When working on a project, accessibility is often considered as an afterthought. Even many user experience professionals don’t consider it as part of their projects. Accessibility is actually a big part of user experience and affects not only users with disabilities.
Just like with content and user experience, accessibility needs to be planned at the start of the project as it would save more time and money than if it is implemented after the project is finished. Usability and accessibility are interrelated. Both enhance user experience for all people regardless of abilities and equal to universal design.
Universal design originated from architecture based on barrier-free concepts. When building a new house, it’s also important to consider accessibility. For example, wider doors and hallways make it easy not only for wheelchair users to get around, but also for moving a piece of furniture.
Accessibility is not just about coding. Even if a website has accessible coding, it may have issues with accessible design and content if it is not maintained properly. Accessibility is a responsibility of all people involved with the website.
Here are some examples:
- ALT description for images: While blind users rely on them, they also help users of mobile devices with an option to turn off images due to low bandwidth. It’s not enough to just add descriptions, they need to be meaningful, and even not all images are supposed to have descriptions.
- Keyboard access: There are people who don’t use mouse just because they prefer using keyboard only and it has nothing to do with disabilities. Also, there are times when a mouse is lost or a trackpad is not working.
- Color contrast: One in ten males have color deficiency. There are many websites that have poor color contrast that makes it hard not only for them to use, but also for others to read on devices in brightly lit areas, for example.
- Audio and video: So much of aural information is not captioned or transcribed, but it is important not just to many millions of deaf and hard of hearing people, but also for search engine optimization and many others who prefer to skim text than spend time listening to audio. It’s not enough to just add captions, they also need to be of good quality. For these reasons, auto captions of YouTube videos are not acceptable and need to be manually cleaned up.
- Plain language: Not everyone reads everything on the internet. Most users scan content. According to Nielsen, 43% of people in USA have low literacy. Even those with high literacy skills feel overwhelmed when websites are filled with too much of complicated information. It could be written and organized in a way that it makes it easier for more people to read regardless of their literacy skills.
There are more examples – above are just a few I would like to mention. Actually, 97% of websites do not meet even basic accessibility. For these reasons, web accessibility guidelines were set up to help project participants make websites more user-friendly. Collaborating with web accessibility specialists brings better results.
Creating accessible websites from start not only saves time and money, but also brings more happy and loyal customers to businesses and prevents them from lawsuits. For example, Target was sued by an organization for blind people for not making their online shopping accessible, and Netflix was sued by an organization for deaf people for not captioning their streaming videos. Obviously, it’s better to invest into accessibility in the beginning than to spend on legal issues later and lose many valuable customers.