It’s 2017 and the internet is everywhere. But for many Ontarians with disabilities, it remains largely inaccessible. That’s why the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act features guidelines to ensure all people can navigate the web with ease. And by 2021, websites for both private organizations and public institutions need to meet the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 at Level AA.
While there are certain requirements and parameters to follow when creating accessible websites, this doesn’t mean we have to abandon UI elements like colour, typeface, and texture.. Instead, accessibility can be a by-product of good UX and design thinking since we’re always working towards designing products and services for people in real-life contexts and situations.
Toronto-based Designer K Andrews says in Huffington Post, “the first thing to note is that accessible design principles are often better for everyone, not just people who require accessibility features.” By captioning videos, she writes, you don’t only make them accessible for those with auditory impairments; you also help users who might be watching in a public place without headphones.
And on a deeper level, it’s important to think about how web content is structured. Is it organized in a way that makes sense to all users, with and without disabilities? Can visitors navigate through it with ease? Is it set up in a way that would make sense to screen-reader software?
By keeping these questions top of mind, it’s only natural we design websites that comply with the AODA.
As designers, we’re constantly fielding questions from clients and busting myths regarding the AODA guidelines. About 12 years ago, user experience consultant Paul Boag addressed some of these fears.
“The big complaint designers always make about accessible websites is that it compromises the site’s look and feel. I have to say I think that is just an excuse for the fact that designers are put off by the intimidating list of requirements relating to accessibility,” he writes on his website Boagworld.
Sure, there are lots of requirements to consider, but if you’re designing for real people—which includes those with disabilities—incorporating them is a no-brainer. Take Apple (yes, the tech giant), for instance. Its website is completely accessible, yet you’d never call it flat or heaven forbid, ugly.
Perhaps in the 2020s, these fears surrounding web accessibility and the AODA will seem laughable. By then we’ll all be structuring content hierarchically for assistive technology, making the information accessible for all, without even worrying about the impact on the visual design. That’s because at the end of the day, good UX should be synonymous with accessibility.