Accessibility IS Usability: Stop treating it like it’s an afterthought.

In the last few years, a common requirement for clients is for their digital products to hit AAA Accessibility standards as we all strive towards inclusivity. This is really important and a fantastic thing – it’s alright designing highly creative websites with awesome interactions that can win design awards, but it’s a mistake to design assuming all users have full dexterity, which of course, they don’t.

Accessibility in its own right is extremely important, but it shouldn’t be considered as a separate entity to usability because it’s not, it’s still usability of your website for a certain section of your audience. If usability is important to you, you’ll need to decide where to make compromises elsewhere; in UI, interaction, content hierarchy or budget.

Accessibility shouldn’t just be a box to tick or a buzzword. Like any UX/ UI, it’s there to create an easy-to-use product for a group of users in order to help them complete a task. 

Here’s a few things we’ve noticed when we talk about accessibility to our clients:

 

1. Accessibility isn’t just colour contrast

This is one of the common challenges. More often than not, people think accessibility is as easy as contrast checking, but it’s far more than that. By dwelling on colour contrast, yes, someone with mild macular degeneration may find your site easier to read, but it’s not going to help someone who is blind. Accessibility needs to cover the wide range of ways people access your digital products.

 

2. Accessibility is experience design

We’re often expected to create highly accessible designs against a backdrop of complex menus, intricate interactions, designs and complicated content hierarchies. But for those with disabilities, your accessible site is the interface. A blind person doesn’t care about the nifty parallax effect you’ve built it, the deaf person doesn’t care much for the audio chime on your chat because your agent took 6 minutes to look up the answer. People with low motor skills care more about the tab order of your website.

 

3. It’s about consideration, not pandering

I’ve done user testing with a number of people with disabilities and this is definitely the one common theme. They don’t expect us, as designers, to pander to their needs or create sites that are a compromise to the majority of users. They just want us to consider their needs within the design too. They want to make sure, if there is content on the site they want or need, they can get to it, quite easily.

In reality, if your product has a lot of users with accessibility needs you should be targeting AAA, but if that group of users represents a smaller percentage, it is a consideration you need to make, but realistically, AA or sometimes over A is most likely enough. 

If you want a truly accessible site, rather than worrying about ratings, the answer is simple: start testing your site with real users. 

See how someone who tabs to key content or sees your cool fly-out menus. See how someone with low motor skills touches that tiny CTA on a mobile. Test your main journey with these users and when they struggle to navigate because you’ve buried your menu in a cool desktop hamburger and your centralised logo makes returning to the homepage nearly impossible, you’ll realise it’s not just about how many A’s. Like with any UX, it’s simply about how usable the product is.

So let’s stop thinking of it as a requirement or a badge on the site, and let’s start thinking of accessibility as being a part of a well-designed product.

 

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