Designing for Accessibility from the outset is not hard

Including Accessibility in design and the creation of solutions, applications and services is not hard, time consuming nor need be expensive.

Including Accessibility in design and the creation of solutions, applications and services is not hard, time consuming nor need be expensive. WCAG 2.1 has four guiding design principles which lay the foundations necessary for anyone to access and use web content. Anyone who wants to use the web must have content that is:

  • perceivable
  • operable
  • understandable
  • robust

WCAG 2.1 is highly detailed and can be overwhelming. Helpfully the HM Government have provided a simple overview of each principle. Whilst WCAG 2.1 is focussed on the web, the principles are universally applicable. You can use them in any design you create, be it for an Intranet, application or service. Even if you are not designing a solution you can apply the principles to encourage good behaviours like adding “alt text” to images you share on social media.

As WCAG2.1 is extensive and if you are not going to claim conformance you may wish to tailor your application of it to specific criteria. Common items to focus upon include the criteria for minimum contrast and alternate text. There are situations where non-conformance is not an option and you do have to think carefully about being selective. The position of HM Government is clear:

Your service must be accessible to everyone who needs it. If it isn’t, you may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. This means you need to start thinking about how users might access and use your service before you design or build anything

The HM Government have a set of minimum requirements that you should be aware of, especially when offering services for use on government projects.

But what if you are not designing the solution? You can still insist on products and services that include a level of conformance with the principles. I’d argue that for solutions like ‘an Intranet in a box’ you would go one step further and push for AA conformance to WCAG 2.1 as a minimum. I’m not a procurement specialist but adding something like:

  • The {thing you are buying} shall be designed to:
    • meet level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) as a minimum.
    • work on the most commonly used assistive technologies – including screen magnifiers, screen readers and speech recognition tools
  • WCAG 2.1 design principles shall be incorporated in the {thing you are buying} so that the solution is perceivable, operable, understandable and robust

would be a great start. You could also add these requirements to any internal design principles you might have.

There is a range of manual and automated tools available to help identify potential problems with your design. Nothing beats real feedback and so reach out to any groups or networks within your organisation that could help. If a group does not exist, then use it as the opportunity to create one. Finally, if you are assembling a team to deliver a design, project etc. then charge someone with the task of being the accessibility lead. Their remit should be the application of the principles. This role need not be full time.

You should also be aware of the impact of changes. For example, the introduction of additional colours from an expanded brand palette may invalidate the AA compliance of your Intranet. Accessibility is not a one-time activity so include for reassessments and set KPI’s around the inclusion of items like alt-text in images.

Remember not every disability is visible!

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