A person in a wheelchair is presenting a screen.

Accessibility – starter kit for accessible design practices

16.02.21

This is a simple five-day guide to get you thinking about accessibility practices in design.

Why accessibility?

Accessibility means providing everyone with equal opportunities to engage with a product or service. There are solid business arguments on why accessibility is worth it: you expand your audience, it leads to innovation and it improves code quality. As a designer, you will also want to find your own, personal answer to this question. For instance, at Nothing, we have some shared reasons why we as a design company invest in this topic:

  • Because it matters: It is Nothing’s purpose to create products which matter. That’s the plan. Disabled people want to use these products too. In fact, digital technologies often matter especially and in very particular ways to disabled people.
  • Because it’s good design: Accessible design has all sorts of usability benefits for able-bodied people as well. It’s just good design.
  • Because (sometimes) it’s mandatory: Many of our existing or prospective clients are obligated by law to meet accessibility standards (for example governmental and administrative public services or companies and organisations which have a government mandate such as SBB; law in German, law in French).  

 Let’s begin the journey

Accessibility is not easy. Beyond all the specs and checklists, it requires us first and foremost to consider life experiences that are sometimes very different from our own. Life experiences we might not really understand. There are many questions and often no clear answers. It can be disorienting, especially when you get started. Practicing accessibility is a learning process, or the other way around: Learning accessibility is part of the practice. That means you can start right now, wherever you are, and you’ll get better with experience. We are all still learning, too. This guide is not supposed to get you to the top of the mountain, it’s merely an invitation to join us on the journey.

To keep things manageable and give you some time to reflect, we split the journey into five days. It’s often challenging to make space for accessibility concerns, it requires a deliberate effort. In that sense you might already consider it part of the practice to give these accessibility exercises appropriate time and focus despite all the other tasks that you have on your plate.

A visually impaired person is crossing the street. The scene is framed by a phone mockup.
Illustration by Katerina Limpitsouni unDraw

Day 1: Basic concepts

  • Read chapter 1 and 2 of “A Web for Everyone”, which provide a great introduction to the basic concepts of accessibility in design. (You can download the first chapter for free from Rosenfeld Media and read an excerpt of the second chapter on UX Magazine. If you enjoy and benefit from the reading, do buy the book.)
  • Think about how this relates to your life. Do you know someone who lives with a disability? Do or did you have a disability yourself? Can you remember a situation when you were limited in some way? Maybe you couldn’t use your hands during shopping, couldn’t see very well because of sun light, or couldn’t aim very well because you were running to catch a train.

Day 2: Inclusive practices

  • Read the introduction chapter of “Design for Real Life” to get an idea about inclusive practices.
  • Think about how this relates to your life. Can you remember a moment when you felt excluded because a design clearly didn’t take into account your life experience? When you felt like an edge case? Or have you heard of other people who have had experiences like this?

Day 3: Current, past and future efforts

As mentioned in the introduction, practicing accessibility is a learning process. For today, take a look at what’s currently going on at your workplace. Is someone else invested in this topic? What has been done so far? What (else) might be done?

At Nothing, for instance, we try to document and write about what we’ve done and learnt. If you’d like, take a look at the things we have written about accessibility:

 Day 4: Hands-on experience

This day is about hands-on experience. You may or may not have done some of these things already in the past. In either case: take some time for them today.

  • Mac users: Introduce yourself to VoiceOver on your Mac by doing the short VoiceOver training in System Preferences → Accessibility → VoiceOver.

  • iPhone users: Activate VoiceOver on your iPhone in Settings –> General –> Accessibility –> VoiceOver and try to adjust its configuration (speaking rate, verbosity, etc.) without looking at the screen.

  • Android users: Activate TalkBack in Settings –> Accessibility –> TalkBack and try to adjust its configuration (speech volume, verbosity, etc.) without looking at the screen.

  • UI designers: Assuming you’re using a Mac, install tools to check your colours, for instance Sim Daltonism, or bookmark an online colour contrast checker like contrast checker by WebAIM or contrast-ratio.com. Also, think about and explore more tools you might be interested in (you’re welcome to get in touch with us for this, of course).

Day 5: Looking back and looking ahead

Time to reflect. Look at the questions and ideas you came across throughout the week. Decide what you can take up in your design practice right now and what you want to work towards next. If you’d like, get in touch with someone from our design team and discuss your ideas and experiences from the past four days.  

As mentioned in the beginning, this guide is not supposed to get you on top of the mountain; it’s an invitation to join us. Think of us as your guide: We have years of experience in climbing to that mountain and know the tricky bits by heart. We also have the right tools at hand to support your venture. But first and foremost, we’ve learnt that accessibility is not a one-person job. If you could use someone to align your project team to work towards accessibility goals, let me know.

Do you have further questions about accessibility or about our work and services in general? Get in touch with Andreas Moesch (iadu@nothing.ch).