UI/UX Accessibility: All You Need to Know
February 27, 2023
Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and the websites and apps you need on a daily basis were off-limits to you. Everyone else can still do their banking and invest online, shop or order things on their phone, connect with friends and family on social media. But all of that is out of your reach.
That’s the reality that a billion people – approximately 15% of the population – experience daily. And it’s that reality that makes accessibility in UI/UX design a necessity for any current-day software product.
There’s a lot to think about when designing an accessible user experience. But with the proper knowledge, you’ll be able to make your product equally available to all your users.
What is UI/UX
UI/UX combines two closely related yet distinct disciplines: user interface(UI) and user experience(UX). At its core, UI/UX is about creating digital products that are easy to use and provide a smooth, pleasant experience.
UI design focuses on the visual aspects of a product’s interface. The layout, typography, colour scheme, and graphic elements are all part of the UI. The goal is to make the interface visually appealing and easy to navigate while ensuring it communicates the product’s purpose.
UX design, on the other hand, is about the overall experience of interacting with the product. This includes how it feels to use, how easy it is to navigate, and whether it meets the needs and expectations of the target audience. UX designers aim to understand user behaviour, identify pain points and find opportunities for improvement.
Together, UI and UX design form a critical part of any digital development process. A UI/UX designer can help your business attract and retain customers and build lasting business relationships.
What is UI/UX accessibility
Before we can talk about making products accessible, we need to look at what accessibility means in this context.
As we said earlier, a significant portion of the world’s population – and, by extension, your users – have some disability. They may need specific features to use your product. UX accessibility is about enabling everyone, regardless of their ability, to access and use your interface effectively. The goal is to remove barriers and ensure none of your users are excluded.
That’s easier said than done. It’s easy to unwittingly exclude certain users during the design process, especially if you’re not focused on accessibility. Ideally, your user research should let you know whether part of your audience needs to interact with your product in a specific way.
Types of accessibility issues
Accessible UI/UX design is about predicting how your users will interact with the product and making that possible. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that there are different kinds of disabilities with varying severity.
Let’s look at the main groups of disabilities:
- Visual difficulties: e.g. partial or complete blindness, colour blindness
- Auditory difficulties: e.g. hearing difficulties
- Learning/Cognitive difficulties: e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia
- Neurological difficulties: e.g. epilepsy
With all of that said, it’s worth mentioning it’s not just people with disabilities who might need accessibility features. All of us may, at one point or another, be influenced by circumstances and need to use a website or app differently.
Situations like that fall under temporary and situational accessibility differences. Those may refer to things like:
- Broken limbs
- Noisy environments
- Bright or low light
- Temporary vision impairments(e.g. after an optometrist visit)
Regardless of the type, severity and duration of the condition, making your product accessible only stands to benefit your relationship with your customers.
Why is accessible UI/UX design important?
Designing an accessible interface and user experience is no small amount of work. So, why is it a worthy investment for your business?
A driver for innovation
It’s a common misconception that designing for accessibility hinders your ability to innovate. It’s actually quite the opposite. An excellent example of this is the non-language processing tool Google developed. It’s meant to benefit people with auditory troubles by processing sound and intonation.
Obviously, accessibility features let you tap into the large base of users that needs them.
But there’s more than that. In 2006, the NFB(National Federation of the Blind) sued Target for its lack of website accessibility. The corporation had to pay a six million dollar fine and commit to updating its website.
Last but definitely not least, it’s the right thing to do. Everyone deserves equal access to digital products, services and information. When you design your product with everyone’s needs in mind, you’re playing your part in making that happen.
How to design an accessible UI/UX
Accessible design is a combination of many factors. But there are some crucial aspects you can focus on.
While there’s some overlap between accessibility and usability, the two are not the same. Good accessibility does, however, include usability.
Design isn’t just about knowing what your users need. It’s also about testing – about exposing them to your product and tracking the results.
To measure your product’s usability, take a close look at these five components:
- Learnability: How easily can a new user learn to use it?
- Efficiency: How quickly can users complete tasks?
- Memorability: How easy is it for returning users to remember and re-use?
- Errors: How many errors do people make when interacting with the product?
- Satisfaction: Overall, how satisfied are your users with the experience?
Each of the above is an important metric when it comes to your user experience. Taking a good measurement of them should give you a solid foundation for a UI/UX-accessible product.
Fundamental design principles may sound obvious, but many websites and apps bypass them. And doing so can harm your user’s ability to interact with your product.
Hierarchy: Display information in a way that’s relative to its importance. Use brighter colours to attract attention, make headlines larger than the text below etc.
Contrast: Make sure different elements stand out through a difference in colour, size, or background
Discoverability: Make it as easy as possible for users to find information, buttons and different parts of your product
Scale: Emphasize or downplay elements by changing their relative size and proximity to other elements
Fonts: Make the font large enough to be readable by everyone. 16px is the recommended minimum for digital platforms.
When properly implemented, the above principles can make your website more accessible and easy to navigate – not just for differently abled people but all your users.
We can’t talk about accessibility without mentioning regulatory compliance.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines(WCAG) are a great resource. The guidelines are a complete list of rules and advice to follow when making your website or app accessible to everyone.
Furthermore, following the WCAG will keep you compliant with the ADA act, which aims to prevent discrimination against users with disabilities.
In today’s world, accessibility in UI/UX design is a necessity. With large parts of the population experiencing accessibility challenges, creating products that are available to everyone is crucial.
Accessible design is a combination of many factors. While it can be a lot of work, it carries various benefits. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it can boost your engagement and propel your business forward. And even if it seems challenging at first, by staying informed and following certain guidelines, you can easily make sure your product is accessible to everyone.