Accessibility is favorable for all web users; however, what does it exactly mean that a website is accessible and how can you as a graphic designer contribute towards it?
Intro into accessibility
Accessibility can be burdensome sometimes. There is a vast amount of disabled people for whom accessing the information online might be a challenge. Meanwhile, the designers and developer teams are trying to meet the users’ needs. The challenge for them is to look for ways to provide accessibility for all users.
According to the W3C definition, “Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web”. More precisely, web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web and that they can contribute to it. Moreover, web accessibility can also be useful to others, including the older ones whose capabilities might be constantly changing due to aging.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” – Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
To sum it up, accessibility is treating everyone in the same way, and giving them the same opportunities, regardless of their abilities or external circumstances.
Why is it important?
According to the newest Disable Word’s statistic, around 10% of the world’s population – roughly about 650 million people – live with a disability. Blind or deaf users are not the only ones who are affected. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) identifies and defines the following categories of disability:
- Physical – affects a person’s mobility or dexterity
- Intellectual – affects a person’s abilities to learn
- Psychiatric – affects a person’s thinking processes
- Sensory – affects a person’s ability to hear or see
- Neurological – results in the loss of some bodily or mental functions
It’s crucial to note that 41.2% of this group are the elders who are 65 and more.
What can you do?
At the beginning, you should refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the W3C to get familiar with the guidelines for making web content accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities. There are five documents that you will need to know – one main document and 4 complementary ones:
WCAG consists of 4 principles, 12 guidelines, and 61 success criteria. Each of the 61 checkpoints has an assigned priority level based on the checkpoints’ impact on accessibility:
|LEVEL A||LEVEL AA||LEVEL AAA|
|We must satisfy these requirements, otherwise, it will be impossible for one or more groups to access the web content.||We should satisfy these requirements, otherwise, some groups will find it difficult to access the web content.||We may satisfy these requirements, in order to make it easier for some groups to access the web content.|
If you are wondering which website is in line with WCAG Level AA you should visit GOV.UK. It is one of the best examples. This platform complies completely with the principles of accessibility and was created in accordance with the motto: “Do the hard work, so your users won’t have to”.
It is essential that WCAG 2.0 is regulated by law in many countries. In general, WCAG 2.0 standards apply to governmental websites (however, not to commercial websites, except for Australia and Norway). This page lists governmental policies related to web accessibility.
WCAG is an extremely broad subject, however, I would like to focus on the issue of responsibility. In accordance with the provisions, accessibility is a shared responsibility. When it comes to the product development, meeting requirements of accessibility should be a responsibility of the whole team. Accessibility Responsibility Breakdown shows 61 success criteria which are split into 10 production chains phases:
- Interaction Design / Usability
- Graphics Design
- Content Strategy
- Search Engine Optimization
- HTML/CSS Prototyping
- Front-End Development
- Back-End Development
- Quality Control
As you can see, a graphic designer is a part of the process. The graphic design function covers the tasks and related quality control that are normally associated with the graphic design of interfaces, related graphics declinations, the specific design of navigation elements, context changes, and other general designs of the main content of the pages.
The design phase is extremely crucial, as it touches 32 out of 61 success criteria. As many as 12 out of 32 success criteria are of level A, which represent the most basic requirements for displaying Web content.
It’s highly probable that a lot of design projects were designed excluding the disabled users. Have you ever thought about disability during your designing process at work? If not, you must start doing it now! To do so, try implementing WCAG step by step. Following level A set in the WCAG 2.0, you’ll improve the user’s experience for millions of people – it is quite motivating, isn’t it?
Here is how to do it: use WCAG 2.0 checklist for graphic designers at LEVEL A. You’ll find there the most important examples of a success criterion which you should follow. Despite the checklist, I encourage you to study the official documents as well.
We all can benefit from creating accessibility websites. First, we are able to meet the needs of people with disabilities; second, WCAG’s rules may improve the website by the:
- Greater usability – Accessibility and usability have many common principles. If a website is more accessible, it is more usable for the users.
- Lower modification’s cost – Website that was built according to the WCAG’s principles is of the highest quality and standard, hence the modification process is much simpler.
- Higher search engine rankings – Lot of WCAG’s principles are compatible with the SEO rules. When you incorporate accessibility features into your website (such as titles, headers, alt text for images), your SEO improves as well.
- Positive PR – When you promote accessibility, you can gain the loyalty and trust of the users as you represent the social responsibility.
It is essential to integrate accessibility throughout all phases of each project’s life cycle. Accessibility is a shared responsibility from the very beginning, thus you and your whole team should take care of accessibility rules from the start of a project. If you start building a website, keeping the WCAG rules in mind and taking care of the quality will help you optimize the website in an efficient way and help to make changes in the future much easier. Furthermore, it is a great start creating usability.
“Accessible design is a good design – it benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.” – Steve Ballmer, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft
So, next time you start designing a new website, try following WCAG rules. Documentations might not be user-friendly, but you can surely handle it!
Patrycja Walencik is a UX and Research Designer at Polska Press Group, speaker, and co-founder of Tipi UX meetup.