5 Ways to Lift Your Game in Accessible Design
Over the past couple of years, the term ‘inclusion’ has been spoken about through out the design industry. Whether it’s company culture, the media, neighborhoods and politics, we like to be able to see reflections of ourselves.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t fit neatly into one or two categories on society’s check boxes of life. We all want to feel welcomed, have our voices heard and most importantly, have our differences acknowledged.
When it comes to products, it is no different. Design is in a constant state of change and constantly striving to meet the needs of everyone.
However, one of the aspects of product design that seems to go unnoticed is the need for more accessibility features for those that require them. More accessibility features leads to less isolation and ignoring a subset of users with disabilities. Inclusion not only creates a better society for us all but also encourages us to design products that are a reflection of us.
So, here are five ways to do a better job in Accessible Design.
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
(Or, how to ask the questions that you’re scared to ask.)
It can sometimes be uncomfortable to ask us (the disabled community, I happen to have erbs palsy, giving me limited use and motion of my right arm) about what happened to us, what our needs may be and how we navigate the world around us. Yet, in order to make sure products can give the best experiences to users that may not be fully able-body, we as designers have to be willing to go outside of our comfort zone and be prepared to hear answers that proved that our initial design ignored a community that should have been considered as users initially.
2. Practicing empathy goes beyond designing for yourself
It’s always easier to design for people that are like yourself. More often than not, products are initially created with users in mind that are similar to the company’s owner and team. During the early stages before they gain enough users, empathetic assumptions based on tried and true design practices are used and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The downside is that we can end up making products that mimic the ones already in the market. Once a product begins to gain more exposure, we have to start intentionally designing in a way that gives us a more diverse user base. If we don’t have a user base which supports it then we have to start advocating for it.
3. Forget what you think you know
While empathetic assumptions can help begin the accessible design process, they can miss the nuances that set users’ needs apart. Forget the narratives that you often see and hear before talking to your users. Each disability, physical and mental, have different needs and sometimes they can have needs that are intersectional.
For example, a user with nerve damage may have sensory issues and a lack of dexterity in their hand. Therefore, designing an experience and an UI option that takes that into consideration is important.
4. Think about ways to blend accessibility and modern design
This may seem like the hard part about accessible design but it doesn’t have to be. Start with the basics and use “clean” design. Keep it simple by making sure you cover your bases and think about visible and invisible disabilities such as lack of dexterity, autism, visual impairments, sensory sensitivity, developmental delay, hearing impairment, and speech impairment.
If you feel like you need to know more about those disabilities, disability.gov and CDC.gov are great resources.
Remember trends are great but they have to translate over well into the product for everyone. When designing for accessibility the goal is is to be inclusive and not to isolate. No one wants to be seen as a representation of your “disabled users”. They just want to be a part of your user group.
5. Practice team inclusion
One would think that this would be a given but it’s not seen often. Designers that have disabilities are out here. As much as we love designing for others, it would be nice to be able to design for people such as ourselves. While we are not the users, we do have some life experience that may be closely related to the users. We’ll be able to see some issues that may not be noticed and be able to communicate with the users in a way that will make them more comfortable and honest about their needs as well.
Accessible design is truly about going the extra mile with empathy and taking the steps to acknowledge the differences in people and the difficulties that come with it.
Become more aware and knowledgeable about the users that are often not taken into consideration and watch the way a product flourishes.