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UX and Accessibility

Frank Cervone

There is a fundamental union of usability and experience design and accessibility.  Our websites have to be accessible legally, and implementing good user experience design often goes hand in hand with accessibility naturally.  Thinking about design – Understand the underlying problem before attempting to solve it.  Don’t hurt anyone.  Make things simple and intuitive. Acknowledge that the user is not like you (Sarah’s note: WORD).  Have empathy.  When people come to our websites, it’s not a learning moment.  Give them what they want the way they want it.  Things to think about in relation to design: Visibility.  Just because something is really good in one particular context doesn’t mean it’s good in the overall system.  All attributes of an object indicate how to use something.  Feedback.  We need to inform users about what has been or needs to be done—through feedback mechanisms like sound, highlighting, and animation.  Constraints.  Restrict the possible actions that can be performed to help prevent selecting incorrect options.  Mapping.  As we’re mapping experiences we want people to have, we need to do so in a logical manner.  Consistency.  Interfaces need similar operations and similar elements for similar tasks.  Consistent interfaces are easier to learn and easier to use.

So, why accessibility? It’s the right thing to do.  And the Americans with Disabilities Act Title III prohibits discrimination against an individual.  This includes all resources we provide, physically and virtually.  The 2008 ADA Amendments Act also requires providing assistance for major life activities: seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, etc.  This means that we need to think about the varying types of disabilities people have and how we provide accommodation for those.  Most often we think of visual impairments in terms of websites, but others we need to consider are cognitive learning, auditory, motor, physical, and speech disabilities.  17% of the population has some type of disability in the U.S.  So what is a reasonable accommodation, which is what the ADA requires us to provide.  Either an adjustment or an auxiliary aide.  Neither of these things should cause a fundamental alteration in the nature or core function of a program or service.  Additionally, it should not impose an undue financial or administrative burden to the institution.

So where does this take us?  To universal design.  Universal design came out of architecture.  The fundamental principles are equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, toleration for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.

One big easy thing to do on websites—all objects (videos and images) have some sort of text equivalent that is meaningful.  Graphics must have alt tags and graphics used only for positioning should be labeled with alt=” “. (quote, space, quote).  (Sarah’s note: Everyone forgets to do that last thing…)

The phrase “click here” is meaningless, and particularly troublesome when moving through a page by tabbing.  The best practice is similar considerations to those of the alt tags—text should be meaningful.  You need to express clearly where the link will go or what will happen after selection.

Using only indentation (reformatting may remove indentations) or color (color blindness) alone is not sufficient to convey meaning.  Don’t rely on indicating required fields in a form by making them bold.  Explicitly state that required fields are required.

Provide skip links.  Skip links allow assistive software to skip through repeated menus.

Use logical layouts in forms.  Form questions need to have input fields on the same line as the input itself.  Place labels consistently on the same side of the input field.  Explicitly identify what information is required.  Make the word “Required” part of the label for each mandatory field.

Other points to consider: specify column header rows in tables, use styles in documents (short titles in headings, heading styles in the correct order), use simple table structure (avoid using blank cells for formatting, avoid repeated blank characters, structure layout tables for easy navigation), avoid image watermarks, and include closed captions for any audio.

Don’t overuse access keys, which creates conflicts.  This can conflict with assistive technology.  Users are often very familiar with these shortcuts.  Don’t change it up on them.

Check for color contrast:

Accessibility checker:

Microsoft has some good documentation on making PowerPoint presentations and Word documents accessible.

WGBH developed a tool called Magpie to close caption audio and video.

Purdue University-Calumet also has an extensive web accessibility website:

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