“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” - Tim Berners-Lee

It is time to talk about a critical issue in the digital world - website accessibility. A significant portion of the users are unable to utilize the benefits of the digital content to their fullest potential. As our lives become more intertwined with digital technology, accessibility is a crucial factor for ensuring participation from everyone regardless of their abilities.

Did you know that the benefits of accessibility extend far beyond helping differently-abled users? That's right - an accessible UI/UX design can improve the user experience for everyone! And with the European Accessibility Act (EAA) setting the standard for online accessibility, it's more important than ever to prioritize an accessible user experience for all. So let's dive in and explore how UI/UX accessibility can create a more inclusive and equitable digital world.

What is digital accessibility?

The success or failure of a digital application greatly hinges on its UI/UX design. After all, a UI/UX design is the bridge that connects users with digital products. It defines the user's impression when they land on a website and the overall satisfaction of their experience. 

While it may seem like creating a great user experience is as easy as choosing attractive colors and appealing graphics, this oversimplifies reality. In fact, designing for users with special needs requires an entirely different set of considerations. The needs of people with disabilities are highly varied, making UI/UX design even more critical for ensuring an inclusive and effective user experience.

More than just a buzzword, digital accessibility is a vital element of modern design. It is about creating websites and applications that work for everyone, regardless of their abilities. This involves much more than just slapping a few “ accessibility-friendly” features onto the design. It requires a thoughtful and holistic approach that considers how every design element interacts with the user. 

From making sure the UI/UX design is easy to perceive and operate to ensuring it is robust enough to handle a wide range of abilities, digital accessibility is all about providing users with the tools they need to interact with the product. So, accessibility is inevitable to ensure that everyone can participate in the digital world on their own terms, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they may have. 

Why should we take accessibility more seriously?

Accessibility is an absolute necessity in today’s digital landscape. Too often, websites and applications are designed with the assumption that all users have equal abilities to consume the content and use the applications. This not only creates unfair disadvantages for people with disabilities but also limits the potential reach of a product.  So, it is high time to make websites accessible to every user regardless of culture, language, or abilities. 

With reference to the reports of the World Health Organization, about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. So, a UI/UX design without considering accessibility denies a significant portion of the population to engage with digital products on an equal footing. Here are the reasons why prioritizing accessibility in UI/UX web design is important. 

  • In UI/UX design, putting users first is an absolute must.  Whether they are tech-savvy youngsters, seasoned pros, or users who need extra assistance, catering to their needs and preferences is key to creating a top-notch user experience. 
  • People with disabilities are an incredible group of users that should be considered  seriously by every business to create a truly inclusive design. 

How to make the UI/UX of the website accessible for people with disabilities? 

Our UI UX design company received a client request for a customized learning app wherein the client was specific about ensuring that the app was accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. The client required color contrast based on WCAG 2.1 guidelines. Our team eagerly took up the project and started creating an Accessibility Persona Spectrum and diving deeper into the WCAG 2.1 guidelines

After multiple iterations, our team at Aufait UX created a design that was not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly functional. The client appreciated how our team gave detailed attention to the user experience and was impressed by the level of accessibility incorporated into the app’s design. It was an exciting project for us which reminded us that through design, we can have a positive impact on people’s lives. 

Our team at Aufait UX follows the above guidelines to design websites that align with WCAG 2.1 guidelines. 

diagram showing guidelines for WCAG 2.1 compliant web design

Accessible 

The UI/UX design of the website has to provide convenience to users in finding the information they are looking for. But, there are instances wherein some users need extra effort to navigate for the information they want to access. Some hindrances that stand along accessibility are untidy website structure, ambiguous buttons, and website elements that create frustration. So, accessibility is ensured through a neat website layout, appropriate color contrast, alternate text for images, simple and clear language, and descriptive link text. 

Understandable 

Comprehending the intention of the website depends heavily on the user's perception. So, to create an understandable website, general principles in software such as fit for the task and conformance to user expectations are used. Besides, easy-to-read and simple language makes the content more understandable. 

Perspective 

Usually, people with intellectual disabilities are good at surfing a website but find it difficult to read and understand its content. This pain point is resolved by including graphically processed information such as tables, graphs, and information blocks in a simple way. Here, what is required is to see through the eyes of persons with disabilities and provide them with the utmost comfort while not compromising on the usability of normal people. 

