What is “accessibility?” We define accessibility as “the extent to which the information being presented is available and understandable by anyone.” One might argue that an application should be designed only for the target audience, but it should also be taken into consideration that audience members may have a visual or aural impairment and require the use of a “helper” like a screen reader or translation software. Is the content accessible publicly by everyone or in a controlled environment like a private workplace? In other words, it is important to know your audience.
Your audience may or may not be obvious, but it is important to know who they are and what tools they use. If the product will be used by a very specific user type–an employee, for example–then you only need to consider the tools that are specific to the users in that environment. Questions to ask include, “What age group do our users belong to?” “Do any of my employees have disabilities?” “What are typical helper tools that this group may use?” Answers to these questions may be as simple as “eye glasses,” but some of your users may require the use of screen readers (for the blind).
If the application or web site will be available to the public, it should be designed with the broadest audience in mind. Here are some accessibility issues to consider:
- Client functions
- Browser magnification has grown in use since smart phones and tablets have become more prevalent. The availability of high definition on laptops and other smaller monitors have also caused the increased use of magnification in browsers.
- Opening new windows has had unreliable behavior as tabs have become popular in browsers.
- Modal windows and dialogs (a.k.a. “lightboxes”) have been known to cause issues with screen readers if implemented incorrectly.
- Optical equipment
- Monitors today come in more shapes and sizes than ever before. With high-definition monitors available on laptops, it’s difficult to imagine a user browsing your web site at a full 1920×1080 on a 17” monitor… or is it?
- Projectors often don’t represent color as intended. Ensure that your important content can be viewed easily when being projected. Use high contrast for text (e.g., black on white).
- Consider the use of screen reading software for the blind. Any images that give context to your content should include textual representation.
- Some visually impaired users employ additional magnification software to view content on the screen.
- Some audience members may rely on language translators. You can avoid miscommunication by offering an alternative version of your content in multiple languages so that the user will not have to rely on software. This way, you can be sure to communicate the intended ideas rather than risk losing something in translation.
- Mobile or desktop browser? Be sure to make the content compatible across all platforms and enable responsive design on your content if it will be viewed on multiple devices.
- Will the content be viewed on a TV? With the growing popularity of devices like Google TV, gaming consoles, and smart TVs, web content is being displayed on television more than ever before.
- Will your users require another human being to help them? The elderly often rely on younger helpers to assist them with accessing content. Ensure that your content is understandable to all possible parties.
Be sure to also observe accessibility compliance requirements if your audience may include users that have specific needs. For example, the standards in Section 508 are regulated by the government and require that people with disabilities have access to certain types of content.
Accessibility is a critical element in designing anything, whether it is hardware, software, or content. Making sure that users can understand your product helps to reduce miscommunication and calls to the help desk. What’s more, exceptional accessibility naturally makes your product available to anyone, which is the bottom line for most businesses.