What Is Web Accessibility and Why Is It important?

Global Accessibility Awareness Day was celebrated in May to highlight why being inclusive is important for the 1 billion people who live with disabilities or impairments, focusing on digital access and inclusion.

We sat down with Sr. User Experience Designer Alena Borykova to discuss why the topic of web accessibility is important for businesses (and why it will no longer be ignored), what mistakes in development and design should be avoided to violate accessibility law, and what each of us can do to improve accessibility level in the world.

Alena, we already know about your path from developer to first user experience designer in Godel. But how did you know that Web Accessibility was your design direction? Why is the Web Accessibility topic so important to you?

I got acquainted with the term accessibility when I listened to the podcast “Design Like This” by designer Valeria Kurma, she specialises in inclusiveness. In this episode, Valeria talked about digital accessibility for people with disabilities and special needs, it was so interesting that I decided to take Valeria’s own course. It was thanks to her that I realised that accessibility is important, and not just for charities helping people who are different from the majority. Accessibility is important for everyone without exception. I’m primarily a designer, and accessibility is one of the tools that I use in my work.

Can you explain what web accessibility is? What is it for and, most importantly, who is it for?

Web accessibility means that any tools we use on the Internet must be designed to be equally easy to use for people with or without additional needs. Nobody should have to spend more time dealing with technology. Accessibility is precisely responsible for this equality; all web technologies should be equally accessible to everyone.

How is web accessibility important for business?

According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population has a developmental disability. This is a huge number, about a billion people and it’s a number that’s growing. Even if businesses do not think about some social issues, it becomes simply unprofitable not to notice so many people and not include them in your business. If a business cares about inclusiveness and its accessibility for everyone, you immediately begin to trust the business more.

When groups of people with different living standards and opportunities come together, the business itself moves to a new stage of development, and it simply becomes better. For example, if a person has colour blindness, but he can rely on the interface not only on colour, but also on other tips such as additional icons or text, then the project itself becomes much better from the UX side. That is, it is beneficial for businesses simply from the side of experience – everyone benefits from this.

Some countries already have accessibility laws for people with additional needs. So, for large corporations, before releasing a product, they will submit it to designers for digital accessibility testing. And if they do not give their approval, the release is delayed.

Web accessibility is increasingly advancing due to a combination of factors. Of course, there are laws that you just can’t ignore. Also with businesses, it is just not profitable not to notice such a large category of people. Plus, there are many caring people in the world who care about accessibility and want good change to happen.

What types of disabilities are important for accessibility?

There are physical and mental features of development, and disability in vision, speech and hearing. However, they can all be temporary, situational or permanent. A physical feature can even be a temporary fracture of the arm, but if at the same time a person experiences difficulties in using the product, this is already a lack of web accessibility. It could also be permanent dysfunction. For example, if a person is paralysed, for their convenience, there are devices that record the movements of their eyes, and they can type and press buttons – this function is called eye-tracking.

If we are talking about the features of vision, then it may simply be poor vision or a more serious disease. In Telegram, for example, there is a function for changing the font scale. For people with hearing disabilities, it would be great if the application had a text display function like subtitles, so that a deaf person could see.

I think many people have come across a situation when you arrive in a new country where they speak a different language, open a local website or download an application, and nothing is clear. So, if we are talking about speech features, it is very important that the application or site has a translation function from the original language so that all people can use it. Accessibility for people with mental disabilities is just as important as others. It is important to think about animation in interfaces such as advertising banners. If they are too sharp and active, they could cause distress and it will be difficult for a person to concentrate on the main information.

What is important to consider in terms of digital accessibility from the design side? Are there any main points?

In the world, 8% of the total population suffers from colour blindness. It is important for designers to remember colour combinations that can merge and interfere with visually impaired people – usually red and green. At traffic lights, of course, people already know the order of the colours, but it’s useful that in addition to the colour, there is also a human figure blinking. If an error is displayed in the application, it is better not only to highlight it in red but also to add an icon with a designation, for example, an exclamation point.  That’s what’s important in design – to give the opportunity to use other perceptions, not rely solely on one.

Additionally, the font must be easy to read. It is also important to consider the adaptive layout so that it does not run over the image. For people with dyslexia, for example, it is important that they can choose their own font in the settings, which will make it easier to read (there is a separate group of fonts for such people). It is key not to overload the space with text, to give more ‘air’.