Digital products designed and developed today often overlook an important factor: ‘Designing for differently-abled people’. The United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda focuses on important aspects of accessibility.
These include respecting, protecting & promoting equality, achieving full and productive employment for people with disabilities.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is about creating designs and products which cater to a wide pool of people irrespective of the physical or visual impairments they may experience. Such limitations can be brought about by vision impairment, colour-blindness, hearing loss, cognitive, physical or hand tremors, or poor eye-sight due to old age etc.
When we talk about creating digital products for the future, fundamental aspects such as accessibility should always be integral to their design. Changing population dynamics and the spread of chronic diseases mean there is an imperative need to design products that are operable by individuals irrespective of the challenges they may experience.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
In the year 2006, the first guideline for web accessibility was created by W3C through the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which released the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines were revised in 2008 (in WCAG 2.0) which got adopted by many organizations. Through contributions made by individuals, organizations, and governments these guidelines continue to get updated regularly. For reference — WCAG 2.1 got published on 5th June 2018 and was recently revised on 2nd December 2020.
The below image features the 4 key principles of accessibility:
Increased focus on accessibility across the world
There are several countries that acknowledge the need to amend existing laws when it comes to addressing accessibility. These include accessibility in their Information Communication & Technology (ICT) regulations. The USA, Canada, China, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, and many others in the European Union, for example, have an accessibility law or a non-discrimination law.
Such laws are well enforced, with heavy penalties levied on violators. In the USA, the number of lawsuits being filed every year is increasing. In Canada, the penalty for non-compliance with such laws can amount to $2,50,000 depending on the type of violation. Such steps taken by governments underline our responsibility towards humanity to create digital products that can be accessed easily by anyone and everyone.
How can organizations successfully embrace accessibility in their designs?
Any organization planning to create a new product or enhance an existing product may have different starting points.
- When creating a new product: All teams should be introduced to the core principles of accessibility and how people with different challenges may use the application and consume information. To be effective in this respect, organizations can start having a checklist for each component (button, drop-down, chart, input form etc.). They can then create a logical sequence of how people may interact with the components. This checklist can be added as part of the ‘Definition of Done (DOD)’ document to ensure future releases conform to these accessibility guidelines.
- When enhancing an existing product: One may start by scanning their existing pages and find out issues/errors. There are several tools such as Wave, Axe, Tenon, Google Lighthouse, Siteimprove which highlight any violation of WCAG guidelines. This can allow companies to easily inspect their site code to identify accessibility issues. Once all issues are identified, the focus should then be placed on fixing these issues. This would set up an accessibility foundation internally. This way whenever a new UI component is introduced or a new page is designed, the principles of accessibility are automatically an integral part of the ideation, UI design, development, testing and product release phases.
Benefits of combining accessibility with design
- Better UX: All elements follow a logical sequence. Interactions across devices are thought through from the very beginning (as identified during the product ideation & designing phases).
- Inclusion of users: The application may reach users not originally part of the targeted user base. This could lead to an increase in the overall user count.
- Extended applicability: A design agnostic product can be used by an individual irrespective of the impairment they experience. Let’s take a few examples:
- Someone with a fractured arm can still navigate a website using the ‘tab’ key on their keyboard. Using the logical navigation order in the site menus he or she can thus successfully get the information they seek.
- Someone looking for a specific keyword in a long video can use the transcript option and search the keyword in question.
It’s imperative for organizations today to focus on ‘inclusive design’ when creating products for the future so that they can be used by anyone who may have an interest in consuming information from their platform. After all, accessibility is a practice and not a one-time project!
Author — Tarun Kumar Mann, DLT Labs™
About the Author: Tarun is a seasoned professional & a certified Product Manager working at DLT Labs. He is an avid sports lover and loves to talk about new innovations happening across the globe.