Great, now we have to worry about that too? Do we have to spend a lot of money and change everything, and then our digital product looks uglier than before? And all this effort just for a small group of people with disabilities? Besides, our users haven’t complained yet, so our accessibility can’t be that bad.
Do you know this train of thought from your customers or colleagues? Then I have a few arguments and background facts for you that you can take with you into the next conversation to calm the tempers and maybe even create a new angle on this topic.
Although there are many very good ethical reasons for addressing accessibility, for many people the most compelling may be this: the Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz. It defines certain accessibility requirements for products and services that companies must ensure by mid-2025.
That’s why now is the perfect time to start familiarizing yourself with Accessibility. If you haven’t had much exposure to this topic so far, don’t worry – this article will give you a kickstart on the topic.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility means that people with disabilities can use, perceive, understand, and interact with digital products or websites in the same way as people without disabilities.
For people with disabilities, technology can make a lot of things possible… but unfortunately also impossible. A digital product that is not accessible is like a wall that excludes a large group of potential users. And that’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling that we as UX professionals don’t want to give to anyone.
How uncomfortable a severe limitation actually is can be hard for people who are not affected to understand. Our responsibility as UX professionals is to make sure that we can better understand these limitations. For example, by listening to stories from those affected and realizing that at some point in our lives, at the latest in old age, we will very likely have to live with limitations ourselves. The same is true in the case of serious accidents – any person without limitations can become a person with limitations at any time.
Here are two stories that provide interesting insights into living with limitations.
- BMX Professional Stephen Murray uses eye tracking after his serious accident.
- The Ageing Suit: How does it feel to live with age-related limitations?
Who or what is WCAG?
When you’re dealing with accessibility, there’s no getting around WCAG. WCAG is the acronym for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a massive list of recommendations to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. The WCAG of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) form an international standard for accessible web content design and are even referenced in some laws as a basis. Most accessibility checklists, such as this accessibility checklist from Yale University that you can find on the web, are based on the WCAG.
So who is our accessibility audience, anyway?
To put it bluntly: ALL.
Accessibility is essential for some users, and useful for everyone else. Because good accessibility means good usability, and everyone benefits from that.
But first, let’s look at some numbers about our accessibility target group. Numbers are always good.
- 1.3 billion people worldwide are affected by disability, that’s about 20%.
- One in five people is neurodiverse (e.g. affected by autism, dyslexia, ADHD or dyslexia)
- 6 Trillion dollars is the purchasing power of the global market of people with disabilities.
- 3% of the internet is currently accessible to people with disabilities.
- 60 Accessibility errors is the average number per website.
What does accessibility include?
Accessibility addresses different types of limitations and disabilities, for example, visual, motor, auditory, cognitive, and language. Not every limitation stems from a disability; age, social background, or other life situations can also lead to needing accessibility.
Disabilities are also not always permanent conditions from an accessibility perspective. This is an important point that illustrates that anyone can be in need of accessibility at any time.
A disability can be:
This means that people cannot change their situation. This includes, for example, blindness, deafness or paralysis.
This means affected individuals must ride out the situation. This includes, for example, a broken leg, limited hearing or speech due to a cold, being tired and unable to concentrate in the evening, or losing their glasses.
This means that sufferers can get out of their situation. This includes, for example, poor vision on a display in bright sunlight, walking on slippery surfaces, or trying to understand something in a noisy environment.
And what does that have to do with UX?
If we as UX professionals keep the barriers to entry and the cognitive load low, even for people with disabilities, then everyone will benefit. If we don’t, we will make some users happy, but we will exclude many. Aesthetic design and a lot of nice-sounding features will simply be useless if they are inaccessible to certain people.
That’s why accessibility is inextricably linked to UX and usability. Calling a UX “usable” that is also “accessible” only in some parts of the UI would be like calling yourself vegetarian but only abstaining from poultry.
The UX Basic Principles of Accessibility
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) articulate four basic principles:
- Perceptibility: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in a way that they can perceive, according to the two-channel principle. This means that information can be perceived via two sensory channels. Thus, visual content must also be made audible, e.g., through alt tags for images that can be read aloud by a screen reader.
- Usability: User interface components and navigation must be operable. Interfaces must not require interaction that users with disabilities cannot perform. This applies specifically, for example, to keyboard operability, on which motor-impaired and visually impaired people depend, or to a sufficiently long time limit for interactions.
- Comprehensibility: Information and the operation of the user interface must be comprehensible. This is where actual language in the form of UX writing comes into play, in addition to a clear visual language of design. We achieve good understandability by using the clearest, simplest language possible, targeted help, and dialogs that conform to expectations (some of which are points that fall under Conversational Design).
- Robustness: Content must be robust enough to be reliably interpreted by a wide range of users and their assistive technologies, and support adaptive strategies such as browser zooming. This also means that users must be able to access content even if the underlying technology evolves. (e.g., update of a software)
Assistive technologies are hardware or software that enable people with disabilities to interact with the digital environment, such as a screen reader or switch control.
Adaptive strategies are techniques that people with disabilities use to interact with the digital environment, such as adjusting platform and browser settings or resizing browser windows.
Accessibility or accessibility is about people we pick up, not checklists to check off. Our goal is to make technology work well for people with and without disabilities. Only if we manage to see accessibility as an integral part of our UX work, we can create inclusive user* experiences.
PS: And how good these user experiences actually are, we can make measurable through user research. #UXResearchRules
If you want to learn more about this topic, stay tuned!