Accessible design: why it’s important and how can you embrace it

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Picture more than 1 billion people around the world trying to use apps or explore websites without being able to fully do so. That’s what happens when a website or an app isn’t accessible to everyone. There are around 1 and 1.3 billion people with disabilities worldwide. Disabilities sometimes are developed from birth but other times come with aging or due to accidental or health-related incidents. In order to make your product useful for each and every user, you have to make sure its design is accessible from the beginning.

An accessible design must consider the different user personas and their specific needs. Here we’ll check out what’s accessible design about, how to embrace it in your product, why it’s important to do so, and the differences between an accessible design and inclusive design.


The core of it all: your user persona

When thinking about your product’s UX design, you have to think about your user persona. Here’s the deal, in order to make your product accessible to everyone, you have to understand what kind of disabilities a person can have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that a person can have difficulties with: 

  • Vision (e.g., color blindness)
  • Movement
  • Thinking
  • Remembering
  • Learning (e.g., dyslexia)
  • Communicating
  • Hearing 
  • Mental health 
  • Social relationships

We can add to them: incidental issues (e.g., sleep deprivation), risk of seizures (this is very important in the case of users with photosensitive epilepsy), and mobility impairments (e.g., wheelchair-user concerns).

With the type of disability on the table, maybe it’s clearer why truly understanding how you can solve their needs is key to developing products that address all accessibility concerns. What makes a website or an app accessible? Well, you have to keep in mind some website and app elements such as image captions, color contrast, and fonts. We’ll explore how you can make your product accessible later in this article.


Inclusive design vs. accessible design

Let’s keep it simple: inclusive design is connected to accessibility. More specifically, it’s a methodology that helps you approach design in a way that supports you to build a design that fits into a diverse group of people's needs. When you approach the design process inclusively, you’ll provide a user-friendly experience for everyone, because you’ll be understanding that the choices that are made in that process affect how users, no matter their abilities, interact with your product.

This sounds pretty familiar to accessibility, doesn’t it? But an accessible design is the outcome or end result of the design project, this means that we talk about a product that is designed with accessibility in mind. It follows certain guidelines: for example, it can follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), published by the World Wide Web Consortium. The point is that an accessible design as an outcome must take into account that people with disabilities can access digital products with ease. 

Long story short: accessible design is about outcomes and inclusive design is focused on processes. They’re connected because in order to create an accessible digital product your approach to design should be inclusive.


Why is it important to create accessible products? 

Digital products help people get information and interact and make daily-life activities easier. For example, think about digital wallets, social media, and e-book platforms. When a digital product isn’t accessible to people for instance, blind, deaf, or with other conditions, you’re taking away from them the chance to access information, services, and products in an equal way. This means that you’re leaving behind part of your target too. 

But when a digital product is accessible to everyone, you’re helping improve the lives of people with disabilities. Following the WCAG, measuring usability, and focusing on design systems that are inclusive, are some of the elements that designers can take into account when designing or boosting a UX. 

Check out how Apple approaches accessibility. They built VoiceOver so people with blindness or low vision can use it as a screen reader, they also have Text to Speech for them, and audio-described video in case the disability is related to deafness. In this video, they explain it in a simple way. 


How to build an accessible design 

There are some checkpoints you should consider in the design process. From guidelines and tools to specific design elements. Let’s explore some of these points.


1. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 

The WCAG will give you the guidelines you need to make web content accessible to everyone. These guidelines were created with the help of individuals and corporations worldwide and have specifications for image, text use, code, markups, and more. 


2. Measuring usability

Running tests during the design process is key to making sure that you apply the guidelines in the right way and that your digital product is really accessible. Tests have to include the people that are going to use the product. You have to present your design to them and evaluate at least these areas:

  • Learnability (so you are able to know if the user understands how to use your digital product)  
  • Efficiency (in order to know if the user adapts to using the product and completing a task on it)
  • Memorability (this will give you the insight you need in terms of how easy it is for a user to remember how to navigate the product and re-do a task) 
  • Errors (so you can take note of the errors that arise while the user is engaging with your product) 
  • Satisfaction (users will let you know if the experience using your product was pleasant and helpful or not)


3. Following design principles

Some design principles to take into account when building your digital product are:

  • Font size: it should be at least 16px because if it’s smaller than that your users might have to deal with readability issues.
  • Contrast: create a difference between two elements on your screen that’s notorious, for example, dark text on a light background of a website can help reduce readability and discoverability issues.  
  • Discoverability: contrast can be used to help users find the information they need.
  • Repetition (you should choose a single element to be repeated many times so you help users remember and navigate the website more easily. 
  • Hierarchy: the information on your digital product should be arranged following the importance each text has, for example, check out what happens when you use a headline, it implies that it’s more important than the text that’s under it, that’s in a smaller size. 



Can you realize now how important it is to make sure that your design is accessible? Checking the design principles and putting yourself in each person of your target’s shoes is essential to create products that everyone can enjoy. In order to do so, you have to fully acknowledge the disabilities someone can have and also how to measure if your product is truly accessible or not. Maybe it seems like a lot to do, but we can help.

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Rosina Cataldo
April 06, 2023

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