Accessibility in user experience design

Designing a seamless user experience for a product or service entails a thorough understanding of the people who will use it. This sometimes means conducting user research, creating personas, going through a quantitative user dataset, and so on. But there is a huge segment of people that designers may disregard when crafting an experience. Let’s briefly explore this usually overlooked concept called “Accessibility”, and see how we could use it in user experience design.

What is accessibility?

People with disabilities form one of the largest user groups in the world. According to a fact-sheet released by World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 1 billion —about 15% of the world’s population— have some form of disability. Accessibility is about designing products and services that people with disabilities can use with ease and joy. When we say we think about “disabilities” or “accessibility” when designing, people may think of visual impairment problems like color blindness, but disabilities actually vary quite a lot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is the leading national public health institute of the United States, a person with a disability may have difficulty with the following:

  • Vision
  • Movement 
  • Thinking 
  • Remembering 
  • Learning 
  • Communicating 
  • Hearing 
  • Mental health 
  • Social relationships

How to design for accessibility?

As designers, we have the responsibility to encompass a wide range of people when it comes to building human-centered solutions. Here are a few things to keep in mind while designing products to be more user-friendly and inclusive:

Check contrast

According to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines); for “normal” sized text or images of text, we should use the minimum contrast ratio of 4:5:1, and for “large” text (or images of large text), the minimum contrast ratio should be 3:1. We can easily check whether the typographic colors we use in our designs have enough contrast by online contrast checker tools for accessibility.

Have a persona with disabilities

We all love to create detailed user personas including their behavior, personality, goals, and motivations, favorite brands, activities, etc. but as Interaction Design Foundation also suggests, you can try to include a persona with a disability. This way, you could empathize with your users more, and understand the difficulties they may have to go through in their daily lives. 

Consider motor disabilities, too

According to nngroup, many users have difficulty using a mouse, touchpad, and keyboard when they require complex movements such as holding down multiple keys simultaneously:

Most of these issues should be taken care of by improved browser design and should not concern content designers except for the advice not to design imagemaps that require extremely precise mouse positioning. Client-side imagemaps will work even for users who cannot use a mouse at all: the browser should be able to move through the links under keyboard control.

Nielsen Norman Group

Ask yourself when designing for accessibility;

  • Have you included the extremes?
  • Can all customers see and understand the difference between your color preferences?
  • Can your users understand video content if there was no sound?
  • Have you provided image descriptions for the visually impaired?
  • Can users perceive the content? *
  • Can users use UI components and navigate the content? *
  • Can users understand the content? *
  • Can the content be consumed by a wide variety of browsers?

It is our responsibility to acknowledge and bear in mind that a diverse range of users will use the products and services we design. We should work towards developing the reflex to make the digital environment user friendly to all people regardless of their abilities.