Digital accessibility is a constantly evolving practice which removes barriers and enables everyone to have equal access across all online and digital content.
In 2023, nobody should be denied access to a digital product, platform or service because of how it has been designed.
To re-enforce this, accessibility must be integrated within the design processes right from the start. Before we even begin the initial ideation stages, accessibility needs to be factored in by business analysts, project managers, and during the first stakeholder meetings.
Before we dive into the integration of accessibility within our design process, it’s important to highlight the impact that creating accessible digital products has and why it is not an option to view accessibility as an add-on or ‘nice to have’.
There are currently over a billion people around the world who have situational, permanent or temporary disability or impairments. This is a massive 20% of the population and a figure that is going up year on year. Looking at this number in terms of potential users, we can immediately see why inclusive design is non-negotiable.
If the statistical side of things can seem dehumanising, you only have to stop and consider if you want the way that you choose to design a specific feature to be the barrier that means someone is unable to complete a task online.
It has also been proven repeatedly that creating an accessible digital design increases engagement and satisfaction across all users. By improving accessibility, you are ultimately making a more intuitive and better product.
From a business perspective, there is also significant financial gain to be made by increasing accessibility, such as broadening your audience, the positive impact it can have on website SEO and Google rankings, and the fact you will be avoiding a potential lawsuit further down the line.
Standards and guidelines
In 1996, the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, was founded as the main international standards organisation for the World Wide Web. The Web Accessibility Initiative was born out of it, and in 1999 the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were launched!
The WCAG guidelines have become the single shared standard by which we rate website accessibility. They provide guidance and support on how to make web content accessible as well as success criteria to measure against. The guidelines have evolved as the web has over the last 20 years and provide a solid guide for digital designers to work from.
At Make it Clear, our design and creative teams have integrated the WCAG 2.1 guidelines into our internal methodologies and checklists. This enables us to work together cross-functionally to ensure we are removing any potential barriers we could create for our users. As standards and criteria develop, we always look for new tools and practices to improve our knowledge and working methods!
As a user-led agency, we are aware of the crucial role that user research and testing plays throughout the design process, and we are conscious that simply striving to adhere to the latest WCAG guidelines will only get us so far and its human interactions that enable us to create products that are accessible across the whole user journey.
We begin our design process by conducting thorough user research to understand the needs of our users.
This includes identifying potential barriers users may face when using an existing product or pain points in their day-to-day activities. By deeply understanding users’ challenges and requirements, we ensure that accessibility considerations are at the forefront of our design approach.
When you take the time to research and listen to people with real lived experiences of using digital products, you quickly realise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to how people use different tools. It is the same when you are looking at accessibility. The best way to start to understand these nuances is by conducting in-person user research with users with various abilities and disabilities. Inclusive user research should be conducted throughout the design process and cover the whole user journey, from initial user research and interviews to iterative testing further down the line.
Once you start humanising accessibility you quickly see the completely different ways in which users with similar impairments can use the same product, adaptive and assistive technologies. This further emphasises the importance of having more than the one solution which you are likely to get from following a check-box requirement or guideline. Instead it encourages us to think outside the box as designers and increase the amount of flexibility users have with how they interact with a digital product.
Workshops can provide a valuable opportunity to align or raise awareness about accessibility principles, best practices, and guidelines with key stakeholders early on in a project.
By bringing together multidisciplinary teams in a workshop environment we can ensure that accessibility is built into a project from the very beginning and knowledge is shared across teams.
As we have already touched on, usability testing is a crucial tool in our design and research roadmap. It can be conducted at various stages throughout the design process for example in the initial stages of a project to test an existing product to identify existing pain points, or on competitor sites to evaluate similar features or potential improved ways of doing things or later down the line as part of the iterative design process; where user testing can show us if our product is intuitive and easy to use.
Conducting user testing with real people, with real lived experiences provides invaluable feedback that can uncover any barriers or challenges faced during interactions with a product or design. Whether we conduct the user testing in-house or in collaboration with a user testing partner this iterative process ensures that the final product meets the needs of as many users as possible.
Education and evolution
Accessibility guidelines and practices are not static, they are evolving and improving, so it is really important to us that we have a growth mindset when it comes to accessibility.
As an agency, we keep up to date with the latest developments, tools and insights whether it’s through workshops, courses, webinars, or simply sharing podcasts and articles within our teams.
Structurally within our agency we have an accessibility lead who is supported by accessibility champions within each team who is committed to staying up-to-date with the latest accessibility standards, guidelines, and best practices specifically within their area of expertise therefore providing a solid touchpoint in each team and area of the design process.
As a team of user-focused creatives, UX designers and strategists we are committed to designing accessible products and services for all users. By integrating accessibility throughout our internal methodologies from the start, staying informed and continuously evolving our skills, we aim to create a more accessible and inclusive digital future.
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