Over the past several decades, the internet has occasionally been touted as "the great equalizer" and "the great democratizer." The idea is that the internet has leveled the playing field in many different regards, and you could definitely make a convincing argument that's been the case.
On the other hand, though, it's important to understand that there are still barriers for many people around the world when it comes to using the internet.
For this reason, more and more companies have been making moves to ensure that their digital products and sites are both inclusive and accessible.
What does this really mean, though? How can you implement accessible and inclusive design ideas into your front end? Let's explore everything you need to know.
The term accessibility refers to whether people of all abilities can use a product, whether it be physical or digital. You are likely more aware of accessibility considerations in the physical world, such as wheelchair ramps, handicap parking, or braille.
However, you'll also want to consider accessibility in the digital realm. If you aren't conscious of how your products create an accessibility barrier to some people, it can mean that there's a big chunk of your market that can't enjoy or benefit from your site or product to the fullest extent.
There are international standards that have been created for digital accessibility. Outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, these standards were set to explain how businesses and individuals can make web content that's more accessible to people with disabilities.
You might wonder how important web accessibility is when you first come across the term. After all, how many people could this really impact?
Actually, it is estimated that there are one billion people (about 15% of the entire world population) that experience a disability of one form or another. Even though the digital world can be a lot more accessible to people with physical disabilities, there are still a number of impediments that can stand between them and fully utilizing online spaces.
Some of the types of disabilities that web developers should keep in mind include:
It's also worth noting that we aren't just talking about permanent disabilities. It's also important to consider how we can make sites and digital products that are accessible to individuals that have either temporary or situation disabilities.
What are the differences between these types of disabilities?
A permanent disability is likely what you think of when you first imagine what demographic might have accessibility issues. These individuals have a permanent mental or physical condition that limits their ability to participate in certain activities, move, or use their senses in the same way as the general population. Deafness, blindness, and mobility impairments would all fit within this category.
A temporary disability, on the other hand, is when someone is limited in their ability to move, sense, or participate in activities for a short period. This could include having a broken bone that impacts your ability to use a computer or device easily.
Lastly, a situation disability is simply when the situation someone is in leads to impairment. This can be as simple as being in a noisy environment and therefore needing the help of captions when watching a video.
At the end of the day, web accessibility is important because you want to ensure that all of your users have the best possible experience on your site or with your digital product. On top of that, there are also legal considerations to take into account. If a big enough audience uses your website, you might face potential lawsuits down the road if your site isn't accessible to as many people as possible.
While you might assume that inclusive design is just another term that refers to web accessibility, it does have a related but different meaning.
Accessibility is focused on making sure that people of all abilities can experience and enjoy your site. On the other hand, inclusivity is focused on designing sites built with an understanding of user diversity.
If you're performing a redesign of your website to make it more inclusive and accessible, this is a good time to check out our ultimate website redesign checklist.
There are three design principles of inclusive design as outlined by Microsoft.
Are you engaging in a full redesign to ensure that your web app reflects your values? If so, you might be interested in learning about the impact of websites on the environment. Check out this article to learn how to reduce your web app's carbon footprint.
There are a lot of steps you can take to redesign your frontend to be accessible and inclusive. Of course, to what extent you can implement a full redesign will have to do with the available resources, including staffing and time.
There are many ways to improve accessibility on the frontend by redesigning the way you display content.
For one, you can make sure that the text on your site is resizable and that it's still easy to read when the size has been changed. In addition, it's a good idea to use a minimum font size of 16px to accommodate all users and devices.
It's also generally considered a mistake to set your font size with pixels, despite this being quite common. When you go this route, it can make it difficult for users trying to increase the size to read the text. A better unit of measurement is root em (REMs).
Another way you can increase accessibility is by making sure your content is broken up into different sections, each with its own heading. Making your headings stand out from the rest of the text makes it easier for people of all abilities to read and understand your content.
When it comes to images, there are also a lot of strategies you can adopt to increase accessibility.
When you include any data visualizations, graphics, or time-based media, always include a description or a caption. You can also be sure to identify the difference between decorative and informative images through the ALT text.
When you're creating forms for your site, you'll want to create clear labels for each form element. Instead of using placeholder text that disappears when a user starts typing, put this text on the outside of the form fields. This way, users don't have to remember what was in the field once they have started typing.
Forms should also be organized in a single column to make them simple and understandable to as many people as possible.
Contrast is another easy fix to help ensure that all of your users can read your content and navigate your site easily. Contrast refers to how much difference there is in brightness between two different colors.
Keeping your web app or site clean and simple doesn't just look super classy, but it can also make it easier for people with different abilities to understand and interact. Check out these examples of clean web app design to help you find the inspiration you've been searching for.
For users that are blind, illiterate, visually impaired, or have a learning disability, screen readers can be an essential piece of assistive technology. Basically, they translate the text into a form of communication accessible to the user. For people with hearing or learning disabilities, this typically means reading the text aloud to the user. For individuals with visual disabilities, this generally means transmitting the text to a braille keyboard.
When you're redesigning your frontend to ensure your site is accessible to as many people as possible, you'll want to ensure that you don't include any information that could confuse screen readers.
For users who have difficulty with fine motor control, are blind, or have motor impairments, a keyboard might be the go-to way to navigate the web rather than a mouse. In some instances, individuals might not have any use of their hands, so they might be using assistive technology or modified keyboards to surf the web.
In order to navigate using only a keyboard or assistive technologies, users usually use the tab key and focus indicators to point out the current element in focus.
It's always a good idea to have your navigation be intuitive. If you have a navigation organization that doesn't fit with the flow of the page, you'll want to change this both for accessibility but also for the overall user experience.
It's easy to start feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the terms that are being thrown out there. Not only is there web accessibility and inclusive design, but we haven't even started talking about universal design.
Basically, what these three ideas have in common is that they all focus on extending inclusion and access to services, products, and sites.
We've already talked about how accessibility is about making sure that all of your users can be served without any barriers and that inclusive design is about welcoming people from diverse backgrounds to engage with your organization.
What we haven't discussed yet is universal design. Universal design is a design method that originally stemmed from the world of industrial design and architecture. However, it has expanded into the space of digital products and services in recent years.
The idea behind universal design is that you want to design any service, product, or environment so that the largest number of people possible can use it. Some of the principles of this design methodology include simple use, flexible use, and tolerance for error.
Basically, the hope when using universal design is to be able to design a single solution that will positively impact the highest number of people. Rather than following Microsoft's "solve for one, extend to many" inclusive design principle, the idea is that by creating a solution that works for the most people, there won't be as much need to create additional solutions for individuals with specific needs.
As you can see, there are many compelling reasons why you might want to redesign your frontend to be both accessible and inclusive. It ensures that no one is left out when it comes to using your incredible digital product, but it's also just good business. After all, why would you leave someone out that wants to benefit from what you have to offer if you could avoid it?
At Planetary, we love helping our clients create digital products that are suited for the largest possible audience. Having worked with Fortune 500 companies and small startups, we are experienced in making dreams into a reality with projects of all shapes and sizes.
Are you searching for the right partner when it comes to creating your new digital product? If so, contact us today and tell us what you're working on. We'd absolutely love to get started on assisting you however we possibly can!
It doesn't matter whether you're an amateur who's creating your first web app or an old pro that could create a PWA with your eyes closed– having tools that support your process, s…
If you feel like Clubhouse seemed to come out of nowhere, you aren't wrong. The meteoric rise of the app occurred during the first year of the pandemic when it went from completely…