In the quest to evolve customers into loyalists, brands are challenged to create engaging digital experiences at every touchpoint. Digital form must meet real-world function, with the goal of making every consumer interaction clear, concise, and contextually relevant.
But some consumers — those with disabilities — require special considerations, as outlined in regulations such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, and 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). To comply, brands must acknowledge the digital constraints faced by their disabled audiences — such as fonts that are too small to read or buttons that are too cumbersome to navigate — and solve them through accessible design.
Although compliance is an investment in both time and resources, brands should see accessibility as an opportunity: By optimizing digital experiences such as websites, mobile apps, chatbots, and email, brands can capture more consumers — and their corresponding market share. But the benefits of accessible design are even greater than that: When brands meet the needs of the disabled, they improve the experience for everyone.
Why Accessibility Matters
One in five Americans live with a disability such as a visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive impairment. Many brands incorrectly assume their challenges prohibit them from engaging with technology. In reality, more than 60% of people with disabilities own a computer; 58% own a smartphone. The disabled population also represents $645 billion of disposable income, making it even more imperative for businesses to connect with them.
Although assistive technology — screen readers, screen magnifiers, keyboard-only navigation, and dictation software for voice navigation — helps with digital accessibility, it’s not enough, which is why the regulations exist. Although it would be impossible to account for every type of user every single time, perfection isn’t the goal. Integrating inclusion into the design process is.
The Proactive Accessibility Approach
Reactively isolating, prioritizing, and addressing individual accessibility issues in existing digital experiences is one way to tackle it. But a proactive approach to accessibility is more beneficial — for your customers and your business — in the long run. A proactive approach typically includes these four steps:
Accessibility Team Checklists
Accessibility is a team sport. Digital designers, content creators, project managers, developers, user experience (UX) architects, and quality assurance (QA) specialists work together to ensure every digital asset — as well as the entire digital experience — meets the needs of all consumers.
Below are some checklists for teams charged with creating accessible digital experiences. Much of this information comes from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C):
Designers need to think about the limitations some users have with color and text size. They also have to consider the role of animation and interactive elements, because people with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty with pages that are too busy or complex.
Readability has to be the top priority. Content creators should use clear language, simple sentences, and subheads and bullets.
Project managers are the glue that holds a project together, keeping team members on task and on time. They can also be advocates for accessibility.
Project manager checklist:
This group has to do the heavy lifting, because they’re ultimately responsible for bringing the digital experience to life.
The UX team is required to have a holistic view of accessible design and oversees its execution across all disciplines. This group provides support and guidance to all other departments and heads up usability testing, ensuring that people with disabilities are included.
Quality assurance specialists are the final check in the accessible design process, ensuring that other team members have met their requirements.
Accessible Will Be the Standard
Accessible design is becoming the standard for many brands and technology leaders, including Google, Microsoft, and Apple. As the laws and guidelines requiring accessibility become more defined — and enforced — those who take a proactive approach will be best positioned to create great customer experiences.