“Exclusion happens when we solve problems using our own biases. As designers, we seek out those exclusions, and use them as opportunities to create new ideas and inclusive designs.” - Microsoft
Conversations about inclusive design have been bubbling up in the UX and website design community since the mid 2000s. It means to design your website in a way that’s accessible to a range of populations, specifically those with disabilities. Accessibility-first design is a pathway towards achieving this inclusive design. Essentially, it means letting conversations around accessibility lead the website redesign process. Here are some insights on what to consider when taking on an accessibility first design approach.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Solving for accessibility-first design requires addressing inclusivity at the beginning of any design process, not as just an afterthought. By thinking about accessibility earlier, you can save time and resources, building an optimally accessible and inclusive site through a more efficient process. Tackling accessibility during design will not only produce websites and applications that meet the needs of a broader spectrum of users but will also prove to be dramatically less expensive over time.
Companies must be proactive instead of reactive in anticipating their customers’ needs for accessibility. This way, they can capture these needs in the original architecture of the design instead of having them being tacked on later at additional labor and expense.
Simplify your Design
One reason digital experiences fall short on accessibility is because they’re overly complicated. Packing experiences with over-complex designs and an abundance of features can seem beneficial, but the heavier the design becomes, the harder it gets to maintain accessibility. Minimal, flat, or semi-flat design has been a trend over the last several years, and we expect that to continue in the years ahead.
In embracing a minimalist design style, shading, added-in glare, and highlights that make images look 3D are removed. This design style has many benefits, including making site navigation easier for disabled users. It also communicates information quicker for all users, and will help your experiences load faster, especially when it comes to mobile. This minimalist ethos holds true in the physical world as much as it does in the digital one.
The use of animations is also an important factor in accessibility-first web design. Animations needed to present content should also include a non-animated, text-based alternative that is accessible to screen readers. Automatic or looped animations (including animated GIFs), blinking objects and scrolling should be avoided as they could trigger epileptic seizures, and animations with sound as a crucial component to the content should have synchronized captions or a text transcript.
Accessibility-First is Mobile-First
The smartphone boom of the last decade has drastically changed our technological landscape. With this surge of adoption, a major and all-too-common mistake in the website design process is not testing for mobile accessibility. Since 2016 mobile internet users have surpassed desktop internet users in number, so if you’re not testing for mobile accessibility you aren’t testing the experience of a large portion of your users.
WCAG 2.1 recognized these trend lines and built guidelines around the idea that accessibility-first will increasingly mean mobile-first. There are two WCAG 2.1 success criteria that were created with mobile devices in mind. One mandates that content can’t be restricted to a particular device orientation (such as portrait or landscape). The other gives guidelines around motion-activated features and outlines that all essential features must be able to be accessed through the user interface.
Only 58% of people with disabilities report owning a smartphone today, compared to 81% of the greater population. As more connected and voice-enabled solutions enter the market, mobile adoption with this community will soar. This will not only provide significant business opportunity but will also expose companies to increased legal risk as more users with disabilities engage with them through mobile devices. Solving for mobile accessibility should therefore be a near-term priority for all organizations.
Making Accessibility-First Your Methodology
Accessibility-first design takes inclusion from an attribute to a methodology — something that shapes the entire process. It goes beyond just attempting to meet baseline standards to working to achieve the goal of creating truly accessible digital experiences for your customers. The good news for organizations is that inclusive design is beneficial to all users, not just those with limitations. Prioritizing accessibility will ultimately provide a better user experience for all, and companies can expect to see improvements in acquisition, engagement, loyalty and retention as a direct result of these efforts.