Graceful Enhancement: Add Sparkle to Your Site Without Hurting Your Users
Why background video isn't always a good idea, and why the approach needs to be thoughtful and implemented in a responsible way when you choose to use it.
Illustration of color checker results
The Americans with Disabilities Act was a landmark civil rights legislation that tore down barriers preventing individuals with disabilities from fully participating in society. This bill covered important aspects of life in the 1990s, such as public transportation and employment. A decade and a half later these things are still important, but technologies have emerged that raise new questions about how they can be made accessible for all users.
This year, I had the privilege of attending the 2016 Accessibility Summit, where presenters from organizations such as the W3 Consortium, Adobe, and WebAIM talked about ways in which we can make the web more accessible to users with disabilities such as low vision, blindness, deafness, and limited dexterity.
One of my biggest takeaways was that I had been thinking about accessibility all wrong. Initially, I saw accessibility guidelines as a checklist. Although lists are published by thought leaders such as Google (https://material.google.com/usability/accessibility.html#), it’s entirely possible for a website to adhere to accessibility criteria without effectively meeting the needs of disabled users.
While checklists are useful, they lack a human element. It helps to view accessibility as a holistic approach to design, development, and content that, at its core, relies on empathy and understanding of a wide range of user experiences.
Accessibility issues are ultimately user experience issues.
How do you bake accessibility into your process? Below are some ideas of how accessibility may become an inherent part of creating a website:
Create personas for disabled users to address accessibility. Some examples might be:
The World Wide Web Consortium has created a diverse set of personas representing disabled users, which are available on their website (https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/stories). There are also solutions provided for common problems these users might face on the web.
Create tickets based on disabled user personas. These tickets should have specific quantifiable success criteria, such as: “a person with vision impairment can fill out this form.” This is a great platform to demonstrate to clients how accessibility is being achieved.
From the onset, design with accessibility in mind. Designers should familiarize themselves with accessibility guidelines and incorporate them into their work starting with the earliest concepts.
For instance, whenever I’m working with text, I run potential colors for both the text and the background through a contrast checker (such as this one: http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/). Contrast checkers confirm whether the combined text color and background color will be readable. Such measures preempt the need to rethink the design later in the process, thus saving time and avoiding the pitfalls of presenting a client with ideas that cannot be realized.
When designing the UI, aim for fewer steps to task completion. By decreasing the number of keystrokes, steps, and time required to complete tasks, we can make websites more accessible for everyone.
A task that is mildly annoying to complete for an abled user can be prohibitively time-consuming and frustrating for a disabled user. All users can benefit from the simplification of tasks, but disabled users will be especially impacted.
During development, take advantage of the wide range of auditing tools available to check whether your site adheres to accessibility guidelines. Some popular tools include:
Navigate and complete tasks on your website with the tools available to disabled users. This doesn’t replace user testing, but it can provide some useful insights. Here are some ideas:
You can implement these techniques when demoing websites to clients to help them understand how different users access websites.
Recruit individuals with disabilities to participate in usability testing. This is the best way to confirm whether a website truly is accessible. Remember that accessibility guidelines are just the starting point. A site that checks off all the boxes may still have roadblocks for disabled users.
Disability rights lawyer, Lainey Feingold, provides on her website a list of nonprofits that offer usability testing by disabled individuals (http://www.lflegal.com/resources/#test).