Everyone knows the experience of using a horribly designed website. It may be hard to read, the pictures won’t load, navigating through different pages is a headache, it’s too hard to use. So you leave and find a better website — navigating a poorly performing site is not worth the effort. While it is frustrating, for most of us this is a rare experience. For others, however, it’s a disappointing constant. Websites lacking accessibility can make everyday activities harder for those living with disabilities. So it is the responsibility of companies and designers to make their websites more accessible. Universal Design guidelines ensure everyone is able to experience your website as intended. Not following them could lead to a lot of frustration, meaning you could be losing customers. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘a little compassion goes a long way,” so why not apply it to your audience too?
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Most companies are aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA does not have specific rules when it comes to websites and apps. It does require that everyone can enjoy meaningful access and equal use of your website. The Department of Justice considers the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 level AA the standard for accessible websites. But these guidelines are the minimum. Companies can do more to enhance their customers’ experience and appeal to a wider audience.
From Accessible to Universal
There are many features of accessible web design, each with its own benefits. Each falls under the umbrella of “Universal Design.” Ronald Mace, along with a team of architects, product designers, and engineers coined the term Universal Design. Mace stated, “Universal design is a design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
The idea was that the standard of design should go beyond the requirements of the ADA. The goal, to the greatest extent possible, is “[s]omething that’s universally designed will work for as many people as possible, regardless of struggles with upper-body movement, strength, and/or sensation, lower body movement strength, and/or sensation, balance, vision, hearing, cognition and memory, activity tolerances, speech and/or communication, chemical sensitivities, sensory tolerance, needs for caregiver assistance, and extremes in height and weight.” The presence of accessibility features creates a divide between those who need them and those that do not. According to Accessible University, “Universal Design removes this separation and provides an environment that all people can use freely and without barriers.”
The Seven Principles of Universal Design
North Carolina State University published the Universal Design Handbook in 1997. Molly Follette Story is the author of the Principles of Universal Design. Universal Design wasn’t created with web design in mind. But it’s possible to achieve this by following the Seven Principles of Universal Design.
Equitable Use means the design is useful to people with diverse abilities. It recommends providing all users the same means of use. When a design cannot be identically used, provide an equivalent use. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users to make the design appealing to all. In web design, you can ensure your page is visible to all by following ADA contrast guidelines. It is also best practice to include alt text for images and captions for videos.
Provide Flexibility in Use
Provide Flexibility in Use by accommodating a range of users’ preferences and abilities. Allow the user to adapt the design in a way that works for them. This can mean centering buttons on mobile designs to allow equal access for right- and left-handed users. Websites like Accessible Brand Colors ensure you are providing the correct text size and color options, creating a wider range of legibility.
Simple and Intuitive Use
Simple and Intuitive Use ensures the design is easy for everyone to understand. Eliminate unnecessary complexity to accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills. For example, designing with a consistent text hierarchy across your website. Uniformity allows the user to quickly locate the most important information. You can easily make a well-structured hierarchy with Type Scale.
Perceptible Information means communicating necessary information effectively to the user. Avoid overwhelming your user with a wall of text. Instead, use images, charts, or graphs to reiterate information visually. Guarantee key info isn’t skipped over or missed by making it stand out.
Tolerance for Error
Tolerance for Error minimizes adverse consequences of accidents or unintended actions. When designing, include confirmation prompts to prevent users from making errors. It is also best practice to make CTA’s stand out —do so by making buttons clear and avoiding confusing colors.
Low Physical Effort
Low Physical Effort means the design is efficient and comfortable causing minimal fatigue. While this may seem unrelated to web design, you can try to reduce users’ physical and mental fatigue. Ensure your design has clear navigation and the menu is easy to find. As mentioned in earlier steps, make key information and buttons clear and easy to locate. These steps will allow the user to find what they need in an efficient manner.
Size and Space for Approach and Use
Size and Space for Approach and Use ensure ease of approach and use regardless of the user’s mobility. This is another principle intended for physical design, however, it can apply to web design as well. One of the easiest ways to ensure ease of use is by making large, clear buttons. Especially on mobile, this helps users with less dexterity. Providing ample negative space also allows users to avoid unwanted actions.
People tend to view accessibility measures as a hassle. Instead, they should consider the benefit to their friends, elderly parents, even themselves. Universal design ensures that people can access communities with little or no barriers. Incorporating universal design allows your company to appeal to a larger audience. A wider range of people will be able to equally experience your website and become a part of your community. Consider the benefits of adding these features to your website. You can start by making sure your company’s color palette meets ADA standards.
If you’re looking to make your website for ADA compliant, check out our website development services at Go Fish Digital.
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