Accessible design benefits everyone
The internet has become the preeminent mode of communication for the developed world, touching every aspect of our lives. So it’s never been more vital to support the independence and dignity of countless people across the globe living with some form of disability. Without accessibility standards, these people are at risk of exclusion from essential services like healthcare and local governance, as well as core elements of the modern human experience like social media, which connects people all over the world.
In recognising the importance of digital accessibility to so many people, the UK government enacted The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations in 2018, making it a legal requirement for private and public sector websites and mobile applications to meet and maintain certain accessibility standards.
Often projects designed for the accessibility needs of a marginalised group end up benefiting an overwhelming majority of people (referred to as the curb-cut effect). Taking audiobooks as an example, "The Talking Book Program" was established in 1931 as a means of providing blind adults who couldn't read with access to books. This text-to-speech assistive technology doesn't just allow those who struggle with reading to experience books in a whole different way, it’s also the reason we’re able to use satellite navigation whilst driving, or listen to rhythm and pronunciation when using an app to learn a new language.
Why digital accessibility just makes sense
Maximising the the audience of a digital product while improving people’s lives seem simple enough reasons to keep accessibility top of mind during any project. But here's three more reasons why it just makes sense:
- Accessibility is key to an inclusive society
Digital tools are now an essential part of our everyday life, helping us fulfil basic needs. A lack of accessibility will not just inconvenience a large portion of the population; it will exclude and isolate the most vulnerable. Providing equal access and opportunities through the creation of accessible products is the key to an inclusive society. It will help eliminate barriers to vital elements of life, like education, travel, housing and employment.
- Accessible design often means a better design for all
The four industry standard principles for accessibility are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. As well as guiding us towards functional accessibility, concentrating on these four principles lifts the general usability of a product overall, creating more intuitive experiences for everyone, regardless of their access requirements.
- Accessible design expands audiences and improves reach
Naturally if a product has been designed and built to accommodate a wide audience of different abilities, it’s likely to be accessed by and have an impact on even more people. Creating a better user experience for all whilst demonstrating social responsibility results in more positive interactions, building trust and loyalty.
Addressing accessibility at every stage of a project is the only way to guarantee it at the end
At Ten4 we take pride in considering accessibility at all stages of a product's lifecycle and sharing responsibility for that process across the whole team. In fact, addressing accessibility at every stage is the only way to guarantee it.
- UX designers need to create personas that are representative of a diverse audience;
- Designers need to check colour contrast ratios to ensure legibility;
- Developers need to use semantic HTML so screenreader users can better navigate web pages; and
- Project managers or facilitators need to explain and defend these decisions with clients to tie the whole process together.
These simple examples demonstrate that accessibility is a thread running through every stage of a project — it's not box-ticking.
As well as making sure that accessibility efforts are a cross-team discipline and prioritised from start to finish, our approach also prioritises:
- More open conversations
Learning about the audiences we’re designing for and making ourselves open to worlds unlike our own has always been important to us. We make sure everyone on the team is certified in the basics of web content accessibility; having the same base understanding makes sure nobody is left out of the conversation. Staff share knowledge and ideas through a dedicated Slack channel. And our human-centric discovery approach, in which testing and feedback is a vital part, creates valuable insight into the lived experiences of real people.
- More empathy
Aligning and cross-referencing our work with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) will always be an important part of our process. However, we believe that accessibility goes beyond ticking boxes. It ultimately rests on an inclusive mindset. Being empathetic and putting people at the heart of everything we do helps us to create better products that meet needs and feel human.
- More creativity
WCAG can feel daunting for anyone new to the world of accessibility. And adhering to a new set of rules and standards might seem limiting at first. But reframing accessibility as an opportunity actually opens up creative possibilities. Rather than a set of restrictions, we see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as guardrails, keeping our designs open to the widest possible audience, insuring a greater reach and impact.
As contributors to the digital world, it’s our responsibility to champion inclusivity and accessibility, making sure we’re helping build a more equitable future for all. This will always be a process; we can’t guarantee that we’ll always get everything right. But we are committed to learning, being empathetic of all users and opening up new ways of working.
If you’re unsure where to start with accessibility but are keen to adhere to standards and kickstart change, we’d love to help. A good place to start would be a full accessibility audit. You can also explore the resources below; they've been of great use to our team. And if you find any more to add to the list, feel free to send them our way.
Useful digital accessibility resources
- edX Introduction to Web Accessibility, a free online course that everyone in our team completes as part of onboarding or professional development. Its focus is the foundations of web accessibility and meeting international standards.
- An accessible process for inclusive design, a Google talk about designing more inclusively for people with accessibility needs.
- Accessible banking, a series of short stories from Barclays Bank about the business case for accessibility.
- Accessibility in government, an article about GOV.UK rebuilding inclusive digital services across the UK Government.
- The A11y Project Success Criteria, an online accessibility checklist that uses WCAG as a reference point.
- WebAIM, articles and training around accessibility.
- When we design for accessibility we all benefit, a TedTalk by Elise Roy.
- Use Contrast, a Figma plugin that we use regularly to check the contrast between different colour combinations against WCAG standards. The plugin was created by Henrique Gusso and MDS.
- Cards for Humanity, an online tool that challenges creative perspectives and aids designers in overcoming unconscious biases.