Why Designing with Accessibility in Mind Matters

In our dynamic digital age, an inclusive online environment is no longer just an option but a necessity. With over 61 million people in the United States alone grappling with disabilities, designing with accessibility in mind is an imperative duty for all digital creators, designers and businesses.

Forgoing accessibility in design not only excludes a significant portion of the population but also poses potential legal repercussions. This guide explores the significance of designing for accessibility, the essential elements of accessible design, and how businesses can champion inclusivity in their digital content.

The Cornerstone of Digital Accessibility

The term ‘Digital Accessibility’ signifies the practice of designing and developing websites, applications, and technologies that are useable by a diverse range of individuals, including those grappling with visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairments.

Fundamentally, this implies creating a digital environment that all users can comprehend, navigate, interact with, and access equally, regardless of their disabilities. Designing for accessibility is not merely about accommodating disabilities, but also about enhancing the user experience for all individuals, including those using small-screen smartphones, people with temporary disabilities like a broken arm, older individuals experiencing sight decline due to ageing, and individuals with slow internet connections or limited bandwidth.

ADA and Its Role in Accessibility

The term ‘ADA‘ stands for the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’. The act’s Title II and Title III sections are particularly pertinent to digital accessibility. Businesses that fail to comply with the ADA standards run the risk of being sued, highlighting the critical importance of designing with accessibility in mind.

The Art and Science of Creating Accessible Designs

Designing for accessibility involves various considerations, including perceivability, operability, understandability, robustness, and user feedback and testing.

  • Perceivability

When designing for perceivability, high-contrast colours should be used, text alternatives for images should be provided, and reliance on colours for conveying information should be minimised. This approach caters to users with visual impairments who might depend on assistive technologies like screen readers.

  • Operability

Operability implies that websites and applications can be fully navigated and interacted with using only a keyboard. Clear focus indicators and logical tab order can assist users with motor disabilities.

  • Understandability

To ensure understandability, content should be presented clearly and concisely, using plain language, consistent navigation and hierarchical organisation. This approach helps users with cognitive disabilities to better comprehend and navigate digital content.

  • Robustness

Robustness requires adherence to web standards, correct HTML markup, and the provision of fallback options for interactive features. This approach ensures compatibility across various assistive technologies and platforms, facilitating accessibility as technologies evolve.

  • User Feedback and Testing

Involving users with disabilities in the design process, through regular testing, is crucial. Designers should seek their input and feedback to identify and address accessibility issues, making iterative improvements to enhance inclusivity.

The Benefits of Inclusive Design

Designing for accessibility and inclusion offers notable benefits, including improved user experiences, increased market reach, and enhanced brand reputation.

  • Improved User Experience

Accessible designs lead to more user-friendly and easier-to-navigate content for all users. For instance, providing closed captions for videos can enhance the viewing experience for deaf or hard-of-hearing users, as well as for users watching in a noisy environment.

  • Increased Market Reach

Accessible digital content allows businesses to tap into a wider audience, including users with disabilities. Particularly in industries like healthcare, education, and finance, accessibility is of paramount importance. By ensuring accessibility, businesses can bolster customer engagement, loyalty and positive brand reputation while promoting equal access to their services.

  • Enhanced Brand Reputation

A commitment to inclusivity and diversity can boost a business’s reputation amongst customers, employees, and other stakeholders. This commitment demonstrates a business’s value for all users, fostering positive word-of-mouth marketing and increased customer loyalty.

  • The Risks of Overlooking Accessibility

Ignoring accessibility and inclusion in design can have serious consequences, including a negative impact on users, legal consequences, and brand reputation damage.

  • Negative Impact on Users

Overlooking accessibility and inclusion can inadvertently exclude people with disabilities, making it difficult for them to use the content. This exclusion can lead to lost business opportunities and harm a business’s reputation.

  • Legal Consequences

Ensuring compliance with accessibility standards is a legal obligation. By prioritising accessibility, businesses can mitigate the risk of legal action and fines.

  • Brand Reputation Damage

Failure to prioritise accessibility can be perceived as exclusionary and insensitive, potentially deterring potential customers and leading to negative publicity and brand reputation damage.

How Can Businesses Design for Accessibility?

Businesses can prioritise accessibility by creating digital content that is accessible to all individuals, thereby improving the user experience, expanding their reach, and enhancing their reputation. It is crucial for designers and companies to prioritise all users in their designs and products.

Businesses should conduct website audits to ascertain the accessibility of their digital presence and to identify potential improvements. A comprehensive approach to diagnosing and remediating accessibility issues can ensure that the digital content is fully compliant and accessible to all users.

For more information on designing for accessibility, businesses can consult resources such as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), an initiative by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that develops standards and support materials to help understand and implement accessibility. Specialist web design agencies such as Hex Productions can also provide website testing on your digital platforms and help ensure your website is fully accessible.

Designing with accessibility in mind is not just a social or legal responsibility, but a business-critical imperative. By prioritising accessibility, businesses promote inclusivity and reap significant benefits, from improved user experience to enhanced brand reputation and increased market reach.

In the words of the renowned inventor and futurist, R. Buckminster Fuller, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty‚Ķ but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” The same holds true for designing for accessibility – when done right, it creates a beautiful, inclusive digital world for all.