User Experience Designs with Accessibility In Mind Part 1

Last week I was preparing for a session to the user experience team on accessibility. As I am reading more and more resources, I am getting more knowledge on the subject. I have given 10s of trainings for developers and accessibility consultants. The trainings I gave for visual designers and the user experience designers are limited. So, I started researching more on the subject to provide the best training to the team.

I started understanding “Is accessibility a part of user experience or the instructional design team?” “What additional care do the user experience professionals need to take to incorporate accessibility in their research and design work flow?”. “What accessibility guidelines and what user groups do they need to target?” etc.

In my opinion, user experience designers need not learn all the 61 WCAG 2.0 guidelines. To begin with understanding the needs of different disabilities and researching to provide solutions for them in the user experience designs they create is the best way.

Understanding the impact of various disabilities for user experience design

The disabilities that are highly impacted with the digital content are

Blindness

A person with visual impairments depends on screen reading technology to interact with the digital content. They cannot identify the color of the content, the size or the element or the position on the screen layout. So, do not depend on sensory characteristics such as color, size, shape, visual location or orientation to convey information. Providing a textual or programmatic alternate helps the users to identify the same.

Eg: An instruction before a registration form says “Fields marked with red are mandatory”. For a user with blindness who relies on screen reading technology will not be able to locate the fields marked in red color. Substituting the mandatory fields with a star symbol and provide the instruction “Fields marked with * (star) are mandatory” will include screen reader users. In one of the applications I recently encountered, the instruction says “Tap on the light bulb to load more conversations”. How can a screen reader user identify the light bulb icon unless an alternate text is provided?

This adjustment in the design will also benefit users with color blindness. The point to highlight here is, “Color or any other sensory characteristic should not be the only way to provide an instruction or convey some information to the user”.

Low Vision

When designing don’t think that every user can see as you can. Some users may have poor vision and may need more contrasting colors to read the text, Some need the text to be resized, some users need sufficient space between the elements etc. WCAG 2.0 guidelines 1.4.3 Contrast Minimum and 1.4.4 resize text provides enough information and resources on the requirements of low vision users. Few other low vision user requirements such as touch target area and element spacing are drafted by W3C low vision task force and may be added as requirements in the next set of accessibility guidelines.

Provide sufficient color contrast between the text and its background. WCAG 2.0 recommends 4.5 : 1 contrast for regular text and 3 : 1 for large text. Whenever possible use real text not the text on images, some browsers and assistive technologies do not allow the users to enlarge the text on images. Read more about Images of text

Motor disabilities

Certain disabilities impact the users moment of hand and hence cannot use mouse. They highly depend on physical keyboards. Providing functionalities that are mouse dependent Eg: Showing items of a menu on mouse hover, restricts keyboard only users to use the component. A clear visual focus indicator should also be provided for all focusable elements such as links and form elements. Non availability of focus indicator may confuse the users current location while navigating the web page.

Cognitive Difficulties

Not all the users will have the same memory. As we grow older chances that we forget things which we are good remembering when we are young. The forms that does not have proper labels impact users of cognitive difficulties. In modern technologies placeholders are used as labels for form elements. These placeholders are replaced with the text entered by the users after filling the form. After filling the form if the user want to verify the information entered, they cannot relate the content with the label. This does not mean placeholders should not be used but they should not create barriers for users. Look at our articles problems with placeholders and solutions for placeholders for accessibility.

I hope the introductory article gave a basic understanding of the user experience designs on accessibility. In part 2 I will explain other design considerations for accessibility and resources that help to make the user experience designs accessible.

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