Color contrast 

The color and theme of a website are essential factors to ensure accessibility. Certain color combinations and contrast create uneasiness for some users. For example, using red-green contrast or striking colors will make reading texts difficult. Therefore, it is important to ensure that there is sufficient contrast between text and images on the website so that the content is legible for visually impaired users.  

Scalability 

Through scalability, UI/UX designers adjust the amount of content visible in a loaded view. It means a particular interface/website page should only have relevant data and information rather than stuffing with volumes of data. Visualize the information and organize the content to ensure that the user understands what is written on the web page. 

Alternative text 

Alternative text is added to an image to make it understandable for people with visual impairments. It accurately describes the content and function of an image in a concise and clear manner. Alternative text is also important to optimize images to rank higher in search engine result pages. 

Two-channel principle 

The two-channel principle is the rule of thumb for universal web design. It is also called the multimodality principle whereby users can access information in several different ways. To put it short, users can choose the type of medium in which they want to access information. This is facilitated by providing a choice for intellectual disabilities between presenting data in the form of tables and graphs or a concise explanation presented in the form of an explanatory video. So, people with intellectual disabilities get wider access to modes of finding information. 

UI/UX accessibility needs for people with disabilities 

While designing an app or website, it is always important to think about the users who may be using it. In this sense, there is a spectrum of disabilities that has to be considered, which is not just confined to physical ones but also includes intellectual attributes. These disabilities have a different set of needs but they can be addressed in the same way. 

UI/UX designers use the Accessibility Persona spectrum as a guide to identifying the type of disabilities of the users. Here are three broad and unique segments of disability which help to assess the type and degree of disability of the users. 

1. Permanent disability 

It is the disability that the user may experience on a regular basis. A user is identified to have a permanent disability if there are: 

  • Vision impairment.
  • Deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Autism spectrum disorder.
  • Physical disability.
  • Learning disability.

    2. Temporary disability 

It is the disability that users might experience for days or months. An adult with fractured limbs can be cited as an example of a temporary disability. 

    3. Situational disability 

A user with a situational disability experiences it only for some hours. For instance, if a person is recovering from surgery, he/she can get back to normal activities soon. 

Now, we can check out further on the specific type of disabilities and their UI/UX needs. 

Vision impairment and it's needs 

Vision impairment is a concern for users who suffer from complete blindness, partial vision, astigmatism, cataracts, and color blindness. Here is how such users are assisted by focusing on accessibility. 

Text enlargement tool 

People with vision impairment can zoom in and out of the content on the website using a text enlargement tool. These tools are clickable and come alongside the content of the web page as shown in the image below. ​

screen capture of a website using text enlargement tool

Source

With this tool, users can enlarge the text in order to read small text clearly. 

Color blindness compliance 

About 10% of the male population of the world suffers from some form of color blindness. The most common form of color blindness identified is Red-green, blue-yellow, and total color blindness.

 Look at the form field design below. 

comparison images showing the difference in perception of color blind and normal sighted people

In this design, the form field depends only on color ( red and green) to depict the fields with and without an error. Imagine that a visually impaired user submitted data and received a message, “ There was an error with your submission. Please retry”. But as you can see there is no alert to indicate the cause of the problem. This is a typical pain point experience for users with color blindness as they can’t differentiate the fields highlighted in red. 

Look at the image below to know how it is resolved. 

image showing how forms can be made accessible for color blind people using labels along with colors

This form design is made visually accessible by using both colors and labels wherever the attention of the user is required. Here, the user is notified about the difficulty in using visual cues and provides inline error messages. 

Dark mode 

We usually spend a lot of time with our smartphones and laptops. Here is where dark mode gives you a good user experience in the following ways: 

  • Enhances readability of the text 
  • Saves battery life 
  • Appears elegant, stylish, and modern 
  • Reduces eye strain while using the device at night 
  • Reduces screen glare 
a collection of dark mode interfaces

Bold Typography 

We can notice significant changes in the web design trends in terms of typography of landing pages and microsites. The typography is becoming bigger and bolder. Bold typography naturally attracts the attention of the users as it stands out from the surroundings and demands to be read. Popular websites like Dropbox, Drift and Nike are making bold typography as an integral part of the overall aesthetics. 

