In the digital landscape today, it's common practice to design for the largest audience visiting a site—whether determined by screen size, browser, bandwidth, audience type, or other measure. But if we're doing our jobs well, we also need to consider the experiences of those not in the majority, particularly people with disabilities. Their experiences, though they may be critical for a smaller number of people, are just as important and valid. They must be a priority in all strategy and user experience decisions.
While we bake accessibility into every part in our web design and development process—it spans every Fastspot discipline, anchors every project—we've identified three particular areas it manifests in our user experience strategy work.
Go to the source.
There are dozens of “accessibility scanners” and tools available online today. Accessibility compliance is a legal obligation for many of the organizations and institutions that we work with, and an ethical obligation for all of them. When we think about scans and scores, it can be easy to lose sight of the real point of accessibility: the experience of the user. The best feedback comes from real people using the web the way they do in real life, and that includes users with disabilities.
Wherever possible, we like to book time during initial discovery sessions to get feedback from current users of the website with different abilities. It’s helpful to understand their particular needs for the experience, which we overlay with best practices and our previous experience in the field. We also prioritize usability testers with disabilities as part of our testing pool and modify our scripts, tools, and format accordingly. Of course, “users with disabilities” isn’t a monolithic group. There’s no way to test what every individual’s experience is going to be with the website. But by including diversity among test subjects wherever we can, we’re helping to remind our team to keep multiplicity in audience experience top of mind.
As soon as a site launches, maintaining compliance becomes a critical part of the way that content is planned, created, and maintained on the site. That said, compliant code is just the beginning.
Being accessible isn’t a box you can check off at the end of a project or simply because you passed a test—it’s a measure of how well your website works for the real people who use it.
You may be completely compliant and still have an experience that users find difficult to use. Sound user experience practices must be layered on top of compliant code—the foundation itself isn’t enough. For an agency like Fastspot, this means ensuring that all of our clients have the mindset and tools that they need to keep everything both test-compliant and human-accessible long after site launch.
We start by understanding current processes and resources. Does the working team understand what accessibility compliance really means and how to maintain it? Do they already have good habits and practices? We recommend setting up (or maintaining) an accessibility working group as part of our strategic recommendations. We’re happy to give feedback on how this team can ensure their organization stays aware of emerging standards, testing methods, and tools. We also include accessibility recommendations in the content strategy and style guide provided for our clients. Best practices for creating accessible content—including how to handle photos, videos, proper heading structures, and tab orders—should become routine for anyone who touches content on your website.
Articulate your commitment.
A commitment to accessibility compliance is a central tenet that will have a wide-ranging impact on a website. Some users will want—or need—to understand the commitment that you’re making, so creating a public place for accessibility approach and policy provides a valuable reference, to both internal and external audiences. To do so, we suggest that clients include an easily findable page dedicated to web and physical accessibility compliance methodology and organizational policy in the website navigation. If there are questions that arise about an organization’s commitment to accessibility, including the steps that have been taken or will be taken to maintain compliance, this page will be a first stop and an important one.
We work closely with our clients to provide accessible solutions and strategies that will move their institutions or organizations forward to a more usable, useful, interactive web experience for all their site visitors. But the work doesn’t end there. Accessibility is an ongoing endeavor that can involve periodically conducting usability tests, modifying content, and tweaking features or functionality. We acknowledge this is no easy feat, but providing a more inclusive place for users to interact with you is well worth it.
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