Why Accessibility Matters Matter

Nick Nystrom
6/15/21 7:30 AM

Did you know around 14% of the American workforce lives with a disability, and 27% of the population overall has a disability?

At Kingland, we create software for thousands of users who spend hours a day using our systems. That includes people with disabilities, who are valuable assets in any organization. They contribute diverse perspectives and deliver excellent work. And they deserve a workplace that helps them reach their full potential. So our responsibility - and the right thing to do - is to build accessible applications.

Accessibility is also the law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that both "public" websites and work environments are accessible for users with disabilities. Domino's Pizza found this out the hard way in 2019 and a blind employee successfully sued a school district over internal software in 2019. So those who aren't thinking about accessibility for their solutions should be.

Is your team considering accessibility as you design and implement features? How can we know for sure whether software is accessible? First, let's look at a scenario for a software team.

Improving an all-too-common situation

Imagine that your solution is adding a table that lists all users in the system. Your admins need to know whether users have recently logged in and completed a task. A common way to show information like this is to add an icon, so the first draft of the table design includes 3 versions of the 'user' icon to indicate whether the task is overdue, due soon, or up to date:

Accessibility Matters Example 1

Can you guess which icon is which?

And how about now?

Accessibility Matters Example 2

This is what people with various types of color blindness would see.

What if someone read the information aloud to you like this?

"Main landmark frame table with 3 rows and 2 columns. Row 1 Column 1. Column 2 Suzy Jamison. Row 2 Column 1. Column 2 Suzy Jamison. Row 3 Column 1. Column 2 Suzy Jamison. Out of frame, out of table."

Did you notice that the icons aren't even mentioned? (Transcript from a popular screen reader, NVDA.)

The problem with this icon design is that it's not accessible for users who are color blind or use a screen reader. It would be frustrating to use - and could even prevent someone from doing their job. A few adjustments can improve the design for these users. But how do we know what should change?

Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the gold standard for creating accessible web experiences. WCAG has several requirements that apply to our table design:

  • Don't rely solely on color to communicate meaning
  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content (like icons)
  • Label content with helpful names (either upfront or using HTML tags)

Let's try again. First, let's fix the icons themselves so that they communicate meaning, regardless of color.

Accessibility Matters Example 3

And ...

Accessibility Matters Example 4

Next, we need to think about text alternatives. It's not really clear that "❌" means "Overdue." It could also mean "Deleted" or even "Click here to remove this row." One option is to create a tag element with text next to the icon:

Accessibility Matters Example 5

How Can Companies Help

Here are a few ways you and your company can contribute to accessibility during your planned projects:

  • Get familiar with WCAG guidelines
  • Make accessibility a priority in project planning
  • Use multiple cues such as icons, text, and color to convey meaning - not just color
  • Don't design flashing content
  • Discuss accessibility with your client
  • Use alt text for images and aria-labels, name properties, and other text alternatives for non-text page elements
  • Test features with a screen reader to ensure they are interpreted correctly
  • Ensure page structure and the purpose of UI components can be programmatically determined
  • Support text resizing and responsive page sizes
  • Check accessibility on websites and provide an analysis based on accessibility principles

Look for more tips like these in the future. Thanks for reading and let me know how Kingland can help.

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