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5 Trends for Universal Web Design in 2019

Lisa Brown, VP, Experience Director

It’s been about 10 years since the Justice Department created website accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In the last few years, brands like CVS, Hulu, Domino’s Pizza, and H&R Block have been sued because their websites or mobile applications didn’t meet accessibility standards. 

The reality is that the vast majority of websites fall short of ADA compliance. In fact, a study of websites across the U.S. government found that 42% failed accessibility tests, including the International Trade Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

However, avoiding a lawsuit shouldn’t be your main motivation to make your website more accessible. Instead of focusing on accessible design for those with disabilities, addressing universal web design trends can help you satisfy the needs of all people, regardless of age or ability.

The following universal web design trends will help you comply with ADA regulations while also reducing fatigue, increasing speed, decreasing errors, and streamlining learning time for all visitors.

1. Closed Captions for Video Content

From an accessibility standpoint, captions help deaf viewers and those who are hard of hearing to enjoy the video content on your website. In the past, you would have to manually transcribe all videos to meet this accessibility standard. But with new solutions powered by machine learning, you can automate video captions.

However, captions aren’t just a means to complying with accessibility standards. They fall into universal web design trends because people of all abilities can benefit from them. When people can’t turn the volume up to listen to your video content, captions provide another option.

Without embedded captions, the benefits of video content on your website will be limited. Now that it’s so easy to create captions, there’s no reason not to take advantage of this universal web design trend.

2. Alternative Text and Tags for Images

Most marketers see alternative (alt) text and tags as a means to SEO ends. These descriptions are what Google crawls to rank the images across your website. The more accurate your descriptions, alt text, and tags, the easier it will be for users to find your content.

However, alt text and tags also play a significant role in accessibility. When web visitors are visually impaired, they use screen readers to hear the text on your page. And when converting text to speech, screen readers rely on alt text to help the visually impaired “hear” your images.

At the moment, there aren’t any tools you can use to automate alt text and tag creation. However, the technology exists. Instagram automatically creates image descriptions and Google’s R&D is working on AI technology that can describe photos with 94% accuracy.

3. Keyboard Compatibility Within Websites

Universal web design means making it easy to interact with your website whether visitors are using a mouse or keyboard alone. For some users with disabilities, it’s too difficult to navigate your site with a mouse. And while web browsers have keyboard compatibility for many functions, it’s important to integrate compatibility into your actual website.

Passing a compatibility test requires users to navigate your entire website without just a keyboard. If they can’t, you won’t meet ADA compliance standards. But beyond compliance, adapting to this universal web design trend gives your users more flexibility in how they interact with your brand.

4. Hands-Free Technology and Voice Functionality

Enabling screen readers and keyboard compatibility isn’t enough to cover all accessibility needs. For users who can’t use a mouse or keyboard to navigate your website, your site needs to support hands-free technology. For example, Google is developing new technology to help disabled users navigate the internet with a mouth-operated mouse.

In addition to greater accessibility, universal web design requires support for voice inputs. As more and more consumers embrace voice technology, your website must be discoverable through assistants like Siri and Alexa.

Finding ways to support voice technology and other hands-free technologies will improve experiences for users of all ages and abilities.

5. Screen Reader Compatibility

Screen readers process your website in a linear way, convert text to speech, and make your website accessible. But to do this, the layout of your website has to be processed separately from your design.

Your developers should plan for screen reader compatibility from the start. That way, you know that information will be processed correctly, and you’ll maintain ADA compliance.

This isn’t just about accessibility, though. Embracing simplicity in web development can benefit all users. By developing for screen reader compatibility, you ensure that the website doesn’t become overly complicated or diminish customer experiences for any visitor.

Blending What’s NECXT with Universal Web Design

Flexibility, simplicity, and accessibility are the hallmarks of universal web design. But you shouldn’t just embrace these values in design. Carrying them out across your entire customer experience will help differentiate your business against competitors.

The key to bringing universal web design trends to your entire customer experience is knowing which technologies are set to change the way you interact with people. And that’s why we publish our annual report about the latest customer experience trends.

If you want to know more about the technologies that you’ll need to incorporate with universal web design in the coming months and years, download the NECXT report.