Accounting for Web Accessibility During the Design Process

May 31, 2016
Matthew Smith

Web accessibility isn't just a one-time fix or a box you can check off a list of requirements. C2 UX Designer Matt Smith writes that ensuring inclusive web experiences must start early in the process for any project, beginning with design.

UX & Design

Editor’s Note: Since this article was published, The C2 Group has created role-specific checklists for content creators, graphic designers, and web developers. You can download all three checklists here.

Website accessibility is often viewed as a process item, something to check off a list, inserted as a one-time step that’s often only implemented during the development stage.

But simply adhering to the Section 508 Standards list doesn’t make your site accessible. To really provide an inclusive web experience, accessibility should be considered throughout the whole process, starting with design.

Designing with accessibility in mind should be a point of focus from the beginning of any project. Usability takes into account designing for the experiences of the target audiences and designing for accessibility is a very similar exercise. It means taking note of user interactions and being more inclusive when defining your use cases or user stories. By approaching accessibility from the start, you can avoid making an about-face and having to readdress unanswered questions that can limit scope increases.

When creating information architecture documents, user flows, and wireframes it should be done with accessibility in mind…not just your primary and secondary audiences. Items like contrast, keyboard navigation, browser focus, and screen readers should all be added to your use case list. If you perform usability testing, make sure to account for users with and without disabilities so you can effectively gain understanding of how a variety of users are interacting with your site.

All your users need the ability to experience your site the way you intended. In other words, it's important to make sure you are communicating your message effectively. Creating calls to action that are difficult to read, rely on color to communicate your intentions, or that do not make forms and modal windows accessible can all lead to missed conversions.

It’s important that valuable information can be understood by different users in different ways. Enable your audience by considering the myriad of ways they will interact with your product. An accessibility checklist is a helpful tool as a starting point, but the best solution is to make accessibility part of your whole process – beginning with design and continuing after launch.