We live in a day and age where technology is growing and developing rapidly and with it the field of Interaction Design. Human Computer Interaction has become a part of our everyday lives. It has become something that users experience, rather than it simply being a process of input and output to achieve a goal.
The interaction process relies heavily on the user’s ability(ies) to use their senses and mobility to, firstly communicate with the system through some sort of input, and secondly to interpret the feedback the system provides through visual, auditory or even haptic feedback. But what happens when one or more of the user’s senses or mobility is altered or does not work?
Most studies show that 20% of the population has some kind of disability. This is a significant portion of the population that may find it hard or even impossible to use or experience a digital artifact, if accessibility was not taken into consideration when designing and implementing the artifact.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility refers to the design of products, services, devices, etc. for people with disabilities or special needs. The concept of accessible design ensures that people with disabilities have both direct access (unassisted) and indirect access (through assistive technologies) to a product, service, device, etc. Applying accessibility to digital artifacts have to also benefit people without disabilities, because for the most part, they will make out the majority of your main target users. Accessibility should not be confused with usability which simply refers to the extent to which a product can be used by specific users to achieve a specific goal. Rather accessibility is closely related to universal design.
Not just colourblind users!!!
What is universal design?
In a nutshell universal design refers to the process of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities and operating within the widest possible range of situations. It consists of seven principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use. This framework was created by Ron Mace that can guide you through designing and implementing a design intelligently with accessibility in mind. Sometimes only a few of these principals will be relevant to a specific product or design, but they help to create a foundation to start designing with accessibility in mind right from the start. What follows is an overview of just a few principles I feel is most important (all of the principals and how to guides was extracted from an article posted by the Interactive Design Foundation, go and check out the full article).
Flexibility in use
This will ensure the product will be flexible enough to accommodate for a user’s preference and abilities. It encourages flexible, adaptive or customisable design so that a user can choose how they want to use the product. Copy and how you phrase these choices will be key in determining if the user will feel free and in control, or if they will feel like they HAVE to choose an option just because they have a disability which will make them feel like they have no choice at all.
Here is how:
- Provide choice in methods of use.
- Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
- Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
- Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.
Simple and intuitive use
This is also one of the core goals of user experience design. It aims to reduce complexity and mental or cognitive loads. According to cognitive load theory, the human brain can only handle 3-9 items in a short amount of time when processing information. So it is important not to overwhelm the user with an information overload.
- Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
- Be consistent with user expectations and intuition
- Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
- Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
Size and space for approach and use
As digital designers and developers we are prone to only think about what is on the screen, but it is important to also think outside of the screen and consider the users’ environments. Especially since the rise of mobile and especially when considering disabled users. It is important to ensure appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, mobility or posture.
Here is how:
- Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
- Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
- Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
- Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.
Development with accessibility in mind
Laws and standards
In many countries designing for accessibility is a legal obligation. The Americans with disabilities act, has laws that prohibits the discrimination against people with disabilities not just in a physical space but in a digital space as well. The same goes for legislations throughout the EU. The Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as put together by W3C has very detailed guidelines that form the basis of most web accessibility laws in the world.
So, creating accessible products can be quite challenging. Instead of just considering target users you consider all users including the ones with disabilities. Instead of just considering the digital space you have to look at the physical environment your users are using the product AND what assistive technologies will be used to access and navigate the product. But keeping accessibility in mind will in the long run be worth it. It will not only make the product easy to use by people with disabilities but everyone who interacts with it. The key is to plan, design and develop with accessibility in mind right from the very start. Your users will thank you in the long run.