Heading Towards Great UX with Accessibility and Usability

by Wendy Yulianto, Senior UI Designer at Mitrais

8 years ago a grassroots, cross-discipline and creative conference was created by a group of designers from Columbus and ever since this event has become the ultimate go-to convention for people to share innovative ideas. At the Midwest UX, regional professions are provided with the opportunity to interact and conduct discussions with other professionals. Amber Wilks and Dr. Becca Green had caught the attention of the Midwest UX when they presented their work by adding examples to show specifically how accessibility impacts our solutions that are utilized by the consumer market. Each topic illustrated how UX and development go hand in hand to achieve an accessible software solution. It also demonstrates the importance of constructing equally remarkable experiences for all users.

According to Wilks and Green, there are three myths of accessibility:

1. The first myth explained was that project teams regard accessibility as an obstacle they must overcome to achieve accessible software. In reality, it is simply a mixture of legislation and regulation with the goal of eliminating barriers in technologies for people with disabilities. In the U.S there are two main forms of standards used to describe accessible content according to Section 508 and W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The difference between these two forms, despite their similar purposes, is that they have a different approach towards technology, the organizations of the guidelines and their application. However, these don’t make up the whole picture, rather just a small part of legislation and regulation that form accessibility.

2. The next myth concerned the assumption that accessibility is merely about screen readers and alt tags. The truth is, screen readers only make up a small subset of assistive technologies. People with low-vision or those who are blind are only a small part of all U.S citizens with disabilities. For every type of disability, there are a variety of assistive technologies.

3. The last myth specifically explained the relation of accessibility of all workers in their specified job industries. In this point, the myth says that most workers aren’t disabled as they are capable of completing tasks, so accessibility is not regarded as a priority for users. In reality, these people are not immune to disabilities. For example, Colour (color) blindness (colour vision deficiency, or CVD) affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world.

As the guidelines for accessibility have developed, the organizations of these guidelines now have evolved to the point where they can be divided into 4 tenant principles, which are: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Firstly, Users need to be able to perceive information and UI components, and there are certain ways to achieve that.  This means, information has to be visible. Distinguishing information and making alternative forms of content available to users is one way to do it. The foundations of information involve color math and text zoom, which will guide as a way to make it distinguishable. Two mathematical calculations can be applied to create distinguishable information and to make sure that both are legible and discernible. How do we know the content is legible? There are certain color contrast guidelines from the WCAG’s (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). These guidelines include Guideline 1.4.3, which shows that “the visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.”

To find out whether your information is legible or not, you can use the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker that is recommended by the WCAG. You only have to input your text, or foreground, background or color and you can find out to what level you match with the contrast guidelines.

The next calculation makes sure that users can perceive changes in the content. Even though this calculation does not fall under the accessibility guidelines, we can control the calculation to use as a baseline metric for interaction indications (i.e., hovers, click states, icons, etc.). Viewing the numerical value, which starts at 0, the calculations begin when the number increases, as the difference between to colors will increase as well.  It is recommended to use a minimum value of 3.5, where you can see an obvious difference.

Distinguishable content also allows you to use text zooming. 8.1 million people suffered from vision disability in the U.S. 4 years ago, a survey was conducted by WebAIM which was directed at users with low vision. The result was that the accessible technologies utilized by them involved some form of text resizing. The zooming of text is done to scale text up and down while maintaining the layout and screen formatting. You can perceive a text zoom as successful when you are able to resize the content up to 200% and what you see on the screen is that everything is scaled uniformly. Scroll bars are also available in case they are needed.

Furthermore, moving on to the second way of providing perceivable content, is to make sure to create content that supports all senses. For example, a video might require a paired audio supplement and an audio file might need a written transcript.  However, people with vision disabilities only make up a small part of the population. The people with hearing disabilities have a bigger percentage of the population and have a better chance of employment. People would rather need supplemental text than a screen reader in this case.

Captioning is one of the most common ways to make alternative content available to users. It involves important sound effects along with the transcription of speech. However, this is not the same as creating subtitles. Creating subtitles is merely a written translation a dialogue.

The components of UI and navigation need to be operable. Which means that users need to be able to perform an interaction that is required by the UI. People with disabilities usually turn to the most assistive technologies that imitate the functions of a keyboard. In other words, if navigation through the keyboard is possible then you can access it. The aspect of Operability is to give the user control by using controls to pause, stop, blink, and hide moving, and scrolling content.

The user interface in terms of information and operation needs to be understandable. This means to say that the user itself has to understand the content and operation. There are various of ways that users consume content. There needs to be flexibility in accommodating all of the different ways user do access information. Thus, it is essential to make sure that content is accommodated in a structured framework in order to facilitate navigation.

It is important that the content is robust, since it needs to be interpreted reliably by a wide range of user agents. This means that a user must have access to the content as technologies evolve. The landscape of accessibility changes as the technologies of assistive devices advance. To keep up with the constantly new technologies one can be easily prepared for the future by still following basic actions. For example, writing a valid code, optimizing navigation, sticking to standards and staying away from known threats.

The significance of creating an equally amazing experience for everyone is the concept of Universal Design, which is constructing buildings, products, and services with the aim of providing access, understanding and utilization by all people. It is one thing that speaks for all, meaning it is an inclusive approach to design. Designing for an average individual is not really designing for anyone. People are unique and require different needs. The aim of this talk was to encourage people not to regard accessibility as flat, “one for all” solution but rather as a multilayered, configurable solution. It’s all about our environment and the users within it, which goes beyond what is merely to be seen on the screen.


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