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Inclusive Design What Ifs

I’ve been thinking about the why of doing inclusive design and accessibility. What are the good things that happen when you do it? Broadly speaking: doing inclusive design can take your site from good to great for some people and from unusable to usable for some others (often those with disabilities).

Let’s look at what might happen if we apply some inclusive design principles to our work.

(We do inclusive design and) no-one with disabilities comes to our site

Our site will go from good to great for these users. We’ll increase the usability and efficiency of our site, and people will achieve their goals more easily. Here are some specific things we might do and they effect they’ll have.

  1. Large click areas mean that people will be able to tap and click on things more easily.
  2. Descriptive headings, link, and button text mean that people will be able to scan the content more easily, be more clear on where links go, and be more clear on what will happen when pressing a button.
  3. Information in text as well as images (e.g. alt text) means that people will be able to get the information on the page even if an image doesn’t load.
  4. Direct language means that people will more easily understand our content.
  5. Clear and consistent layout and navigation means that people will know where they are and where they can go on our site.

That sounds like a lot of great UX improvements to me.

But perhaps people with disabilities do come to our site and they leave immediately because they can’t interact with it because of barriers that the site puts in their way. Let’s look at a different assumption.

(We do inclusive design and) people with disabilities come to our site

Our site might go from unusable to usable for these users: we might inadvertently be putting barriers in their way that prevent them from achieving their goal. With an inclusive design process we can be more sure that we won’t be putting barriers up. Here are some specific things we might do and an example of how they’ll help.

  1. Keyboard-compatibility (using focusable elements like links and buttons) means that people who can’t or don’t use a mouse can still use everything on our site.
  2. Descriptive headings, link, and button text mean that people have better information about what’s on the page, and where links go and what buttons do (instead of “click here” or “submit”).
  3. Having structured content using semantic HTML means that screen readers have a logical understanding of the content of the page and can pass that on to the user.
  4. Having form inputs with associated labels means that users of screen readers will be clear on what an input is for, rather than having to guess.
  5. Information in text as well as images means that people who find images difficult or confusing can still get the same information in another way.

(We should do inclusive design and) have happier, and more, users

Using an inclusive design process and making our site accessible benefits all our users. It makes it easier for users without any disability, and it can take a site from impossible to do-able for users with a disability.

Accessibility can be perceived as hard or time-consuming, but it doesn’t need to be. You can take it one bite at a time. A small thing to do could be:

  • run an accessibility testing tool like WAVE or your site and pick one of the errors or warnings to work on;
  • pick one thing from the “To avoid putting up barriers, we can” lists in my Disability as a continuum.

And next week or next sprint, pick just one more. You’ll have happier users and might open up access to a wider audience.