How important is accessible web design?

Designing accessible digital products is not about restricting aesthetic choices, but about empowering audiences.

January 23, 2019

staircase with ramp integrated throughout for universal use
But it’s OK, the web is accessible for everyone by default now, right? Wrong. Sadly.

The good news is that web accessibility can be achieved practically and inexpensively. Design discipline, practical knowledge, common sense and real-world thinking can make the digital world accessible to all. For any good design and development team, accessibility is a fundamental part of the design process.

What is accessible web design?

Accessible web design refers to the practice of designing and developing websites that can be accessed and used by as many people as possible, regardless of their physical, sensory, or cognitive abilities. Accessible web design involves ensuring that website content and functionality can be accessed by people with disabilities, such as blindness, deafness, or motor impairments.

Accessible web design is about considering everyone

Ask anyone – even many web or digital professionals – and you’ll find not many people have spent much time thinking about web accessibility, unless it directly affects them or the job upon which they are working has a stated accessibility requirement.

For most people, the term ‘web accessibility’ conjures images of screen readers and assistive technology for severe, permanent disabilities. Whilst such technology does play a crucial role, it only assists in a small percentage of web-based accessibility use cases.

The term ‘disability’ covers a wide range of impairments and situational factors which impact how an individual interacts with a website. Many of these may not immediately spring to mind. For example a temporary injury may inhibit ability to use a mouse or keyboard and age-related impairments such as deteriorating eyesight or arthritis may significantly affect the way someone interacts with a computer. Contrary to what we may generally assume, accessibility affects everyone to some degree at some point during their life.

There are four main ‘groups’ of disability, which need to be considered; Visual, Physical, Auditory & Cognitive

Don’t do the bare minimum

The link between the word accessibility and the perceived onerous challenges it creates are often a barrier in themselves. Often, the idea of complying with the WCAG guidelines or even just choosing colours carefully is enough for many businesses to, at best, do the minimum and at worst, nothing – to just ignore the problem in favour of a ‘so long as the majority of people can use the site, that’s all that really matters’ mindset.

This needn’t be the case.

At Bulb Studios, we work hard to ensure that accessibility is never difficult, onerous or expensive for our clients, it’s simply part of the offer.

We have seen first hand how designing universally and inclusively benefits all users and as such, accessibility is a fundamental part of our design and development process. The experts agree with us too, Laura Kalbag, author of the essential ‘Accessibility for Everyone’ puts it beautifully…

At any rate, accessibility doesn’t just benefit people with specific disabilities, it improves the usability of a website for everyone.

Make design inclusive, not exclusive

Done right, inclusive design can help to reach and engage every customer and user regardless of their ability or circumstances.

The immediate benefits of simple accessibility design improvements are clear:

Increased audience
If a site is inaccessible, a large number of potential visitors are excluded. The severity of this may not be immediately obvious. Improved accessibility results in improved performance, increased audience potential and increased traffic.

User satisfaction
By being able to carry out tasks efficiently and quickly, users benefit from improved perception of the site and are more likely to re-engage. This ultimately results in higher conversion rates and increased satisfaction, aiding growth, reputation and reach. What’s not to like?

Improved SEO
Inclusive design has a strong relationship with the influencing factors that affect your website’s search engine optimisation and performance. Search engines look favourably upon and rank accessible, legible, well structured sites higher. It’s that simple.

No additional cost, just additional benefits

Accessibility shouldn’t be a line item in a quotation or an additional deliverable listed in the schedule. When it comes to designing any digital product, successful work is created by teams who consider and implement accessibility as an intrinsic part of their process, as doing so is almost always easier, more cost effective and efficient.

Our design and development teams ensure that all of our clients (and most importantly their users) enjoy the benefits which an inclusive design methodology brings. Crucially, our established best practice and user centred design approach allows innovation and inclusion to go hand in hand; maximising the benefits without compromising on aesthetic or cost.