Article | by Amy Fleming

More than ALT tags: the need for inclusive design 

UX Specialist Amy writes about attending her first UX Oxford and the topic of inclusive design for all.

As a UX researcher, I’m always looking to attend events where I can meet like-minded UXers and hear the latest thinking from experts in the field. 

On Thursday, I attended my first UX Oxford event. Held once a month, the organisers invite speakers in the industry to talk about their work and passions. This month, Elizabeth Chesters, a UX Specialist at Mendeley, spoke about one of my favourite, yet often forgotten topics; accessibility.

 

accessibility types

 Credit: Microsoft Inclusive Design Manual 

 

Accessibility for all

When we hear the word ‘accessibility’ in the digital sector, we often think about screen readers, ALT tags in code or the accessibility guidelines we are expected to adhere to. However, it’s much more than that. Rather, it is about creating inclusivity - allowing everyone, no matter their circumstances, to experience the world in the same way as everyone else. Elizabeth is championing inclusive design and wants to challenge the stigma and myths surrounding what is a disability and how we can create inclusive products.

types of accessibility

Credit: Microsoft Inclusive Design Manual 

 

The breath of accessibility

Elizabeth gave a great example of how impairments can affect us all.

Take this scenario: you have landed in Shanghai to attend a business meeting. You need to find directions to your hotel so have downloaded a mobile travel app. Here are four different types of impairments you could have whilst using the app:

  • Cultural - you don’t understand the native language so need translations to help you navigate the city.  
  • Permanent  - you are visually impaired (wear strong prescription glasses), so need to be able to zoom in on the map to see clearer. 
  • Situational -  the loudness of the airport makes it difficult for you to listen to the directions. 
  • Temporary - trying to pull your suitcase whilst watching the app for directions is distracting. 

 

I don’t know about you, but I had never considered temporary impairments as a disability. In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of developing products with permanent disabilities in mind, but once you delve deeper you realise the vast amount of hinderances people have on a day-to-day basis which can affect how we use a product.

Selling inclusive design 

As someone who cares about how people use a product, it is a no-brainer to me that accessibility needs to be considered at all stages of product development. But, this shouldn’t be a one-man (or woman) mission. Getting team buy-in from account managers to designers to developers is vital to creating a product which considers the user at every stage. Here are four amazing statistics Elizabeth gave in the case for accessibility:


  • Over 11 million people living with a disability in the UK.
  • Their spending power is in excess of £100bn.
  • Over 300 languages are spoken in London schools alone.
  • Only 13% of Europe speaks English as a first language.

 

With outstanding numbers like these, how could any business not want to ensure their products are inclusive?

Implementing inclusive design

So, you’ve got buy-in from the business; how do you incorporate inclusive design on a day-to-day basis? As Elizabeth said, you need to integrate processes as early as possible, starting from UX, design, development to QA. Building accessibility into a product needs to be in the businesses mindset, and the responsibility of the experience comes from the whole team, not just UX. It can take time to weave accessibility into your company’s processes, but luckily, there are a number of desk applications we can use throughout to keep accessibility on the forefront. Here is a list of just some of them:

  • Hemmingway App- Writing content can be a tricky task, as it requires knowledge of the audiences expertise and reading level. Hemingway judges the “grade level” of text and highlights sentences that are difficult to read. 
  • Chrome developer tools - DevTools is a set of web developer tools built directly into the Google Chrome browser. DevTools will diagnose accessibility problems and allow you to test your website on different devices, bandwidth and recommend areas of improvement.
  • WAVE- WAVE is a free website accessibility evaluation tool that will report on accessibility errors such as ARIA, missing ALT tags and screen reader optimization. 
  • No Coffee vision simulator - No Coffee is a Chrome extension which overlays visual impairments such as colorblindness and nystagmus onto websites to help understand the problems faced by people with slight to extreme vision problems.
  • BBC Accessibility Standards - one of the leading companies in inclusive design is the BBC. They have a website dedicated to their accessibility guidelines and Global Language Experience (GEL) which has how-tos and articles on accessibility best practices. 

Conclusion

From attending UX Oxford and listening to Elizabeth speak passionately about inclusive design, I believe it is more imperative than ever that we bring accessibility to the forefront of the development process. As Elizabeth said, inclusive design is empowering, gives independence to those with impairments and allows equal opportunities for everyone. This article has just scratched the surface of digital accessibility, and I’m looking forward to deepening my knowledge in this area and to be a champion for inclusive design. 

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