What the heck is accessibility?!

Laura Walters, Designer

What the heck is accessibility?!

With more and more aspects of our daily lives happening on screen, it’s never been more important as designers to make sure all of the content we create takes into account the needs of as many users as possible. So what is web accessibility? WebAIM estimates that roughly a fifth of the population, some form of disability or impairment. Now, these impairments may not all be severe enough to make access to content difficult, but it is a significant number of users – potential customers - that could be excluded.    

To explain this better here’s a little metaphor… Imagine yourself arriving at an airport ready to go on your holiday. You know that you need to catch your flight, but you need a little help getting there. You find your check-in desk and drop off your luggage, go through security, have a bite to eat, wait for your gate to be displayed, navigate the airport to find your plane and jet off. Part of your ability to navigate the airport might be an instinct - you’ve probably done it before. There’s also clever architecture and design that is subconsciously leading you in the right direction. This might be the tiles that are angled a certain way or the way that the roof slopes to show where you need to go. This is a real word example of what we call UX and UI in web design. The ability to visually lead the user to where you want them to go.

The signs, departure boards and announcements give you, the user, the information you need to move on. Now navigating airports can be stressful at the best of times but imagine that you have poor eyesight, that you’re not as mobile as you used to be, that you have a hearing impairment or a more severe disability. Nightmare. Therefore, the signage is designed in a way that is readable for all types of user and the announcements are made in multiple languages.

Obviously, lots of thought has gone into making the process of getting through the airport as accessible as possible. So it makes sense that this same level of consideration should go into the design of your digital content. TheTin is a brand & technology agency. We aim to create the best content we possibly can, matching beautiful design with exciting new technology. So how do we deal with web accessibility?

Accessibility vs creativity

There are a few challenges to overcome when designing for accessibility:

Firstly, being upfront with our clients is key to having a great collaborative process. From recommending and explaining accessibility to helping them to decide on a compliance level based on the needs of their potential users, project timescale, and budget.

It’s important to balance innovative design while sticking to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. It’s a common mistake to think that accessible design means boring design, but this is not the case. After all, a website doesn’t need to reach level AAA to be considered accessible. There is still scope for creativity. To design for accessibility is to use our design, development and UX skills to solve a bigger challenge. To question our choices and how they might affect users.

Another challenge of designing with accessibility in mind is that the visuals that we create should look and feel seamless. Using large font sizes etc shouldn’t be an afterthought or simply a plaster on your design. It should be a digital extension of the brand, not a patch job. Some websites do this brilliantly, for example, .GOV. It displays a huge amount of important information that must be accessible to all. The content can’t be overshadowed by the visuals so they have made a conscious choice to define their digital presence by great accessible typography.

Therefore, good accessible design shouldn’t be noticeable, it should allow the user to get on with what they need to do.

“The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.” - Charles Eames

WCAG 2.0 WTF?

Getting to grips with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines is a challenge in itself. It would be super hard to try to learn all the ins and outs of each guideline. If you’re a project manager you don’t really need to know all about media alternatives or colour contrasts, but your designers and developers should.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably thinking this is a bit of a beast and it kind of is. I’ve found this handy website, though, to stop you from tearing your hair out. It filters the guidelines by accessibility level and job role. Marvelous! http://code.viget.com/interactive-wcag/#responsibility=&level=aa

As a brand & technology agency, we always strive to achieve innovative design with the latest and most appropriate technologies. We also lead the conversation on web accessibility with our clients because we believe that great design is creating a level playing field for all users.

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