Why accessibility is good for all your users

Posted by Lucy Collins on Nov 2, 2020 4:04:00 PM
Lucy Collins

Over 1 in 5 potential UK consumers have a disability with about 73% having experienced barriers on more than a quarter of websites they visited.

By addressing this accessibility issue, not only will you open up digital services to users with disabilities, you will likely improve the experience of all your users.

In many cases, disabled users shine a spotlight on issues that all users are likely to experience but might otherwise be hard to spot. 

Here are some common ways accessibility good practice can have a positive impact on the wider community…

Good colour contrast

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 specify that text on a website must have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. For larger text that ratio is 3:1.

This is primarily to support users with low vision who may struggle to perceive colours.

However, if you’ve ever tried using your phone in bright sunshine or reading your computer screen when the sun is shining right on it, you’ll know how frustrating it can be when the contrast is low.

While this might not be a problem we regularly experience in the UK, in many countries and for many users, being outside all day in the bright sunshine is a reality that can make some websites really hard work to use.

Stick to the recommended colour contrast requirements at an absolute minimum and wherever possible choose even higher ratios, especially for important text. 

Not relying on colour

It is estimated that there are 3 million colour blind people in the UK. If you communicate information using just colour, for example a warning in red text or different types of locations on a map, these users may be unable to tell the difference.

This can also affect users with low vision who may have trouble perceiving colour or users with learning difficulties who may not understand the significance of the colour.

Relying on colour is not just an issue for users with disabilities, however. Some colours do not have the same meanings in all cultures. In the UK, for example, red is the colour of warning or danger. In China, it is the colour happiness, good fortune, luck and prosperity. Without additional context, these colours may be misinterpreted and the meaning lost.

If using colour, always provide any additional visual means to distinguish the information communicated by the colour. For example, our red warning text should be placed next to an exclamation mark or hazard triangle to convey the importance of the content.

Making touch points a decent size

Small screens pose an issue for many users. Those with disabilities that impair their fine motor control can find it very difficult to activate minute touchpoints (buttons, links etc.) effectively.

But these tiny touchpoints are also an issue for those of us with large fingers, older users with poor eyesight or when we’re using our phone on the move.

Many of us are also walking around with crack phone screens. In the US, it is estimated 34% of users never fix these cracked phone screens. Small touchpoints can be especially hard to spot and use if your screen is a mess of cracks and chips so increasing their size has the knock on advantage of helping the clumsy ones amongst us.

WCAG 2.1 requires target points have a minimum size of 44 by 44 CSS pixels, although it is always recommended to adopt the largest target size possible especially for components that get regular use or the results of clicking on them cannot be easily undone.

Inclusive design is a great idea. Not only does it ensure your digital service is accessible to disabled people, it also improves the experience offered to all your users, in any environment they might find themselves. Follow the WCAG 2.1 guidelines and test with users from all walks of life and in order to reap the benefits of building a service that works for everyone.

Read more about design with global accessibility in mind from Google’s next billion users project.

More on accessibility

Website accessibility: guidance and the law

Digital exclusion and online accessibility

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