Krishna Tyner on Inclusive Design Principles for Digital Accessibility

Krishna TynerKrishna Tyner

By Krishna Tyner, Accessibility Strategist.

Adopting a commitment to inclusive design and a robust practice to implement it is not the way of the future; it is now. According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people worldwide have some form of disability that creates barriers to engagement. When you think about the size of this population, when we consider the purpose and value of building accessible platforms, the effort must be about so much more than simply meeting compliance standards or mitigating risk per The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A commitment to designing products and platforms that consider the varied voices and needs of people with all levels of disabilities so they are inclusive of everyone is a commitment to putting all people first. And, let’s be clear: It drives growth for companies, too. A report by Accenture titled “The Disability Inclusion Imperative” disclosed that companies excelling in disability inclusion criteria experienced 1.6 times more revenue, 2.6 times more net income, and double the profit. Making all spaces more inclusive means scanning your digital landscape and detecting and removing barriers to access. A curb is not a barrier to a walking person who crosses the street unassisted, but to a person in a wheelchair, a curb is a prohibitive barrier. Creating digital ramps for all potential obstacles using inclusive design principles increases empathy and engagement for all user experiences.

Follow these Inclusive Design Principles to unlock the full spectrum of creative and compassionate revenue potential.

1. Inclusive Research and Testing

The first and most important principle in Inclusive Design is involving users from different backgrounds, perspectives, and needs in the design process. By including diverse user perspectives in your planning and design, we can identify and address any potential barriers, gaps, or biases that may affect usability and accessibility across a brand spectrum of user abilities. And, of course, when working with people with disabilities, ensure you’re doing so with knowledge and sensitivity. This short video can help.

2. Equitable Use

Design should provide all users the same means of use: Identical whenever possible and equivalent when not. This principle ensures the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities and backgrounds.

Examples:

  • Provide text and audio descriptions (“alt” attributes) for images that can meet the needs of sighted users and those who use screen readers.
  • Caption video content to help meet the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing users.
  • In contexts where demographic identifiers (e.g., gender, race, sexual orientation) are requested, provide inclusive options; don’t assume you know the language of the users; make available options for customizing the content based on someone’s preferred language.

3. Flexible Use

The design must accommodate various individual preferences and abilities, including creating adaptable designs that can be used in multiple ways and situations. The design should effectively communicate necessary information to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s abilities, and the experience should be within the user’s control.

Examples: 

  • Have a button on your webpage that allows users to adjust text sizes or contrast settings.
  • Don’t assume everyone wants audio content. Allow users to turn sound on and off and enable captions instead.
  • Provide alternative text (“alt text”) for images and non-text content.

4. Simple, Consistent, and Intuitive Use

The design should be easy to understand regardless of the user’s ability, experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level.

Examples: 

  • Simplifying navigation, maintaining a consistent page layout, and avoiding complex jargon can make digital content more accessible.
  • Allow users to access what they need in the simplest way possible.

5. Responsive and Adaptive Design

An essential factor in inclusive design is adaptability. Ensuring that web applications can adjust to various devices, screen sizes, resolutions, and orientations without compromising quality or functionality. This feature enables users who access the web application from different platforms, browsers, and settings to use it effectively. It also accommodates users with visual, auditory, or motor impairments requiring assistive technologies or customizations.

Examples: 

  • Ensure your content is easily accessible on any device: Mobile, desktop, or an assistive tool, such as a screen reader.
  • Allow users to adjust what they see and how they interact with the content based on their personal needs or the device or platform they use to access it.
  • Provide alternative text, captions, and keyboard shortcuts for users who need them.

6. Tolerance for Error

Designs should minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

Examples: 

  • Confirm before completing transactions and offer the ability to undo errant actions. This principle is particularly important for users with physical or cognitive disabilities.
  • Avoid confusing and extraneous buttons; make available actions clear and actionable.

7. Low Physical Effort

The design should be usable comfortably and with minimal fatigue-causing effort, ensuring interactions do not require repeated motions or sustained physical effort.

Examples:

  • Consider that small actions can be physically and cognitively challenging for some people. Consider the purpose of your tool and allow users to complete their tasks with as few steps as possible.
  • Ensure there are efficient and diverse ways to find and interact with content; the clickable elements are sufficiently large and spaced to be easily activated by users with limited dexterity or motor challenges.
  • Ensure web properties and content integrate efficiently with connected devices, platform APIs, and second screens.

As part of your organization’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, prioritize inclusive research practices.  We can’t know what we don’t learn.  When testing and evaluating your interfaces, ensure a diverse representation of users. Learn from this diversity and use it to target real needs. Adopt accessibility standards for all digital products, which involves following established guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed to meet legal and ethical standards. Adhering to these guidelines helps ensure that your digital products are accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities. And, of course, continually audit, revise, and adapt your approach to digital accessibility using an up-to-date Accessibility Checklist. As research and technology advance, we, too, must adapt.

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