Here at Q LTD we make sure our websites are accessible to people with disabilities. For example, can someone who is color blind or without eyesight still interact with the websites we build? As technology changes, new WCAG standards are introduced, requiring our team to become familiar with new requirements and update older sites that may now be non-compliant. To their credit, our university clients are now requiring WCAG 2.0 AA compliance.
Q LTD relies on a variety of web-based tools to identify and fix web accessibility issues, but automated tools are not our only resource.
We invited Will Purves, Director of Planning and Programming at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (CIL), to a Q Brown Bag to teach us more about accessibility. CIL is a national organization run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities and has centers and associations across the United States. The Ann Arbor CIL offers a wide range of accessibility testing, from buildings to websites.
We learned that about 20% of the population is living with a disability. This includes:
- Using a wheelchair
- Using a cane/crutches
- The blind and visually impaired
- The deaf and hearing impaired
- A lack of fine motor skills
- People with “invisible” disabilities: autism spectrum, mental illness, chronic illness
- The elderly
We also learned about the intersectionality of income and technology. People with disabilities tend to have lower income and less access to technology.
From a design standpoint, can we imagine not only making the latest and greatest website – but also strip down and create the simplest experience most useful for people who don’t have the best tech available to them?
Our session sparked some additional thoughts from Q LTD Senior Designer, Emily Cedar, who writes:
When I think about my process as a designer, I realize that my approach to projects has evolved over the years, but in many ways, it’s been relatively fixed.
I investigate the use of color, consider typography, and explore different layouts that will deliver a delightful user experience.
However, all of these choices have been made through a narrow lens, my lens. In this process, I ask questions like, how can I elevate this organization’s brand? Are there new techniques or technologies that I can implement in this project?
After our Q Brown Bag with accessibility pro Will Purves, I started asking myself some new and important questions that I should have been asking myself a long time ago.
The first question: Is the design I’ve created accessible to people who are different from me?
I am a college graduate, an iPhone owner; my vision is not impaired, I have no trouble hearing, and I can stand and walk without needing assistance. When I consider that about 25% of the population is living with some kind of disability, the answer to that question is simple. No.
The second question: Why hasn’t accessibility been at the forefront of my project planning, brainstorming, and embedded into every design concept that I present to clients?
As designers, we say that our designs are user-centric, but as I ask myself these questions, I can’t help but think that my designs have been very designer-centric. As much as I want everybody to have equal access to information, I feel a sense of friction as the freedom of limitless color palettes and font choices being stripped away from my artboard. Does this mean we’re entering a world of black and white websites? After a brief search on web accessibility resources and discussing with my colleagues, this answer became obvious too (no).
There are a number of resources waiting to be utilized by designers and developers.
Below are a handful of sites, extensions, articles, and resources our team uses. We’ve had a lot of success (and creative freedom) in using these tools to make our websites more readable and accessible. If we’ve missed any, please share the tools you or your team uses to make the web a more inclusive space.