Practical Solutions for Accessible Web Design

When it comes to making your site accessible, starting at the beginning is always best. While outstanding issues can always be remedied at some point in the future, all organizations should consider baking accessibility into their sites’ design processes from the onset.

Keep accessibility in mind

Next time your site is due for a redesign, keep accessibility in mind. By making it a central priority of your site, you’re both expanding your site’s reach and establishing best practices for future design iterations. Even if your next site refresh is a long way off, you can still start to adopt this mentality. With each new project or campaign, take the time to weave accessibility into your workflow. 

Not sure how to do this? Have no fear.  If you’re looking for a crash course, here are a few simple accessibility fixes that you can apply to your site at any time. Otherwise, the key to developing an accessibility-focused mindset is to have an open mind. At this year’s MidCamp, a Drupal community meetup held in Chicago, several speakers devoted their sessions to identifying common website accessibility areas of concern.

One of the first accessibility lessons at MidCamp came from SPR UX consultant Liz Davis, who implored attendees to “admit that you don’t know anything.” Doing this will help you get outside of your current mindset, allowing you to reconsider common site functions from a different perspective. Davis recommends this approach due to how many ill-conceived gestures at accessibility she’s seen in the past. “When a company talks about being inclusive, I’m apprehensive. They can miss the mark,” Davis said. “Empathy is better than sympathy.”

With an open mind, you can move on to Davis’ next suggestion: reach out to people actually affected by inaccessible design. Whether by connecting with groups at existing organizations and online or by directly contacting individuals, working with users with disabilities will help you see exactly why certain accessibility features are so vital for everyday use.

Reduce barriers

Another MidCamp session demonstrates the value of this line of thinking. For her session, Devbridge Group product designer Michellanne Li took an in-depth look at one of the most common conversion tools on the web: the sign-up form. Specifically, she took her audience through the process of filling out a standard sign-up form and pointing out where there were accessibility issues. As you can imagine, the form left room for improvement.

“Designers can have a big impact on accessibility by focusing on standard processes,” Li said.

Many of the lessons learned from Li’s presentation have applicability outside of sign-up forms. For example, Li pointed out that form fields should be easy for users to tab through using their keyboard, without the use of a mouse. This philosophy of reducing barriers for users is Li’s main takeaway. She also suggested that form fields should always be labeled, error messages should appear dynamically, and icons need to be easily visually identifiable.

These fixes require organizations and their designers to be diligent but also offer an opportunity to think outside the box. Rather than see accessibility as a chore, Li argued that it can be an opportunity for site builders.

“We can try new things as designers while still looking toward users and making sure we’re actually serving them,” Li said.

With the right attitude and the willingness to commit, every organization can create an accessible platform that meets every user’s needs. Even with practical steps and low-hanging-fruit solutions, though, all sites will continue to have accessibility needs. Duo can help you identify beneath-the-surface accessibility issues and work with your team to develop best practices. Whether you’re just starting to think about it or if you’re not sure where to go next, it’s never a bad time to start thinking about accessibility.

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