How to think about accessibility in UX design and development
Embedding accessibility into the design and development teams to avoid legal threats and expensive fixes

Trying to achieve accessibility can feel like standing at the foot of a mountain. With WCAG audit reports reeling off a long checklist of ‘fails’, it’s no surprise companies feel overwhelmed and tasks fall by the wayside. However, the head-in-sand approach doesn’t work for the users, or for the business.

Failing to think about accessibility can land you with customer complaints, reputational damage and sometimes legal threats. But, when there is so much to fix with concerns about time and budget, it’s not easy to know where to start. We believe that with the right approach to UX, implementing accessibility can be made simpler. 

Defining accessibility for UX Design

Digital accessibility is not just about designing and building for disabled customers – it's about making the experience usable to customers, clients, and users in a range of different situations, with a range of different challenges. 

Although GOV.UK website and other bodies define accessibility as;

"Making sure (an app or website) can be used by as many people as possible. This includes those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, and deafness or impaired hearing."

Accessibility is about ultimately inclusion. The key word in this GOV. UK definition is 'includes'.

Accessibility and inclusive design aren't just about ensuring those with disabilities can access products and services. While we must consider various health challenges, we also need to ask, 'Could someone still use and understand this digital product on the bus, in the dark, holding a baby, pushing a pram, cooking, or in the park with children?'

While there are fines for accessibility breaches and a risk of being sued, like Domino's 2019 US case, it is much more than a legislative issue. 

The heart of accessibility is about inclusion and exclusion. By avoiding accessibility altogether, you exclude people from using your products and services. A bad business decision – and morally questionable too.

Creating a company culture around inclusion and accessibility 

To successfully create accessible digital experiences, accessibility must be at the core of the company's culture. Companies may develop this culture through open accessibility discussion forums, information sharing, and then championing across the business. For example, employees and teams who find it interesting can invest time into projects and share their learnings, innovations and experiences with others in the team. 

Building accessibility into agile development processes 

Embedding inclusive thinking into every stage of product design and development is a must. Agile is a great way to ensure each step of the UX design and development process has accessibility measures identified and defined and progress tracked within the non-functional and functional requirements. 

Planning the involvement of inclusive UX testing throughout the design process is essential. From the start, designers should consider colour contrast, text size, and basic functionality. When it comes to testing, recruiting testers with a range of challenges and needs is hugely important.

Building accessibility into your project from the start of development and running in agile processes helps keep the challenges in the team's minds and reduces the costs of future development fixes. While businesses might be concerned that there's no time or budget to tackle accessibility, in the long run, it will save both. 

Break down accessibility tasks and devise a strategy 

The Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Equality Act 2010 can seem overwhelming and unclear in parts for organisations and teams working to deliver to tight deadlines and budgets. 

Audits can often make things worse as they present a list of fails without enough context or prioritised suggestions. Rather than jumping straight to an audit, consulting a panel of users with varying challenges is often easier. For example, if your product is text heavy, you may want to speak to users with dyslexia, ADHD, or other moderate cognitive challenges. If your digital services use lots of imagery, you may wish to consult with users who are vision impaired, blind, or colour-blind to give you insights into real challenges and priority needs.

Accessibility is part of the long-term UX and product development strategy rather than a short-term tick-box exercise. The accessibility strategy is the cornerstone to informing the approach to policy, research, design, development, and testing processes, saving time and money on expensive development fixes later. 

Organisations need to break audits down and devise a strategy. Legally, as long as companies are on the path to making changes and building accessibility into processes, then it's a good start. 

If you'd benefit from having an allocated person to help you interpret what is needed to make your digital product, service, site or app usable for your customers, users or clients and compliant, get in touch with The UX Agency team. 

UX accessibility professionals can help you understand the guidelines, the priorities, and the immediate actions required and how to avoid customer complaints and legislative actions .

Lucy Pullicino, Senior Inclusivity UX Research Lead

Speak to us: Are you looking to interpret WCAG guidelines, make your digital product accessible and develop a company wide accessibility strategy?