Apps are designed to make people’s lives easier. But sometimes it’s as difficult for a person with special needs to order food or pay utility bills from a smartphone as it is to get to a store or a bank branch. Why is it important to design an interface that is accessible to people with different needs, and what should we consider first?
What Is Inclusive Design?
Inclusive design is a method of designing an interface with different needs in mind. An online product, an app, a service, an offline environment should be designed so that they can be used by as many people as possible without the need for special adaptations.
For Whom Is Digital Accessibility Important?
There are about 650 million people with disabilities in the world – that’s 10% of the world’s population. But if you think that inclusive design is only for them, that’s a misconception. Already today, the first Macintosh users are 65 years old, and they are slowly getting older. All of us are getting older. And so we become those very people with special needs. When it’s difficult to read illegible text, read the terms of an Online Casino, hear a beep, hit a tiny button with your finger. People of all ages can have similar difficulties. That’s why we don’t need separate versions for the visually impaired and so on, but an inclusive interface that takes into account the needs of all users without exception.
In February 2021, a study was conducted in the Netherlands among smartphone users. It turns out that about half of the participants – 43%, to be exact – use customization features, if they’re provided. What’s specific:
- 32.6% resize text, 20% of them enlarge it.
- 26.8% switch to a dark theme.
- 14% use two or more customizations.
- 7% zoom.
- 6.9% make the font bold.
- 6.1% use the Shake to Undo feature.
- 4.2% perceive the interface through voice.
These numbers don’t mean that the rest of us don’t need it all. Often people are unaware of the special features and technologies that make it easier for everyone to use services and applications.
What improves the user experience for everyone? For example, captions. 80% of Facebook users don’t like the automatic playback of videos with sound. Approximately 80% of video views on LinkedIn happen with the sound turned off.
How to Make the Interface Inclusive
Elements should be the same: if the screen has a bell icon, all screens should have the same icon, and the caption for the screen reader should have the same caption, too. The best way is to lay down captions for the elements for the screen reader at the level of the design system.
Hierarchy of elements, structure is important. Absolutely anyone, sighted or unsighted, will expect the same structure from product cards. Therefore, when arranging elements on the page, it’s important to remember that the screen reader reads from left to right, top to bottom. You can’t place instructions and other important information after the CTA because a person might just miss it.
Mental patterns play an important role. Icons, labels, color, and sound should make it clear what will happen in the interaction. For example, a designer needs to know how a blind person perceives an element, how they understand what that element is and what the state of that element is.
Provide the person with the opportunity to receive information in the way they can, multiple times and in different places. For example, people who are blind perceive information by hearing or tactile, people who can’t hear by gestures or text, and people without hands don’t use a mouse. Let users interact with the product in different ways: voice, touch, tab, controllers, joysticks. Let them customize the perception of information, such as colors. This is important not only for people with disabilities.
How to Test Inclusive Design
Testing an interface with inclusive design is no different: you invite people from the target audience and experts in the same way. But the methodology is slightly different.
Instead of automatic testing, it’s better to choose manual. This will help in practice to understand that the interface is really accessible to everyone. Even if automatic testing shows that all the parameters are taken into account, problems may arise when using an application or service because of features that were not taken into account during the development and automatic testing stages.
It’s important to invite not only people with some needs for testing, but to gather teams with experts who know a certain aspect well. It’s necessary to take into account the opinions of different people and describe errors as clearly as possible, so that it is clear to the designer and developer what to fix.