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about 8 years ago

Building for Accessibility

There are a few principles to think about when designing products for the widest use. Let’s talk about some terms first:

Accessible design often refers to products, places, software that is specifically designed for access by people with disabilities. Because the needs of people with disabilities vary so much, accessible design often has a focus on a specific populations, such as wheelchair users or people with low vision.

Accessible design may refer to designing according to the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act or other overseeing organization like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Universal design is a concept of designing for a broader audience, considering use by all people from children to older adults, with all kinds of functional abilities.

There are seven principles of Universal Design, as described by North Carolina State University’s Center for Universal Design (1997):

  1. Equitable use: avoid stigmatization or segregation of any users
  2. Flexibility in use: provide choice
  3. Simple and intuitive: avoid unnecessary complexity
  4. Perceptible information: use multiple modes; such as tactile, verbal and pictorial. Redundancy of information is good so people who get information through different channels can get what you want them to have.
  5. Tolerance for error: make the most used and most important elements the easiest to get to; provide fail-safe features
  6. Low physical effort: with neutral body positions
  7. Size and space for approach and use: make it easy to get to

Usable design refers to effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. The concepts leading to usable design are learnability, consistency and efficiency.

What this means for you

When designing your entries, consider the following to increase usability of both the information about the product you develop and the product itself. You will need to consider usability within your aesthetic design.

For instance, you might think a color scheme of light tan and light grey is modern and edgy. In actuality, you are likely eliminated a wide group of people who cannot differentiate those colors.

Your information and product will have better use if you consider color combinations that are more highly contrasted. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Make descriptions easy to understand
  • Make instructions easy to follow. If the instructions are complicated, break them down into smaller steps.
  • Make captions or alternative texts for images. Make the descriptions full enough for someone to “get the picture”.
  • Make buttons easy to feel or recognize through color, haptics, etc.
  • Provide feedback in multiple formats to users regarding use of the device, software or system.

Additional Information

Disabilities, Opportunity, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT)

The Center for Universal Design: Environments and Products for All People

World Wide Web Consortium Accessibility Information


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