Design

Why digital accessibility matters

4 min read
Gabriela Fonseca  •  Dec 4, 2018
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When building a digital project, creatives and developers are usually focused on the visual impact or making it mobile-friendly and optimized for search engines. Accessibility, on the other hand, is often overlooked – especially if the team doesn’t have direct experience with a disability.

Watching the barriers of someone with a severe visual impairment closely made me aware of accessibility issues from a young age. My mother suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision loss over time.

Using the internet is hard for her. She no longer identifies colors, so high contrast is crucial for her to be able to see the screen. She takes at least twice the amount of time than me to read a text and stay several minutes trying to figure out an image.

Sometimes she gets exhausted, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to use the internet. Like you and I, she wants to have access to all the information available out there.

Demonstration of tunnel vision, or loss of peripheral vision, one of the symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Other symptoms are night blindness, slow adjustment to light changes and difficulty interpreting photos and text.

According to WHO, over a billion people live with some form of disability—that’s 15% of the world’s population! I also discovered that approximately 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment like my mother, a number that could triple due to population growth and aging.

That’s reason enough why we should make accessibility a requirement in any digital project. We have to ensure people have access to digital content and that experiences are inclusive for all users. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has a great quote:

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Tim Berners-Lee
Twitter Logo

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
–Tim Berners-Lee

Truth is, good usability improves the digital experience for all users, whether they have disabilities or not. Unfortunately, most websites and apps fail to meet accessibility standards.

When building a product, do you ever wonder if you are creating an inclusive environment? Do you incorporate accessibility best practices in your design process?

If you are new to accessibility, here are 4 easy guidelines to start creating inclusive projects.

Where to start

Share your knowledge and create a culture of accessibility.

It’s important to know that you are not alone in this. Accessibility is not the responsibility of only one person, it’s a team effort: from content to design and implementation. So naturally, the first step is to involve the whole team.

We know that changing the mindset and culture can be challenging at first. But with some awareness and education, we can help our colleagues understand the benefits and value of creating an inclusive product and inspire them to spread good accessibility practices to other aspects of their lives.

“If you work on the web in any capacity, accessibility is your job.”Twitter Logo Laura Kalbag

Consider accessibility in every stage of the project.

Just as it is inefficient to first build a website only for desktop and then make it responsive, we shouldn’t address accessibility separately from the rest of the project’s creative process.

It takes more time and effort to fix accessibility issues in existing websites, than creating a fully accessible site right from the start. When we incorporate accessibility from the beginning, we optimize the result and minimize the resources needed.

Give your project a little more time.

We all know timing is an issue in many projects, but we should also take into consideration the consequences of dedicating a little more time to upgrade accessibility.

Even the smallest improvements, like bigger text sizes or using colors with high contrast, can end up having a significant impact on the experience of the end user. In my mother’s case, by merely having bold black text on a white background or even a yellow text on a black background is enough for her to be able to read.

With practice, designing and developing inclusive projects will become natural, increasingly cheaper and less time-consuming.

Observe, improve, repeat.

Accessible design depends on a lot of creativity because we have a very diverse group of people, and each one perceives the web differently. We should continuously look for feedback to see if what we are doing actually works and develop a strategy to improve it.

Sometimes we have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to really understand their context and needs. If you have enough time and budget, firsthand experience of how people with disabilities interact with digital content can help you understand the barriers they face every day and, consequently, better design an accessible product.

Creating inclusive digital projects

I’m currently working on Visionary, a project born from the desire to offer people with low vision easy access to the digital world. By adapting online content, our mission is to enable users with visual impairment to experience the web the same way as we do.

In my team, we see Visionary as a bridge between digital content and people with low vision. We believe that there should be no boundaries when it comes to information, and it’s our job to ensure that every piece of digital content is easy to find and to interact by the most diverse group of people.

We have the tools and technology we need to create new possibilities and make the internet universally accessible. So let’s build the bridge!

And last, keep talking about accessibility. Always remind people around you that we are here to serve all human beings.