September 1, 2020

Factors of UX Design: Accessible

User experience design is about creating the ideal encounter for the customer or visitor while using a product or service. The term is mainly used in relation to digital experiences, including websites, software, and mobile apps, but can also apply to the remote control to your TV, the control pad on your microwave, and the process you go through to return an item to a store.

User experience design can be described by seven factors, according to Peter Morville:

  • Useful: Do the content and function fulfill a need for the user?
  • Usable: Is the product or service easy to use?
  • Findable: Are the content and function navigable and locatable within the product?
  • Credible: Do users trust the content and function of the product or service?
  • Desirable: Do users appreciate the content and function of the product or service?
  • Accessible: Can users of all abilities access and use all content and function?
  • Valuable: Is the content and function of considerable use, service, or importance to the user and the business?

In my next seven blog posts, I'll be doing a deeper dive into each of these factors that shape the user experience. Today's post is the third in the series and is about accessibility.

Website accessibility focuses on making every website accessible to everyone. Over a billion people today experience a disability, according to the World Health Organization. That’s about 1 in 7 people on the entire planet! This astounding statistic emphasizes the need for websites to become accessible for users with different abilities.

While there are a lot of disabilities and conditions that can affect the way people use websites, let’s take a look at some of the most common categories of impairments:

  • Visual ImpairmentThis includes a partial or total inability to see, to distinguish color, or perceive contrasts.
  • Hearing ImpairmentThis includes a partial or total inability to hear.
  • Physical DisabilitiesThis includes difficulty in moving body parts, including making precise movements (such as when using a mouse).
  • Cognitive Disabilities: There are also many conditions that affect cognitive ability, such as dementia and dyslexia.

Web accessibility also benefits people without traditional disabilities, such as:

  • People using mobile phones, smartwatches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • People with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or misplaced glasses.
  • People with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in a quiet environment where they cannot listen to the audio.
  • People using a slow internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth, including in rural and developing geographic areas.

While there are rules governing the accessibility of government websites (at least in the United States), there is a lack of regulation regarding commercial websites. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was made into law before the widespread use of the internet.  The ADA provides the standards required for physical locations to properly accommodate disabled individuals, but does not provide guidance for websites or mobile applications, and it also doesn't limit coverage to only physical locations. So what are you supposed to do?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)  is an international community where organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop web standards. What are web standards? W3C publishes documents that define web technologies and these documents are designed to promote consensus, fairness, public accountability, and quality on the internet.  W3C has created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines also known as WCAG. These guidelines are regularly updated. The current version is 2.1 and was last updated in June 2018.

Accessibility issues are categorized into four distinct groups under WCAG guidelines:

  • Perceivable issues are those that affect a user’s ability to find and process the information on a website, for example adding audio descriptions and text-based captions for video content.
  • Operable issues are those that impact a visitor’s ability to navigate and use a website, for example, ensuring that all site functionality and navigation can be operated via keyboard-only commands.
  • Understandable issues concern a user’s ability to discern and comprehend all information and navigation on a website, for example writing clear error messages that include an explanation of the error and instructions for correcting it.
  • Robust issues involve a website’s ability to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of users with disabilities, for example testing your website with the many accessibility website checkers available and ensuring you can make changes in the future to accommodate new needs.

Are you planning on designing a new website or mobile app? I can help! Please contact me to get the conversation started on how we can serve your customers.

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