Accessibility in UX Design
Accessibility in UX design is often misconstrued as usability. Accessibility measures whether or not everyone can use an app or product, regardless if they have a disability or not, whereas usability refers to the overall performance of an app or product. Fifteen percent of the world’s population isn’t being served when accessibility isn’t taken into account, which means that your app or design will miss out on over 1.15 billion people utilizing the service or product you’ve worked so hard to create. In the long run, not only is it more economical and moralistically responsible for your company to take the time and care into serving people with disabilities, but it will boost your SEO, reach more devices, and give your brand a more approachable and friendlier public image.
As mentioned before, usability is how a product performs, how easily it’s accessed and how well it does the job it’s set out to do. If a product is only available on a certain device, for example, its usability is docked points for under-serving the population which doesn’t own or have access to said device(s). If a product’s usability is null, then its accessibility is obviously not even going to register. However if a product’s usability is only accessible by people who don’t have any impairments, ailments or disabilities whatsoever, that just means you’re catering to the crowd that already has everything, disregarding that fifteen percent we mentioned earlier. To gain control of your product’s ability to transcend user demographics from all walks of life, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, accessibility isn’t always about physical or mental attributes. Sometimes the users themselves don’t factor into the question of accessibility at all, but rather, the device itsself is what needs to be taken into account. For instance, environmental impact on a device’s performance needs to be addressed when creating an app or product, especially when it’s intended to be used in real time. If your app is designed to help navigate the users through the use of a map for example, then it’s important to keep in mind what environmental factors would hinder its performance. What if the user goes underground? What if they’re surrounded by mountains, or live in an area that is prone to bad weather, or within a rural environment? These are things that need to be addressed if at all possible when creating apps of particular real-time use.
Second: photosensitivity. If a user is prone to seizures, or has photosensitive eyes that can cause damage under the wrong conditions, then it’s a no-brainer when approaching your product’s design to make sure that your app or product doesn’t trigger these circumstances. If they do happne to produce any of these conditions for whatever reason, then you must have a warning for users before they enter your site or use your product to avoid an unpleasant experience, injury, or death for the user, not to mention a potential lawsuit for you and your company.
Hearing impairment is a heavy burden to bear. There are many levels of hearing impairments, however making sure that your product is simply heard isn’t always the battle your product faces. Bringing sound to your app is always a somewhat difficult undertaking, and if you’ve hired a professional sound designer to take on the task, you shouldn’t have any problems. However, if you and your team decide to create a make-shift sound department for the sake of implementing sonic interactions into your product, be sure to consider reading some literature or even taking a course in audiology so you can avoid implementing any unsavory frequencies. Remember, no one’s hearing is exactly the same, and people’s hearing is constantly changing over time, with response to their environment.
Not only can the environment have an effect on the performance of your product, but environmental conditions will also change the physical aptitude and integrity of one’s hearing. If you’re creating an app that’s designed to be used by users of all walks of life, take into account that people who live in rural areas generally have better hearing, and can catch frequencies that users in urban areas most likely will not. In fact, though loud noise doesn’t create earwax directly, when users are exposed to loud noises over a duration of time, their ears produce wax to protect themselves because their brain starts to think that the noise is a form of physical contact. That being said, consider the environments your desired users are living in, and try to design the sonic interactions for all possible aural conditions.
This brings us to visual accessibility. Not a far reach from photosensitivity, this focuses more on users with colorblindness or any lack of vision thereof. There are plenty of resources to help you avoid designing visual discrepancies in your product, but it’s good to find one you trust so your product meets ADA (American Disabilities Act) and WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliance requirements. Not only will this protect your users, but it could protect you and your company from potential lawsuits. If your app or product doesn’t meet these basic standards, not only will this put your users in danger, but it will not bode well for your public image, and render your company’s products incapable of serving society at large.
Keeping in mind these simple truths when it comes to designing for accessibility will take your product far and wide. Not only will you find your company in a favorable light in the public eye, but you’ll know that you’ve done your best to share your services with those who are often underserved. In all reality, the more you pay attention to accessibility in your designs, the more conducive they’ll turn out in regard to usability as well. In the stew that is design, empathy is a key ingredient. In the coming articles, we’ll be diving deeper into the specifics surrounding how to acquire best practices when it comes to designing for accessibility. Remember, Designers, be tasteful, and be kind in your designs.
For examples of how web accessibility has been successfully implemented, feel free to visit our portfolio on the ArtVersion website.