Designing for Accessibility and Inclusivity

Creating a Web that works for everyone

Sean Kelly with Victoria Harrison

In our recent article about inclusive marketing, we discussed the importance of making diversity an integral part of marketing campaigns versus an afterthought. The key takeaway is that inclusivity isn’t a trend, but a standard. And those businesses that don’t adapt will inevitably see both their reputations and their bottom lines suffer.

Conversely, businesses that make “doing the right thing” part of their culture will naturally see positive results.

Accessibility is solved at the design stage

When it comes to accessibility and inclusivity, marketing is just the tip of the iceberg. True accessibility begins with the user experience. Therefore, ensuring that a website’s applications serve all users across different cultures and countries, including people with physical and cognitive disabilities, is key.

From a UX design perspective, this means ensuring people with visual, motor, auditory, speech, or situational restrictions can fully utilize any interface, whether it’s a website, video game, or app, without complications that negatively impact their overall user experience.

“When you do not intentionally, deliberately include… you will unintentionally exclude.” – Microsoft’s Inclusive Technologies

Traditionally, accessibility was in the back of designers’ minds, and solutions for users with disabilities were only crafted as they saw fit. Today, the focus has shifted, and designers are planning for accessibility before pixels are placed on the screen, ensuring that the initial design is all-encompassing.

How to cater to the full range of human diversity

Digital accessibility means that all users can equally perceive, navigate, understand, and interact with websites and tools. With the help of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), brands can understand the four key elements to achieve accessibility success.

Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

The first step is ensuring that on-page content is consumable to all users. This can be achieved by providing text alternatives for any non-text content, offering alternatives for time-based media, creating adaptable content that’s compatible with a variety of layouts, and making content clear and distinguishable.

Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.

Simply put, this criterion highlights the importance of usability. And to help diverse users roam around your site, it’s crucial to consider keyboard accessibility, adding directional cues for site navigation, removing any time restrictions, and avoiding design or sound elements that could provoke seizures or other visual or auditory problems.

Understandable – Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.

In short, your site’s content and functions should be easy to interpret. This requires text to be clear in terms of font size and colors to improve overall readability. And at the same time, using layouts that have a clean design and are built to act in predictable ways.

Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Finally, it’s important to remember that some users will rely on assistive technologies to interact with your site. Therefore, your website must be compatible not only with today’s user agents, but future ones as well. This ensures that your accessibility efforts are sustainable and not just temporary.

Accessible Web design is not hard to achieve, but it requires a holistic team effort to integrate the philosophy into the culture and everyday operations of a business. Without that shift, businesses will continue to treat accessibility as a secondary action — and potential customers will see that.

Consumer purchase decisions are ultimately swayed by social responsibility, and companies that prioritize accessible site design now will gain a significant competitive advantage — and arguably a better public image — over those that don’t.


Works Cited:
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines