Inclusive design has been in the forefront of tech design lately, and for good reason. While creating services that take all users and varied needs into consideration, being inclusive not only creates opportunities for a broader reach of satisfied customers, but a better product overall. So how does a developer go about being an #a11y?
Are You Inclusive or Accessible?
Providing accessible services to your users is an admirable goal, but being inclusive takes you a step further. Accessible design solely focuses on users with disabilities and how your product can usable based on their needs; inclusive design is products for all customers, anywhere. When creating something with a broad reach in mind, it challenges your team to think differently, problem solve in unexpected ways, and gives a sense of social responsibility that can spark innovation and creativity.
Get To Know Your Users
First things first: in order to assure you’re creating something that’s beneficial to your users, you need to get to know your users. Every project should always start with user research, but in order to ensure you’re creating something truly inclusive, connecting with a diverse set of users is key. Ideally you will meet with users in person to discuss difficulties, ideas, and needs; if you’re unable to meet a diverse set of users in person, reaching out via video calls, emails, and surveys are also beneficial. Never assume you know what your users want or need. User personas are one area where your team can fall short in terms of inclusivity — by assuming you can accurately represent a person whose experiences you do not have, you are already starting out on the wrong foot.
Find The Barriers
Ask your users what they define as barriers. Set them up in different situations — environments, times of day, etc — to see what issues may arise depending on a variety of elements. With this information in hand, it’ll be easier to problem solve with the aid of their feedback, even if new problems arise throughout the process. Oftentimes, barriers will overlap between users. For example, designing for a blind user and a hard of hearing user will often result in similar solutions to their different problems. Overcoming one barrier will often times help you overcome something else entirely, creating an even more usable product for a varied audience.
A tool that is often a developers biggest aid can also be a barrier: research. Don’t get caught up in following exactly what your research stipulates. Numbers and spreadsheets can dictate what we think we should do versus what may actually be beneficial to a vast audience of users. Try not to get trapped in a corner with your research; remember, the majority of information is derived from similar people of similar circumstances. It’s important to remember your minority users throughout the entire design process in order to produce a product that is truly inclusive.
And finally, don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. As someone who does not live the same experiences from one user to the next, you will make mistakes along the way. The important part is making an effort to improve the experience of all your users across the board.
As mentioned above, mistakes happen. But the first thing we have to do is recognize that we have our biases in order to move past them.
The two biggest biases we as developers have are related to time and technical experience. This is especially true when developers are attempting to make an existing product more inclusive. Overwhelmed with all of the different needs that must be catered to, on top of having to then figure out how you’re even going to start making improvements, results in many developers giving up on work before it’s even begun. But it’s important to remember that making changes, even one change at a time over the course of weeks or months, will greatly improve the quality of someone’s experience/life. Think of it this way: are you willing to take the time to make updates for your largest population of users? If the answer is yes, then you have enough time to make updates for the rest of your users, no matter their needs. And guess what? You’ll be improving your skills along the way, making it easier to be inclusive on other projects, as well as making you more valuable as a developer. So everyone gets something out of it!
One tool we can use to beat back bias? Emotional awareness. University of Houston professor, researcher, and emotional expert, Brené Brown, discussed the concept of sympathy versus empathy during her popular 2010 TEDxHouston talk. Her main point? “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” Brown discusses a study done by Teresa Whitman, a nursing scholar who studies empathy across a diverse field of professions, sharing, “[She] came up with four qualities of empathy: perspective taking — the ability to take the perspective of another person or recognise their perspective as their truth — staying out of judgement…recognising emotion in other people, and then communicating that.”
In order to be truly helpful during the development process, we as creators must take the time to occasionally say, “I don’t know what that feels like, but I’m going to do my best to do something about it.” As mentioned before, you’ll make mistakes, but better to make a handful of mistakes along the way to an inclusive design as opposed to never getting the ball rolling in the first place.
Though color is an excellent way to indicate the importance of information, it shouldn’t always be relied on when creating your design. 1 in 12 men are colorblind, and while more common in men, 1 in 200 women also experience some form of colorblindness. This affects their ability to interact with an application that relies on color to denote hierarchy. Color Safe is an excellent resource, creating beautiful and accessible color palettes approved by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
And though colorblindness is a serious issue that needs to be considered when formulating a design, there are other users who experience color barriers. As senior accessibility specialist at the BBC, Jamie Knight, points out, “A user may not receive information communicated via color due to a range of factors. For example, when a phone is used in direct sunlight or by a user with a poorly set up display.”
One way to combat this? Be aware of contrast. A ratio of 4:1 is a good starting point, but there’s no hard and fast rule. This way you can still use color that fits your brand/feel without having to sacrifice usability. Not sure your design is making the cut with contrast? Use the WCAG contrast checker to see where you stand.
By focusing on being a more inclusive designer, you’re creating solutions that benefit the community as a whole, providing equal opportunity for users and a stamp of approval for your business. Keeping these tips in mind, you’re on your way to becoming a better developer and #a11y.