TL;DR: Creating digital products that contemplate UX accessibility aspects is a moral obligation as much as a way to reach broader audiences. This reading goes over the WCAG guidelines provided by the W3C, as well as punctual best practices in regards to visual, hearing, cognitive, and physical disabilities to help companies stand out from competitors.

In its World Report on Disability, the WHO (World Health Organization) estimated that 15% of the global population have one or more forms of disability. The non-profit organization named WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) also determined that 97.4% of the top one million websites have issues related to UX accessibility. This means that more than one billion users will have difficulties when visiting those websites. Moreover, research has revealed that 1 in 12 men are color blind, which, for us, translates into even more needs. The list can go on.

Creating digital products that contemplate accessibility isn’t only a way of promoting innovation, targeting a bigger audience, or increasing the number of downloads. It’s also a moral obligation.

In this article, we’ll go through the definition of web accessibility, the guidelines provided by the W3C, and some best practices that can make your brand stand out from an infinite list of competitors.

What’s UX accessibility?

Based on Wikipedia’s definition of web accessibility, we can conclude that UX accessibility has to do with designing with an inclusive mindset to serve our users. It’s about keeping user needs at the epicenter of the design process from start to finish. 

Different aspects, such as global population behavior and the emergence of new diseases, should lead us to create digital products that are accessible to a wide range of customers, including people with physical or cognitive impairments.

Designing for accessibility should make us feel confident, too, no matter the type of user we’re targeting. Users should be able to carry out a task in a determined time frame with similar efforts. Doing so will eventually result in a group of customers who are empowered to perform independently. It also removes common frustrations provoked by a poor design strategy or implementation.

Accessibility vs. usability

Usability is a common term used in UX. It mainly refers to the ability to design easy-to-use, functional, and efficient products; and it should consider three major components:

  1. Consistency: all sections, components, and call to action elements should maintain not only visual unity, but also unison in the way the copy is written
  2. Learnability: navigation should be memorable and easy-to-remember for present and future interactions
  3. Efficiency: the tasks intended for users should be clearly stated to happen with the fewest number of clicks

In theory, usability shares most of UX accessibility’s key concepts. In practice, a product with good usability isn’t necessarily accessible to everyone, however. 

If our objective is to embrace a broader spectrum of users and provide them with an optimized user experience that will make our company stand out from the competition, then we should go further in usability testing and start considering not only physical, but cognitive and economic disabilities, as well.

pros to usability and accessibility are listed in two circles

WCAG guidelines

The first document to address web accessibility issues, known as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), was created by the W3C back in 2006 through their Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Since then, many organizations, governments, and other institutions have contributed to keeping the guidelines up-to-date. 

According to the WCAG, a digital product needs to be perceivable, understandable, operable, and robust. That’s so in order to be called accessible. The following image further explains those four main principles:

text with main 4 principles of WCAG guidelines

Best practices in UX accessibility

By following the guidelines described in the WCAG, we’re creating a product that’s accessible to a wide range of users. We should incorporate creative solutions and functionalities that serve people with disabilities. And make sure their experience when consuming our product is satisfactory and smooth.

To better understand accessibility aspects, we should also consider our design process. We can organize the guidelines by disability type, for example. By following these practices, we’ll expand our product reach and maximize its monetization potential. Here are a few examples. 

Visual and hearing disabilities:

  • Establish a minimum text size (16pt recommended)
  • Ensure good contrast between background and text. There are several tools you can use. For example, https://www.aremycolorsaccessible.com and the Contrast plugin for Figma
  • Add Alt tags and descriptive captions
  • Consider a zooming function that allows users to scale your design accordingly
  • Include text transcripts and audio descriptions for pre-recorded media

Cognitive disability:

  • Keep your layout as clean as possible and avoid cluttered design. Some people with cognitive disabilities may otherwise feel overwhelmed 
  • Use text that’s concise and simple, and provide definitions for specific complex words. We don’t want users to lose attention when consuming our content
  • Make usage of visual elements, such as icons, illustrations, audio, or video to support your written message

Physical disability:

  • Provide your design with error and confirmation messages, as well as clear instructions when you want your users to perform a specific task
  • Give users a way to skip steps or another alternative, such as voice control. For some people, it could be difficult to reach the mouse or tap a section of a screen
  • Make sure the clickable or tappable areas are big enough and easy to interact 
  • Avoid very long scrolling

Accessible design should become a standard for all organizations. When creating digital products, we should make sure they’re usable for anyone, no matter if they live with some form of disability, or not. By not putting WCAG guidelines in practice, you’re not only missing out on the possibility of expanding your products’ scope, but you’re also promoting inequality and discrimination against a selected group of users.

Designing and developing with an accessible mindset provides users with a better and more pleasant experience. Companies should strive to include these principles whenever they’re designing and developing products. Doing so is a significant step into becoming truly inclusive, incorporating a commonly relegated sector into our cycles.

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