Designing For Accessibility And Inclusion
The more inclusive you are to the needs of your users, the more accessible your design is. Let’s take a closer look at the different lenses of accessibility through which you can refine your designs.
By Steven Lambert
“Accessibility is solved at the design stage.” This is a phrase that Daniel Na and his team heard over and over again while attending a conference. To design for accessibility means to be inclusive to the needs of your users. This includes your target users, users outside of your target demographic, users with disabilities, and even users from different cultures and countries. Understanding those needs is the key to crafting better and more accessible experiences for them.
One of the most common problems when designing for accessibility is knowing what needs you should design for. It’s not that we intentionally design to exclude users, it’s just that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” So, when it comes to accessibility, there’s a lot to know.
How do we go about understanding the myriad of users and their needs? How can we ensure that their needs are met in our design? To answer these questions, I have found that it is helpful to apply a critical analysis technique of viewing a design through different lenses.
“Good [accessible] design happens when you view your [design] from many different perspectives, or lenses.”
A lens is “a narrowed filter through which a topic can be considered or examined.” Often used to examine works of art, literature, or film, lenses ask us to leave behind our worldview and instead view the world through a different context.
For example, viewing art through a lens of history asks us to understand the “social, political, economic, cultural, and/or intellectual climate of the time.” This allows us to better understand what world influences affected the artist and how that shaped the artwork and its message.
Accessibility lenses are a filter that we can use to understand how different aspects of the design affect the needs of the users. Each lens presents a set of questions to ask yourself throughout the design process. By using these lenses, you will become more inclusive to the needs of your users, allowing you to design a more accessible user experience for all.
The Lenses of Accessibility are:
- Lens of Animation and Effects
- Lens of Audio and Video
- Lens of Color
- Lens of Controls
- Lens of Font
- Lens of Images and Icons
- Lens of Keyboard
- Lens of Layout
- Lens of Material Honesty
- Lens of Readability
- Lens of Structure
- Lens of Time
You should know that not every lens will apply to every design. While some can apply to every design, others are more situational. What works best in one design may not work for another.
The questions provided by each lens are merely a tool to help you understand what problems may arise. As always, you should test your design with users to ensure it’s usable and accessible to them.
Lens Of Animation And Effects
Effective animations can help bring a page and brand to life, guide the users focus, and help orient a user. But animations are a double-edged sword. Not only can misusing animations cause confusion or be distracting, but they can also be potentially deadly for some users.
Fast flashing effects (defined as flashing more than three times a second) or high-intensity effects and patterns can cause seizures, known as ‘photosensitive epilepsy.’ Photosensitivity can also cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Users with photosensitive epilepsy have to be very careful when using the web as they never know when something might cause a seizure.
Other effects, such as parallax or motion effects, can cause some users to feel dizzy or experience vertigo due to vestibular sensitivity. The vestibular system controls a person’s balance and sense of motion. When this system doesn’t function as it should, it causes dizziness and nausea.
“Imagine a world where your internal gyroscope is not working properly. Very similar to being intoxicated, things seem to move of their own accord, your feet never quite seem to be stable underneath you, and your senses are moving faster or slower than your body.”
Constant animations or motion can also be distracting to users, especially to users who have difficulty concentrating. GIFs are notably problematic as our eyes are drawn towards movement, making it easy to be distracted by anything that updates or moves constantly.
This isn’t to say that animation is bad and you shouldn’t use it. Instead you should understand why you’re using the animation and how to design safer animations. Generally speaking, you should try to design animations that cover small distances, match direction and speed of other moving objects (including scroll), and are relatively small to the screen size.
You should also provide controls or options to cater the experience for the user. For example, Slack lets you hide animated images or emojis as both a global setting and on a per image basis.
To use the Lens of Animation and Effects, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there any effects that could cause a seizure?
- Are there any animations or effects that could cause dizziness or vertigo through use of motion?
- Are there any animations that could be distracting by constantly moving, blinking, or auto-updating?
- Is it possible to provide controls or options to stop, pause, hide, or change the frequency of any animations or effects?
Lens Of Audio And Video
Autoplaying videos and audio can be pretty annoying. Not only do they break a users concentration, but they also force the user to hunt down the offending media and mute or stop it. As a general rule, don’t autoplay media.
“Use autoplay sparingly. Autoplay can be a powerful engagement tool, but it can also annoy users if undesired sound is played or they perceive unnecessary resource usage (e.g. data, battery) as the result of unwanted video playback.”
You’re now probably asking, “But what if I autoplay the video in the background but keep it muted?” While using videos as backgrounds may be a growing trend in today’s web design, background videos suffer from the same problems as GIFs and constant moving animations: they can be distracting. As such, you should provide controls or options to pause or disable the video.
Along with controls, videos should have transcripts and/or subtitles so users can consume the content in a way that works best for them. Users who are visually impaired or who would rather read instead of watch the video need a transcript, while users who aren’t able to or don’t want to listen to the video need subtitles.
To use the Lens of Audio and Video, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there any audio or video that could be annoying by autoplaying?
- Is it possible to provide controls to stop, pause, or hide any audio or videos that autoplay?
- Do videos have transcripts and/or subtitles?
Lens Of Color
Color plays an important part in a design. Colors evoke emotions, feelings, and ideas. Colors can also help strengthen a brand’s message and perception. Yet the power of colors is lost when a user can’t see them or perceives them differently.
Color blindness affects roughly 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. Deuteranopia (red-green color blindness) is the most common form of color blindness, affecting about 6% of men. Users with red-green color blindness typically perceive reds, greens, and oranges as yellowish.
See Color Blindness Reference Chart above.
Color meaning is also problematic for international users. Colors mean different things in different countries and cultures. In Western cultures, red is typically used to represent negative trends and green positive trends, but the opposite is true in Eastern and Asian cultures.
Because colors and their meanings can be lost either through cultural differences or color blindness, you should always add a non-color identifier. Identifiers such as icons or text descriptions can help bridge cultural differences while patterns work well to distinguish between colors.
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