The image shows the web page of Nike. The product name is in bold typography which is intended to grab the attention of the user. 

screen capture of a website showing bold typography

Voice over tool 

This tool is meant for users with reduced visual and total blindness. The tool consists of a button on a website page that activates a voice-over. The voice-over will read or describe whatever the user hovers over. 

image showcasing the working of a voice over tool

Voice User Interface (VUI) and touchless interactions have started gaining momentum since the pandemic. So, now users can interact with devices with the help of voice control and air gesture control. 

Deaf and hard of hearing and their needs 

  • If a website has music, users with hearing impairment need the option to turn the sound off or modify the volume. This is why Google Chrome has placed a speaker icon on the website’s tab in the navigator to indicate the sound from a specific page.
  • Subtitles are an easier means to make videos accessible to everyone. It not only serves deaf people but also people with normal hearing as they can watch videos in public spaces without earphones. 
  • A live chat or video chat is provided for people with hearing impairments to ensure efficient client service.

Autism spectrum disorder and it's needs 

For users on the autism spectrum, the above design aspects have to be looked upon: 

  • Ensure that the web pages are not cluttered with design elements. Typically, people with autism are very sensitive and can get distracted by crowded pages. Prioritizing white spaces is key to avoiding stuffing. 
  • Create web pages with a predictable layout and navigation as autistic users prefer consistency and dependability. 
  • Make the text simple and plain and make sure that there are no grammatical or spelling errors. This helps users to focus their attention on the available information. 
  • The user must have the utmost control over the site’s behavior. 
  • There should be no time limits on content or automatic refreshes. 
  • Give clear instructions and indicate errors when filling out forms. 
  • Avoid using images and emojis to convey information. 

Physical disability and it's needs 

To make websites accessible for people with physical disabilities, it is important to keep in mind their limitations of motor skills. 

  • Large clickable buttons ( CTA buttons, search bars and tabs) help users to aim for small targets. It is also important to enlarge and highlight the most important interactions. 
  • Organize the most important content first to avoid longer durations of scrolling or swiping. Some users use a foot or an elbow to scroll on their devices. So, long scrolling is tiresome. Scrolling sensitivity can be adjusted with the help of the back-to-top button/ skip to the content button. 
  • Rather than dropdowns, use better alternatives to enter data on forms. Step-by-step tunnels/processes can be used to reduce scrolling in subscription forms. 

Learning disabilities and their needs 

Users with a learning disability find it difficult to understand heavy content. They require illustrations, diagrams, video scripts, etc to have a better understanding of the content. 

  • Avoid large blocks of heavy text 
  • Add images and diagrams to support the text 
  • Use a consistent layout and align text to the left 
  • Provide controls for automatic content like carousels and image sliders 
  • Make content accessible in audio/video format 
  • Provide contrast-change options 

How to design for the same experience for everyone?

Designing digital interfaces to accommodate all types of disabilities doesn't mean including every possible tool in the design. However, finding a middle ground is important to accommodate the user needs of half the different profiles. Adding an option in the footer for profiles is also a means to focus on giving a personalized user experience. 

Here is a list of “must have” on any digital products to address more than the average accessibility standards. 

  • Large and bold text 
  • Large CTAs
  • A clear hierarchy of relevant information 
  • Step-by-step tunnel 
  • Subtitles 
  • Sound indicators and voice control
  • Maximize white space 
  • Clear, sharp, and spaced lettering 
  • Client service video or live chats
  • Detailed FAQ

Designing for all: Prioritizing UI/UX accessibility

UI/UX accessibility on the web is not just a technical requirement, but a moral and ethical obligation. By prioritizing accessibility in UI/UX designs, we are ensuring that everyone has equal access to information. In the long run, UI/UX design agencies are racing to provide an inclusive experience for all users. So, for now the formula to achieve this by thinking “ accessibility first” and designing with the users in mind. With the help of WCAG guidelines, Aufait UX can empower people with disabilities to fully tap the benefits of the digital world. Let us campaign for accessibility through UI/UX design efforts to make the web a more inclusive and equitable place.

author-image

Arya O

UI Developer

Arya is a UI developer at Aufait UX, with a strong track record of developing exceptional user interfaces. With a deep understanding of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Bootstrap, and React, Arya is adept at developing visually appealing designs. A skilled communicator and team player, she works closely with designers to create solutions that meet business requirements. Connect with Arya via https://www.linkedin.com/in/arya-othayamangalam/

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