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Innovation and technology have always been tools for leveling the playing field. From the printing press to public education, we continually find ways to empower people and make things more equal. Today, the computer interface is our most powerful tool, and it has the potential to address many inequalities.

However, not everyone can access digital interfaces equally—particularly people with disabilities. Accessibility isn’t the first thing that comes to mind in a digital space. In real life we can see the tangible ways accessibility is addressed from handicap parking spaces to the little yellow bumps at crosswalks for the visually impaired. The way in which accessibility exists digitally isn’t as apparent, but it is just as important for creating equality.

What is Accessibility in Digital Design?

Accessibility means making digital experiences easy to reach, use, and understand for everyone. Disabilities like blindness, deafness, mobility issues, and color blindness can all make it difficult for people to use digital interfaces. Designing digital products that are easy to use, easy to understand, and compatible with existing tools like screen readers, can create access for everyone regardless of ability.

Why is Accessibility Important?

Accessibility ensures that everyone can use digital interfaces equally; it’s a matter of civil rights and social justice. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public and private entities make their activities and services accessible to people with disabilities. Failure to do so can lead to lawsuits and fines.

While the ADA does not specify whether this is applicable to digital spaces, there is some legal precedent that does. A lawsuit was raised against Target in 2005 by the National Federation for the Blind after Target said it had no plans to address accessibility issues on its online store. A judge determined that an online store was “a place of public accommodation” and must meet the same accessibility standards as a real store. The suit ended in a settlement and set a precedent for web accessibility.

Accessibility is also important because it ensures that digital experiences are of high quality. Properly formatted markup and accessible design makes it possible for machine learning algorithms and intelligent search engines to access and understand digital content. This is important for the development of artificial intelligence and other technologies.

How to Achieve Accessibility in Digital Design

Achieving accessibility in digital design requires careful planning and attention to detail. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provides a comprehensive checklist of what’s required to address accessibility needs of all types, degrees, and combinations. WCAG sorts their guidelines into four principal categories: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. The criteria are also categorized into three compliance levels: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA.

To achieve accessibility compliance, it’s important to address at least the Level A compliance requirements. This is the minimum accessibility requirement that should be met for a website. Level AA is the recommended compliance level that addresses the major and most common accessibility issues. Achieving Level AA compliance means addressing at least 40 of the 70 requirements outlined in the WCAG guidelines.

Accessibility is a team effort, and each role has some responsibility for ensuring that digital interfaces are accessible. Designers and developers must work together to ensure that interfaces are coded properly and visually designed to be accessible. Content creators must ensure that text is easily readable, and that multimedia content is accessible. Quality assurance testers must ensure that interfaces are operable and understandable for everyone.

Accessibility is Key

Accessibility is essential for ensuring that digital interfaces are usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities. At Orion, our award-winning Experience Design experts design, develop, and test the accessibility of the digital projects we undertake for our clients. Ensuring that digital spaces are accessible is another step in creating a fair and equal world for all people.

Orion’s award-winning Experience Design team can partner with you to reimagine a more intuitive, human-centered and accessible experience. Learn about Orion’s Experience Design services.

XD Director Matt Pendleton builds world-class products and organizations that integrate research, data, and behavioral science with human-centered design methods to drive a long-term vision and near-term business impact. Known for his thought leadership in the field of design, Matt is frequently invited to speak on the subject. 

Peter Kuang, XD Technology Lead, has envisioned, architected, and executed award-winning technical solutions from web and mobile to enterprise platforms, enacted digital transformation, and managed high-performance teams situated across multiple global locations. Peter is a member of the Forbes Technology Council.

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