Starting with Accessibility in Mind
Building Inclusive Web Experiences
5 minute read
This is the second in a series of articles looking into the requirements, tools, and techniques surrounding accessible web design.
In the journey of creating accessible web design, it’s crucial to start with a foundation that prioritizes accessibility from the outset. This second article in our series dives into how you can embed an accessibility-first mindset in your web projects from the beginning.
Embracing an Accessibility-First Approach
Understanding the Basics
Before we start designing or coding, it’s essential to understand the various disabilities that can affect web usage:
- Visual Impairments: This includes a range of conditions, from partial vision loss and color blindness to total blindness. For example, a person with color blindness might not distinguish between red and green buttons, while someone with low vision may require text magnification.
- Auditory Impairments: Individuals with hearing loss require alternatives to audio content. For instance, providing captions for videos ensures that users with hearing difficulties can still access the information.
- Motor Impairments: This category includes conditions that affect movement, making tasks like clicking a mouse or tapping on a mobile screen challenging. For example, someone with Parkinson’s disease may have difficulty with fine motor control, necessitating larger clickable areas.
- Cognitive Impairments: These can range from learning disabilities to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. It may affect memory, attention, problem-solving, and comprehension. For instance, a person with dyslexia might struggle with complex text layout and fonts.
Educating Your Team Accessibility is a team effort. Ensure your designers, developers, and content creators understand these principles and consider them in their work.
Setting Up for Success
As we delve into building websites with an accessibility-first approach, it’s essential to arm ourselves with the right tools and resources. These tools not only facilitate the creation of accessible content but also streamline the process, making it easier to adhere to best practices from the start.
Accessible Tools and Resources
- Color Contrast Checkers: These tools help ensure that the text and background colors on your website provide enough contrast for easy readability.
- Screen Reader Compatibility Testing Tools: To ensure your website is navigable and readable by screen readers.
- Accessibility Audit Tools: These tools can scan your website for common accessibility issues.
- Keyboard Navigation Testing: To check if your website can be navigated using only a keyboard.
- Simply use the Tab key on your keyboard to navigate your website.
- ChromeVox (a Chrome extension)
- Accessible Design Plugins: For design software to help ensure your designs meet accessibility standards.
- Semantic HTML and ARIA Role Validators: To ensure your HTML is semantically correct and your ARIA roles are properly implemented.
Creating an Accessibility Checklist
A well-structured accessibility checklist is essential for ensuring your website meets various accessibility standards. Here’s an example checklist that covers key areas:
- Color Contrast: Ensure text and background colors have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
- Text Size: Text should be resizable up to 200% without loss of content or functionality.
- Consistent Navigation: Maintain consistent navigation across all pages.
- Transcripts for Audio: Provide transcripts for all audio content.
- Captions for Videos: Offer captions for all video content, including descriptions of key visual elements.
- Keyboard Accessibility: Ensure all interactive elements are operable with keyboard-only controls.
- Visible Focus: Include a visible focus indicator for interactive elements.
- Labels for Forms: Ensure all form inputs have associated text labels.
Screen Reader Compatibility
- Alt Text for Images: Provide alternative text for all images conveying information.
- ARIA Roles: Use ARIA roles where appropriate to enhance screen reader experience.
- Semantic HTML: Use proper HTML5 elements for enhanced screen reader interpretation.
- Readable Fonts: Use fonts that are easy to read and avoid small font sizes.
- Clear Language: Use plain language and avoid jargon or complex language structures.
- Predictable Layouts: Maintain a predictable layout and avoid unexpected changes during navigation.
Testing and Validation
- Automated Testing: Regularly run automated accessibility tests using tools like WAVE or Google Lighthouse.
- User Testing: Conduct user testing with individuals who have disabilities to gather feedback.
- Standards Compliance: Regularly check your website’s compliance with the latest WCAG standards.
Building an Accessibility Team
Roles and Responsibilities
In smaller teams, where resources might be limited, roles can be more fluid, with team members often wearing multiple hats.
- Accessibility Coordinator: A designated team member (often a lead designer or developer) who takes on the responsibility of ensuring accessibility considerations are integrated into all phases of the project. They stay updated on guidelines and lead the team in implementing best practices.
- All Team Members: Everyone on the team takes on some responsibility for accessibility. Designers focus on visual accessibility, developers ensure semantic HTML and keyboard navigation, and content creators prioritize clear language and alt text.
Medium-sized teams might have more specialized roles while still maintaining collaborative cross-functional responsibilities.
- Dedicated Accessibility Specialist: An individual whose primary focus is on accessibility. They conduct regular audits, provide training and resources, and act as the point of contact for accessibility-related issues.
- UX Designer: Focuses on accessible design principles, ensuring that layouts, color schemes, and typography meet accessibility standards.
- Developers: Implement technical aspects of accessibility, such as ARIA roles, keyboard accessibility, and screen reader compatibility.
- Content Strategist: Ensures that all content is understandable, including the use of plain language and providing transcripts for audio and video content.
In larger organizations, there is often the capacity for a more comprehensive accessibility team with specialized roles.
- Accessibility Team Lead: Oversees the entire accessibility strategy and ensures compliance with legal standards. They coordinate with various departments to integrate accessibility into the company culture.
- Accessibility Auditors: Specialists who regularly review and test the website to identify and document accessibility issues.
- User Researchers: Conduct research, including user testing with people with disabilities, to understand the needs of all users.
- Training and Awareness Coordinator: Responsible for educating the team on accessibility guidelines and best practices, and ensuring that new staff are trained.
- Legal and Compliance Officer: Ensures the organization’s digital assets comply with legal standards like the ADA and WCAG. The specific roles and responsibilities will vary depending on the size and structure of your team. However, the key takeaway is that accessibility should be a team effort, with each member contributing to an inclusive end product. In our next article, we’ll explore the details of designing with color and contrast for accessibility.
Involving People with Disabilities
Engage people with disabilities in your design and testing processes for firsthand insights into potential barriers.
Practical Steps to Incorporate Accessibility
Consider elements like color contrast, font size, and button sizes. Use tools to simulate different types of visual impairments.
Focus on semantic HTML, proper ARIA roles usage, and keyboard accessibility.
Use clear language, provide alt text for images, and ensure videos have captions.
Starting with an accessibility-first approach isn’t just about compliance; it’s about embracing inclusivity in user experience. This mindset is about creating an environment that welcomes and accommodates everyone.
Stay tuned for our next article, where we’ll delve into color and contrast, exploring how to balance visual accessibility with aesthetic appeal.