Digital accessibility and inclusive design is fairly straightforward concept: when you make something, you want to ensure that it can be accessed and interpreted by as many people as possible.
But when it comes to the nitty gritty of how to make digital content accessible, it can be difficult to know where to start.
This year, Savv-e's Quality Assurance manager Sheena Anil went to A11y Camp, an annual event for people working in digital industries. She came back with a number of tips as to how we can make our products accessible to even more people across the spectrum of human ability and experience.
Here are a few things she taught us:
1. The true meaning of WCAG
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And if you're anything like me, you've probably used those guidelines as a searchable reasource, rather than thinking about how it all fits together.
The basic premise on which the WCAG guidelines are built is that all web content should be:
- Understood and
- Robust (or, a consistent experience) for different users across different devices.
The different sections of WCAG are arranged according to these four principles.
2. It's always better to 'do' than 'not do'.
One of the most common mistakes in programming for accessibility is to avoid doing things that might have limited access. For example, some designers avoid drag and drop because it requires fine motor skills.
But accessibility is about opening up the way we design to be inclusive, not to avoid doing things that might be difficult. A better solution is to redesign drag-and-drop functionality.
By simply using a ‘drag source’ and ‘drop target’, a user with a coordination impairment can engage with the drag and drop using keyboard clicks instead of a mouse.
3. ... but doing should also be optional
On the other hand, there are some interactions that are inaccessible for users.
For people with certain conditions, moving images can make them feel sick and disoriented, so scrolls, swipes and carousel effects should include the option to switch off the scrolling effect. Time limits can be frustrating for people with limited mobility, so these should be optional as well. The same goes for background audio, which can interfere with some users’ ability to understand speech in the foreground.
All these interactions should come with the option to switch them off. You should also make sure that any accessible keyboard shortcuts you have built into your interface doesn't conflict with other keyboard commands the user needs to navigate your site.
4. No surprises
As designers, we have a responsibility to make our content predictable and consistent. Make sure important information is signposted and available to all.
Sometimes this means rethinking the way we announce information. For example, with multiple choice questions, it’s often standard practice to disable the submit button until the user has made a choice. Once the user makes a choice, the button is enabled and they can submit their answer. But if you’re a user who doesn’t have clear vision, there’s no cue to let you know that button is now enabled.
Similarly, hypertext should be clearly labelled with a description of where that link goes, and directions like ‘click here’ may be problematic to people with vision impairment.
Prompts should never rely on shape, size or colour to stand out from the rest of the content as a ‘call to action’. Proper headings, sequencing of information and navigation will promote usability of your site in a logical fashion.
5. Easy access also requires an easy exit
It might seem obvious, but if you enable a user to navigate to somewhere, they must also be able to navigate away again.
Enabling a user to navigate to a dropdown menu or an overlay via keystrokes is only half the job. If they can’t easily leave it without making a selection, then your navigation is inaccessible.
The convention here is to make sure they can use the 'escape' key to exit the navigation system. This is particularly important when functionality relies on a free-moving interaction, like a ‘hover effect’.
6. Simple trumps clever every time
Designers often hate to be predictable. It can be tempting to show off our design skills by cramming the latest, coolest interactions or design approaches into a page, to demonstrate how we can 'think outside the box'.
However, by going with something that isn't easily predictable or cross-compatible, you can cause more problems than you solve (see point '4'). This relates to the third and fourth parts of the WCAG 'POUR' acronym ('Understandable' and 'Robust'). It's not just about giving a predictable and consistent experience on a single platform, but ensuring you have a compatible experience across different browsers, devices and assistive technologies.
Remember, a truly clever design is one that is intuitive to use and doesn't leave anyone behind.
7. Design for the extremes
If you’ve ever watched a subtitled facebook video with the sound down or ridden a bike up the cut in a curb, then you’re benefitting from accessible tech, regardless of your level of ability.
This is something we already practise at Savv-e. By redesigning things to be accessible to people on the ends of the spectrum of ability, we inevitably create new things that are valuable for everyone.
In other words, design for the extremes and create benefits for all.
... and remember: accessibility is for everyone
Most importantly, accessibility isn't about 'catering to people with a disability'. Any ability is temporary, and we all change over time.
2.1m Australians of working age have a disability. 50.7% of us aged 65 have some form of disability, compared to only 12.5% of us under 65. Over a third of all Australian households include at least one person with some form of disability*.
This is in addition to other considerations that affect how we interpret information, such as a cultural perspective, literacy and numeracy and other factors.
In other words, designing with accessibility in mind involves thinking about the continuity of experience for you and everyone you know.
* statistics taken from https://www.and.org.au/pages/disability-statistics.html
To improve the accessibility of your learning content, download the Savv-e eLearning Accessibility Checklist here.