Most of us chose user experience roles because we want to put the user first in the products and services that we build. Whether that’s designing a new interface, creating an online learning course, or explaining complex technical concepts to laypeople, we all want to ensure our work makes the lives of our users easier.

That’s why accessibility is so essential when we think about serving users. To help, we’ve put together a brief guide on how to begin incorporating accessibility into your workflow. 

What is accessibility?

Accessibility refers to the practice of designing products and services so that they can be used by many different types of users, regardless of their abilities. For example, this means building digital products that can be accessed through a screen reader for vision-impaired users, can be easily navigated by people with learning difficulties, and can include captions and other resources for hearing-impaired visitors. 

Why does accessibility matter?

More than 60 million American adults live with disabilities that could make accessing digital products or services challenging. These include disabilities related to their vision, hearing, mobility, and learning. But accessibility doesn’t refer only to individuals with disabilities. As the Interaction Design Foundation notes, accessible products and services can also help individuals who are sleep-deprived, unable to access full Internet connectivity, or are distracted. Sooner or later, all of us will benefit from accessible design. 

How can teams build accessibility into their workflow?

While accessibility is critical in making products and services more useful for more people, teams can sometimes consider accessible design as an afterthought. This means that accessible features are often only included in a product or service when they are a mandatory requirement. 

To avoid this, build accessibility into your team’s workflow by designing an accessibility strategy. An accessibility strategy is a series of steps that your team can take with every project to ensure that the needs of many different users are considered and accommodated. 

What should be included in an accessibility strategy?

An accessibility strategy should take into account some of the following questions and milestones. There will likely be more—and different—questions depending on the type of product or service you’re designing, but these are a good starting point. Answering these questions at each phase of the design and development process can help incorporate accessible perspectives into your approach. 

Product/Service Planning 

  • Does the framework we’re building with include any accessibility features? If not, can we use a framework that does?
  • Do our user personas include people with disabilities?
  • Do our use cases take into account the actions that a person with disabilities might take to accomplish a task?

Product/Service Design

  • Have we designed with visually-impaired/hearing-impaired/mobility-impaired users in mind?
  • If our product is HTML-based, does it meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  • Does our design library include elements that have been designed to be accessible (for example,  color schemes or shapes)? 

Product/Service Testing

  • Have we tested our product or service with screen readers for visually-impaired users?
  • Have we tested our product or service among users with mobility impairments?
  • Is our user flow understandable for users with limited experience using technology?
  • Is our user flow understandable for users with intellectual/learning disabilities?

Product/Service Use 

  • Does all video-based content include captions for hearing-impaired users?
  • Can our digital product or service be used without a keyboard or mouse (such as smartphone apps)? If so, have we tested it with mobility-impaired users?
  • Have we conducted an accessibility audit of our finished product? 

There’s much more to explore in the world of accessible design, so these questions are just a start to prompt the development of a far-reaching strategy. Two excellent resources to learn more are the Web Accessibility Toolkit and Inclusive Design Principles.

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