You feel it in your gut. Your disabled users deserve as much access to your website as anyone else. An Environics Research Group survey found that 70% of businesses agree that accessibility is the right thing to do. Standard checklists have made it easier for us to meet the minimum requirements of the objective issues, but how do we improve our work on a more subjective level? How do we put the human into accessibility?
There are some areas that cannot be addressed in the black and white, yes or no world of checklists. Good usability on touch devices, contextual descriptions of result screens and the inclusion of alternate content can all make a big improvement in your digital accessibility. Reviewing those areas in your digital projects can help you broaden your accessibility.
Improve Touch Usability
Touch devices have been liberating for people with a range of disabilities. Smartphones and tablets enable disabled users to work remotely when travel can be difficult, to write more when using pen and paper is impossible or to simply save precious time in the day to day tasks people without disabilities take for granted.
But there are considerable barriers for users with mobility impairments. A study of these barriers by the Inclusive Design Lab at the University of Maryland found simply entering and correcting text caused the most difficulty for mobility impaired touch device users. Text entry rated even more difficult than complicated finger gestures like zooming in and out. Take a look at your site and consider where a user may make mistakes, or have to enter unnecessary text. Make sure field requirements are clear before text entry, that items like phone numbers and postal codes accept a variety of formats and ensure you are not requiring fields you don't really need.
Intuitive navigation on touch devices can also be hampered by buttons that were originally sized for desktops. A study by the Informatics Department at the Technical University of Lisbon found that enlarging a 7 mm wide button just 5 mm can reduce button-click error rates for the mobility impaired from over 40% to slightly above 20%. Review all the navigation of your websites with size in mind and give consideration to the touchability of your buttons and links.
Think about the Results
Designers spend a lot of time making data easy to digest with innovative treatments of charts, tables and graphs. Unfortunately, these treatments won't have any meaning to many of our visually impaired users. Fortunately, screen readers allow us to provide alternate content in these cases. We need to take some time to consider what this alternative content should be, and write it in such a way that it does justice to the original designers efforts, and discusses the content within a context the visually impaired user can understand.
A graph, for example, is not just a list of numbers, followed by a curved line or set of data points, it's an informative illustration that you considered important enough to include in your tool. Describe it with that context in mind. It's a gradual rising slope showing a growth (or reduction) in financial returns over time, for example, perhaps with key date milestones.
Provide Alternate Content
We all understand that different people digest information differently - some are visual, others want stories and case studies. These differences are accentuated among individuals with even mild mental illness. You can improve the accessibility of your content dramatically by simply providing content in multiple formats, considering multiple styles of learning. See our article Send your content back to school for more tips on providing alternative content for all your users.
Looking beyond the checklists you'll find ways to improve the accessibility of your digital properties on a more human level. Standards are great at catching the black and white things that may be blocking your website to many users, but they can't stop and consider the intuitiveness of your site. This higher level of accessibility requires we put the human being into the process.