A lot of the time we forget that usability goes hand in hand with accessibility. There is no point to creating an awesome website or product if someone can access it. But what do I mean by accessibility? According to Usability.gov, “About eight percent of the user population has a disability that may make the traditional use of a Web site very difficult or impossible. About four percent have vision-related disabilities, two percent have movement-related issues, one percent have hearing-related disabilities, and less than one percent have learning-related disabilities.” In short, they have a disability that makes traditional ‘viewing’ of a website difficult or impossible. And so, as a usability designer, it is also your job to make certain that they can both access and use your designs.
While in the grand scheme of things eight percent doesn’t seem like much, its very easy to accommodate your designs for less the usual needs. And, like most things, once you remember to keep the standards in mind and design around them a couple times, you’ll forget that you ever had to learn accessibility standards!
The website Section508 centers around the document which outlines the standards. I recommend you read through it, but if you want to get to the actual guidelines, they are located under Subpart B- Technical Standards. This is where you get the, “do this” part of the document. Several of things outline would naturally occur to a designer. But it is very easy to forget how others may have to interact with a device. For example, what if your device has an instructional video and the person viewing it is deaf? They need subtitles or a text option. Also, those users that are low vision or blind need the ability for a screen reader to read to them what is on the page, which requires that your code is ‘legible’ to the screen reader. (For example, naming your photos on a site. It needs a descriptor so the person with low vision can have the description of the photo read to them)
What about those users that are color blind? Does your design use color in a way that if you weren’t able to distinguish between colors, you would get lost? Like so much dealing with usability, accessibility is all about empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and design for them.
There are many things to consider about accessibility but there are plenty of resources. In particular, I’d like to direct your attention to W3.org’s section on accessibility which can help you put yourself in their shoes as well as Usability.gov‘s entire site. Here’s a list collected by Microsoft about the types of assistive technology available that you should keep in mind when designing and here’s an interesting page by Google on how to use the accessibility features on several of their products. (So you can try them out yourself)