Accessibility of design refers to a design process where the needs of disabled people are specifically taken into account. Accessible design is significant in all kinds of built environments, services and products. The concept also applies to all forms of information technology: hardware, software, websites, videos and more. With the ever-evolving technological world we live in, accessibility is a crucial consideration that requires special attention during the design and development period.
What is deemed accessible? In terms of web content, this simply means that disabled people can perceive, understand, navigate, contribute and interact with online pages and tools. Often (but not always), people with disabilities use assistive devices or software to browse the web, so compatibility with these devices is another key aspect to take into account.
Usability, sometimes called ‘user experience design’, is about designing products that are efficient, effective and satisfying to use. Tests of usability are measured by how easily a specific group of users can learn to operate a product, retain the information (so that they can go back and operate it at a later date), and achieve set tasks in a specific environment. Unfortunately, usability testing can exclude people with disabilities; the selected group of users may only include abled people, with little-to-no representation of people with disabilities. So while some of the goals of usability are consistent with accessible design (learnability, consistency and efficacy to name a few), products which perform well on usability tests are not always accessible. This is simply because how usable the products are for people with disabilities is not a parameter.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) launched a Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which includes written guidelines and recommendations to help promote accessible design of websites. The mission of this initiative is about making sure the web is universal, and that everyone can access it, regardless of disability. The W3C includes all types of disability that affect access to the web, including but not limited to; auditory, cognitive, visual, neurological and speaking disabilities. The WAI includes resources, materials and publications which are useful for designers or companies who want to implement accessible design in their new products.
One way that websites can be made more accessible in their design is by adding HTML5 semantic elements. HTML5 elements can create a page structure that can be understood by screen reader tools and voice recognition software. Using this code will help convey the content of the page to any user, making it navigable and perceivable by people regardless of disability. There is a downside, unfortunately, which is that not all browsers are compatible with HTML5 elements. Even as newer versions update for compatibility, users who still have old versions of the browser will still be limited. However, WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite) is an add-on that can be incorporated to cover all bases of accessibility. These elements, when implemented into the code, essentially enable the web document to be perceived and navigated by people with disabilities, without the accessibility barriers which restrict their use of most current websites and software.