information by prioritising them within the content and layout.
  7. Add value:
    Consider the value of features and how they improve the experience for different users.

While there is some overlap with Schneiderman’s rules, these principles are intended to be applicable to a more broad concept of design. They include not only the UI designer, but anyone else involved in the design process, such as graphic designers, idea makers, innovators, artists and thinkers.

W3C

In the context of the internet, a lot of work has been done to codify what we mean by accessibility. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), led by Tim Berners-Lee and Jeffrey Jaffe, has been at the forefront of creating standards for web design and online application development. Their Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) focuses on bringing all the websites on the internet into line with accessibility standards so that everyone can enjoy the internet without any barriers.

In light of this, they have produced a list of web accessibility principles that are specific to not only websites, but also online tools and services. You can read more on these principles on the W3C website.

In addition to W3C, the UK government has produced guidelines for the design of digital services. These guidelines promote a user-centred design approach and are very much in line with UX principles. They are intended for use in the design of public government websites and services, however they can be applied to any online service or application. Next week you will see some of these guidelines in action. You’ll also have the chance to think about how you might put them in practice as you share how you plan with accessibility in mind.

As you can see, there are multiple bodies and organisations working to make accessibility a core concern of designers, both online and offline. Accessibility affects everyone in society and the clarification that research in accessibility brings can be a benefit to all.

Have your say

  • In what way do you think these standards and guidelines affect the design of interfaces?
  • How does the act of defining such standards affect accessibility issues in general?
Share your answers in the comments section.
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Introduction to UX and Accessible Design

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