How to Build Inclusive Digital Worlds with Accessible Design

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How to Build Inclusive Digital Worlds with Accessible Design

Posted February 05, 2024


Posted February 05, 2024

Image of the world with accessibility logo in the middle surrounded by web design tools.
Image of the world with accessibility logo in the middle surrounded by web design tools.

Create an accessible, inclusive web by following best practices and accessible design principles.

Accessible design is focused on creating websites that everyone can use — no matter their age, situation, or impairment. The goal behind accessible design is to prevent and remove any barriers preventing users with disabilities from accessing and using the web.

Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) increased its focus on web accessibility and has encouraged all businesses to do the same. Doing so maximizes the chances of everyone being able to use and access digital content — especially those with a visual, auditory, or cognitive disability. And it may help you comply with universal accessibility guidelines outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

Below, we’ll delve into what an accessible design includes, accessibility design principles, how to create and implement these principles, and how to maintain an accessible site even as your site — and accessibility guidelines — change.

Globe icon next to text saying "Over 96% of the world's top one million web pages are not accessible."

The Fundamentals of Accessible Design

Inaccessible websites are all too common in today’s marketplace. Over 96% of the world’s top one million home pages are not accessible. More simply, this means that only 4% of the most popular websites can be accessed by individuals with disabilities. For businesses, this leaves a huge, growing market grossly underserved. By increasing accessibility, you can extend your market reach and expand your brand. More importantly, however, you drive innovation and help all users interact with your site.

Difference Between Accessible and Inclusive Design

It’s important to note that an accessible design is different from an inclusive design, the primary difference being in their goals.

An accessible design aims to provide an experience that doesn’t discriminate against people with disabilities. The approach focuses more on providing clear results; for example, providing a user-friendly interface for someone with low vision or hearing impairments.

Similar to accessible design, an inclusive design looks to provide a good user experience. However, inclusive design furthers the goal of accessible design by creating a good design for everyone — not just users with disabilities.

The Four Principles of Accessible Design

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), four principles of web design create an accessible user experience. Each principle represents a number of guidelines outlined in WCAG that need to be followed to help with accessibility, usability, and readability.

The four principles include:

  • Perceivable: Can users easily identify information and relationships? Users should be able to perceive the information; nothing should be invisible to all the senses.
  • Operable: Is the user able to interact with content easily? Your site should not have any actions a user cannot perform. For example, functionalities available by mouse should be available by keyboard as well.
  • Understandable: Can the user understand the content being presented? For example, content creators (such as influencers or multimedia creators) should use clear, simple language when writing captions or descriptions. Similarly, content writers should ensure content is readable and avoids using complex language.
  • Robust: Is the site robust enough to work with a variety of technologies, including assistive technologies such as screen readers?

Essentially, the POUR principles listed above help create an accessible web design that caters to the needs of the disabled community while also building a business culture of accessibility.

Who Benefits from Accessible Design?

An accessible design benefits everyone — not just individuals with disabilities. While it’s true that an accessible design ensures individuals with varying disabilities can access and navigate a site, all users benefit from accessibility.

For example, closed captions enable users who are deaf or hard of hearing to watch videos or allow able-bodied people to watch while in a noisy environment. Similarly, voice-to-text reads web content to blind, color-blind, or visually impaired users, but is also beneficial to any user who isn’t in front of their screen or device.

For organizations, an accessible design means a broader application and audience for your digital offerings. Additionally, it may help to decrease the risk of accessibility lawsuits.

Image of compass surrounded by five accessibility standards: WCAG, Section 508, ADA, ARIA, and EN 301 549.

Five Accessibility Laws and Standards to Know

Providing an accessible website is also a legal requirement. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, ARIA, and others require public and private businesses to comply with web accessibility standards. Failure to comply can result in potential legal action which can be a huge strain to your business.

Below, we’ll delve into the top five accessibility standards that organizations are expected to follow.

  • WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines): The latest version of WCAG (2.2) is considered to be the guidelines for accessible, universal design around the world, including the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and Japan. WCAG is broken down into three conformance levels (Level A, AA, and AAA); digital content that complies with WCAG 2.2. Level A and Level AA success criteria is generally considered accessible.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA is a U.S. civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title III of the act pertains specifically to public accommodations, which the DOJ has stated includes websites. To be considered ADA compliant, organizations need to ensure individuals with disabilities can easily access and navigate their website. Failure to comply with the law can result in legal action.
  • Section 508: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first law to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In 1998, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to include Section 508 which requires government-related websites to “give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.” The amendment was specifically included to address digital accessibility requirements.
  • EN 301 549: Similar to Section 508, EN 301 549 is a European accessibility law that requires websites, mobile applications, and software to be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. The law applies specifically to public-sector organizations in Europe and private-sector organizations that sell in Europe’s public sector.
  • ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications): Also known as WAI-ARIA, ARIA is a set of roles and attributes that can be added to HTML code. The ARIA guidelines were established by W3C as a technical standard to help make inaccessible parts of the web more accessible to those using assistive technologies. For example, older versions of HTML code did not include tags that could describe web elements such as page menus or progress bars. This made it inaccessible to some users. ARIA resolves this through roles like “menu” or “slider image” that describe the elements that are added to semantic HTML code.

