Design Accessibility Resources: A Guide
To be a successful product designer, you must understand that design accessibility is no longer an option but a fundamental requirement. Designers play a significant role in creating inclusive digital experiences that cater to a diverse audience.
In this blog article, we will explore various aspects of accessibility in design, including color, typography, WCAG, APCA, Figma plugins, and essential tools and resources.
We’ll also answer how vital accessibility is in design, touch on the ADA standard, and showcase a few examples of accessibility in websites and apps. Sit tight and keep reading!
Accessibility in design refers to the practice of creating products and digital experiences that the widest audience, including people with temporary or long-term disabilities, can use. These disabilities range from visual and auditory to motor and cognitive challenges.
A good example is people who may be blind or have low vision.
They rely on screen readers or magnification tools to access content. For them, design accessibility means they can read the text aloud effectively and get information through non-visual means.
Moreover, people with hearing impairments may be wholly or partially deaf. Accessibility in design for them involves providing alternatives to audio content, such as captions and transcripts, ensuring they can access information through text or visual means.
Some users may have cognitive disabilities that affect their ability to process information or navigate complex interfaces. Design accessibility involves simplifying content, using clear language, and minimizing distractions.
Finally, people with conditions like epilepsy may be sensitive to flashing or rapidly changing content. Accessibility requires avoiding elements that could trigger seizures or discomfort.
The ultimate objective of accessibility in design is to ensure that every individual, no matter their abilities or disabilities, can effortlessly access and engage with digital content.
There was a lawsuit regarding not having closed captions for people with hearing impairments
Why is Accessibility in Design Important?
Design accessibility is crucial for several reasons:
An accessible design ensures that your product can be used by a broader audience, including individuals with disabilities. It’s about breaking down barriers and providing equal opportunities for everyone.
2. Legal Compliance
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other regulations worldwide require digital products and services to be accessible. Non-compliance can lead to legal issues and financial penalties.
3. Better User Experience
Design accessibility often leads to better user experiences for everyone, not just those with disabilities. Improved usability can result in increased user engagement and satisfaction.
4. Positive Reputation
Committing to accessibility can enhance your brand’s reputation and show that you care about your users.
Color in Design Accessibility
Color is a powerful tool in design, but it carries a dual role: it can enhance aesthetics and user experience, yet it can also present significant challenges when it comes to accessibility.
To achieve design accessibility that adapts to individuals with varying visual abilities, you should consider the following tips when working with accessible colors:
Use High Contrast
High contrast between text and background colors is essential for ensuring readability, especially for individuals with visual impairments. Sufficient contrast allows text to stand out clearly, making it easier to read. When choosing color combinations, aim for a stark contrast, such as dark text on a light background or vice versa. Tools like color contrast checkers can help you determine whether your color choices meet accessibility standards, as WCAG outlines.
Example: Instead of using pale gray or stark black text on a white background, opt for darker shades of gray on a white background to ensure better legibility.
Supercharge tip ⚡️: To fully avoid extreme contrast that can affect users and negatively impact their experience, we highly advise not to use pure black and pure white text-and-background combinations, especially for large chunks of text (or ever 😉.)
Provide Alternative Text for Color-Coded Information
Sometimes, designers employ color to convey information, particularly in data visualization like charts, graphs, or maps. To ensure design accessibility and allow individuals who cannot perceive color to still access the information, providing alternative text or symbols is essential. These alternatives should concisely convey the same information as the colors used.
Example: In a pie chart where different colors represent different segments, include labels or patterns alongside the colors to indicate each segment’s significance. Another way would be to test your charts in grayscale. This way, color-blind users can comprehend the data without relying solely on color distinctions.
Avoid Red-Green Combinations
Red-green color combinations are problematic for individuals with the most common form of color blindness, known as red-green color blindness. To enhance design accessibility, steer clear of using these colors in conjunction. Instead, choose easily distinguishable colors like blue and yellow or black and orange.
Example: Rather than relying solely on red and green to convey status or information, use blue for “positive” and yellow for “negative” to accommodate color-blind users.
X (Twitter) has the option to change font size for tweets
Typography in Design Accessibility
Readable Typefaces and fonts
Opt for typefaces and fonts that prioritize legibility, especially in smaller sizes. Sans-serif fonts, which lack the decorative strokes often seen in serif fonts, are generally safer for digital content. They offer clarity and legibility, making them suitable for various contexts and screen sizes.
Example: Consider using typefaces like Arial, Helvetica, or Roboto for body text, as they are easy to read even in smaller sizes.
Consider Font Size and Color
Design accessibility expands to adjusting to user preferences. Allow users to change your design’s font size and color settings, enabling them to tailor the content to their specific needs. Some individuals may require larger text for readability, while others may benefit from alternative color schemes to improve contrast.
Example: Implement a feature in your app or website that allows users to customize font size and background/text color to fit their comfort and visual requirements.
