Accessibility: universality not disability

Posted by Lucy Collins on Apr 13, 2021 1:50:21 PM
Lucy Collins

Accessibility is about universality, not disability. It is about making sure as many people as possible, no matter their physical location or ability, can access your content.

While improving the accessibility of your digital service will certainly have a positive impact for users with disabilities, it is not where the impact stops.

In the UK, there are currently 11.2 million people with a registered disability.

But there are countless more millions who may struggle to use a website that are not represented in this number.

These might be people with a short-term injury, such as a broken arm in a cast or repetitive strain injury, who might struggle with the fine motor control required to use a mouse.

Or people with age-related issues, such as deteriorating eyesight, who may have trouble reading small print or seeing text with poor colour contrast.

Or people for whom English is not their first language, who may struggle to understand complex or wordy text.

Or even someone sat in front of a brightly lit window with the sun shining on their computer screen who may have difficulty seeing website content that uses faint colour.

While some aspects of accessibility and the WCAG guidelines relate specifically to how assistive technologies interact with web pages (e.g. making sure form fields are programmatically labelled so they are announced correctly by a screen reader), many of the guidelines have a much broader impact.

Accessibility for everyone

For those interested in creating an inclusive online environment that works for everyone you may want to consider the following key points:

Avoid tiny touch points:

Small buttons and tiny checkboxes can be frustrating for many users. On desktop, they require fine motor control skills to activate them using a mouse. On mobile, anyone with large fingers or issues with dexterity can find it difficult to tap exactly where they need to. Buttons should be big and the space around them free of anything that could be activated by accident.

Pick clear and bold colours:

Poor colour contrast is one of the most common accessibility issues we see. And it is so easy to fix! By checking the contrast of colours before they make it onto your site it is very easy to eliminate colour combinations that do not work. This will not only help users with visual impairments but anyone who struggles to perceive colour or those using their digital device in an environment that makes it difficult to see the screen.

Write in plain English:

In the UK, the average reading age of the adult population is that of a 9 year old. We also have a wonderfully diverse population with many people whose first language is not English. Overly wordy and jargon heavy content can make your website inaccessible to many. Sentences should be kept short, information frontloaded, and the content should be genuinely useful to users. If in doubt, refer to Gov.uk and their advice on ‘writing well for the web.

Avoid PDFs:

PDFs are inherently less accessible than web pages (we’ve written before about why we are not big PDF fans). They are also not mobile friendly and often out of date. If the content can be put on a web page it should be, and PDFs should only be used when there is no other option.

We’ve spoken before about why accessibility is good for all your users and will continue to bang the universality drum. Accessibility should not just be a box you check to comply with government standards but an ingrained part of digital service development. As discussed, the positive impact of this inclusive approach will help a lot more of your users than you might have initially realised.

Read more:

Usability testing with disabled users

Who is responsible for accessibility?

Website accessibility

Topics: Accessibility

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