Together, these guidelines help balance the legal requirements and ethical considerations for inclusivity. By following these standards, digital content creators can create a more accessible interface design, something that benefits everyone.

Real-World Examples of Accessible Design

As you’re designing a website for accessibility, it’s important to consider numerous types of disabilities, including visual, auditory, motor, cognitive, or a combination of these. Below are a few examples of how you can design with these impairments in mind:

  • Keyboard navigation: For users with limited mobility or screen reader users, keyboard navigation ensures users can still navigate around a site. For example, users trying to schedule an appointment or fill out a form can do so via keyboard shortcuts or through assistive technologies. 
  • Alt text: Short for alternative text, alt text is used to describe images and other media content on a web page. For example, users who are blind or who have other visual impairments can understand images of clothing or food items while shopping or ordering food online, which can help them make purchasing decisions. 
  • Headings and header tags: Using the right headings and header tags (i.e. H1, H2, and H3) makes it easier for users relying on screen readers to navigate the page. For example, screen reader users can easily follow the flow of a blog post or news story without getting confused.

Integrating Accessible Design in UX

As we’ve mentioned above, accessible web design extends the reach of your website, opening the door to a huge audience. However, there are key features that need to be included in the design to enhance the overall user experience — even for those without disabilities. We’ll delve into how to bring accessibility to a UX design below.

Components of Accessible UX Design

  • Navigation and structure: Because not all users rely on a mouse to navigate, it’s important a site contains additional navigation features such as keyboard shortcuts or voice commands. Additionally, your content’s structure should be clear and easy to follow. One way to achieve both these goals is building an information architecture and mapping content to that.
  • Strong visual design: The visual elements on your site significantly influence accessibility. When used correctly, these elements help users navigate a page and complete tasks. To enhance your visual design, ensure you have:
    -Appropriate color contrast (a color contrast checker can help with this)
    -Scalable text and images
    -Accurate alt text on images and videos
    -Clear, readable fonts
    -Distractions, including popups, scrolling, playing videos, animations, etc. kept to a minimum
    -Appropriate use of background colors
  • Interactive elements: Interactive elements include things like links, buttons, forms, and animations — all of which need to be accessible. Make sure each of these elements is easily identifiable for users. For example, change the appearance of links or buttons when a user hovers over them. 
  • Auditory design: Ensure auditory elements on your site, such as videos, sound clips, or music, are accessible to users with auditory disabilities. Including captions for videos or subtitles, text-to-speech options, and visual indicators all enable users with these disabilities to interact with auditory content.
  • Compatible with assistive technology: Screen reader compatibility should be considered throughout the entire design process. Roughly 2.5 million people rely on assistive technology, which means your site has to be usable by these technologies. A website accessibility checker can help with this, though you may want to consider testing with real assistive technology users for feedback.

Practical Steps to Ensure Accessibility and Inclusion

Now that you know what makes up an accessible design, let’s discuss best practices for designing accessible, inclusive websites.

1. Conduct an Accessibility Audit

The first step to creating an accessible website is to resolve the existing accessibility issues on your website. For example, AudioEye’s Expert Audit is conducted by our team of experts to test for common accessibility issues such as poor color contrast or missing alt text. We supplement our accessibility testing with our automated test suite to quickly identify and fix nearly 400 accessibility issues.

2. Foster an Accessibility Mindset

Remember, accessibility is an ongoing process. You’ll want to keep disabled users in mind whenever you’re designing a new page, performing an update, creating new content, or introducing new digital products. Doing so may help you avoid common accessibility issues and decrease the amount of time needed to fix accessibility issues later on.

3. Start with the Right Foundation

Don’t let accessibility be an afterthought in the design process. Rather, it should be a strategy that’s worked into your existing processes. This ensures that designers, developers, project managers, and writers are thinking about accessibility while creating digital content. Not only does this help you create an accessible design right from the start, but also saves you from finding and fixing common accessibility issues once content is live.

Bring Accessibility to Your Entire Design Process

Accessibility should not be an extra step to check off at the end of the design process — it should be thought about and implemented throughout every stage. Knowing how accessibility affects users and introduces new opportunities for your business can help you create a design that’s both accessible and inclusive.

At AudioEye, you’ll have all the resources you need not only to create an accessible design but also to foster a culture of accessibility within your organization. From helping you avoid common accessibility design mistakes to accessibility training, AudioEye’s digital accessibility platform has you covered.

Interested in where your site’s accessibility currently stands? Scan your site with AudioEye to uncover existing accessibility issues and how you can resolve them. Or book a demo to learn more. 

Ready to test your website for accessibility?

Scan your website now.

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