Adequate Line Spacing
Line spacing, also known as line height or leading, is the vertical space between lines of text. Ensuring adequate line spacing improves readability, particularly for users with dyslexia or visual impairments. An appropriate line height prevents text from appearing cramped and makes it easier for readers to follow along.
Example: Instead of tightly packed text with minimal spacing, adjust the line height to provide enough “breathing room” between lines, enhancing overall readability.
Use of Heading Tags
Properly structuring your content with heading tags (H1, H2, H3) establishes a clear hierarchy within your text. This hierarchy in design accessibility aids users in quickly understanding the organization of your content. Screen readers and assistive technologies use these tags to navigate web pages, providing an improved user experience for those relying on such tools.
Example: Use H1 for primary headings, H2 for subheadings, and H3 for subsections to create a logical and hierarchical structure for your content.
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are globally recognized standards for making web content more accessible.
These website design accessibility guidelines cover various topics, including text alternatives, keyboard accessibility, and more. Following WCAG guidelines is essential for creating accessible digital experiences.
APCA (Accessible Platform Architectures)
Accessible Platform Architectures (APCA) is a framework that focuses on making platforms and ecosystems more accessible. It addresses the accessibility of platforms, such as operating systems and browsers, and their impact on the overall accessibility of digital products.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
In the context of digital design, the ADA mandates that websites and applications must be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes making content perceivable, operable, and understandable for all users.
Figma Plugins for Design Accessibility
Figma, a popular design tool, offers various plugins that can assist designers in ensuring design accessibility. Plugins like A11y and Stark can help check for color contrast, generate alternative text for images, and provide other accessibility-related features.
The A11y plugin is a versatile tool that streamlines the accessibility-checking process. It offers features such as color contrast checking, which ensures text remains readable against background colors, a vital aspect of accessibility. This tool helps designers identify and correct color combinations that may pose readability issues for users with visual impairments.
The A11y plugin can generate alternative text for images and make visual content accessible to screen reader users. It prompts designers to provide descriptive alt text, ensuring that images communicate their intended meaning to all users, regardless of their visual abilities.
The Stark plugin addresses color-related accessibility concerns in design accessibility. It assists designers in evaluating and improving the color choices in their designs. Stark offers real-time color contrast checking, helping designers make informed decisions about text and background color combinations to meet accessibility standards.
Moreover, Stark includes tools for simulating various types of color blindness, allowing designers to view their designs from the perspective of users with color vision deficiencies. This simulation helps find problems and makes more people see essential information.
Tools and Resources for Design Accessibility
Here are some essential tools and resources for designers interested in enhancing design accessibility:
WAVE is a web accessibility evaluation tool that helps identify accessibility issues on web pages.
Axe is an open-source accessibility testing tool that integrates with various development environments.
3. Contrast Grid
Contrast Grid is a web-based tool for evaluating and improving color contrast in digital design to enhance accessibility.
4. Color Contrast Checkers
Tools like WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker help ensure text and background color combinations meet accessibility standards.
Color.review is a web tool for assessing the accessibility and contrast of color combinations in design.
6. Inclusive Design Principles
Explore Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Toolkit for practical guidance on creating inclusive products.
7. VoiceOver (iOS) and TalkBack (Android)
These screen readers allow designers to test the accessibility of their mobile apps.
8. User Testing
Conduct usability testing with individuals who have disabilities to gather valuable feedback.
Examples of Real-life Design Accessibility
Let’s review some real-life examples of how design accessibility makes life easier for numerous users, especially those with various impairments.
Apple’s commitment to accessibility is evident in its products. Features like VoiceOver, Magnifier, and Switch Control make iPhones and Macs accessible to many users.
YouTube offers automatic captioning and encourages content creators to provide accurate video captions. This feature benefits not only individuals with hearing impairments but also non-native speakers and anyone in a noisy environment where the audio may not be clear.
Platforms like Facebook have implemented accessibility features like image descriptions. Users can add captions to images they upload, making visual content accessible to screen readers.
E-book readers like Kindle and Apple Books have design accessibility features that enable text-to-speech, adjustable font sizes, and customizable backgrounds and text colors for users with visual impairments or reading difficulties.
📍 Google Maps
GPS and navigation apps like Google Maps provide audio directions and have accessibility settings for users with visual impairments, ensuring they can navigate confidently.
Design accessibility is not just a trend; it’s an imperative. Designers like you have the power to create digital experiences that are inclusive and welcoming to all users. By following guidelines such as WCAG, considering color and typography, and leveraging tools like Figma plugins, we can make design accessibility a standard practice and create enjoyable and smooth online experiences for everyone.
Explore the resources we mentioned in this article, stay updated with the latest guidelines, and always keep the needs of diverse users in mind, and we’re sure you’ll grow both as a designer and a person.
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