Information, Technology & Consulting

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences

Guest post by Sarah Horton

Sarah Horton is the co-author, with Whitney Quesenbery, of A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences, which was released in January 2014 by Rosenfield Media. Previously, Horton was an instructional technologist at Dartmouth before becoming Director of Web Strategy and Design, where she led the Web Services team and was on the leadership team in the Office of Public Affairs. She is currently Director of Accessible User Experience and Design for the Paciello Group.

Accessibility is typically considered at the end, if at all, of a design process. It might be addressed during quality assurance, by checking a website or application against a list of standards or success criteria. Some issues identified in QA can be corrected in the code of the product. But the best fix might mean design changes, or changes to interaction patterns and functionality. These types of changes have a significant impact on timelines and processes, and are typically not welcome at the end of a product development process. The end result of this type of after-the-fact accessibility is that issues remain unresolved. At best, the product offers people with disabilities a compromised experience—at worst, the product is impossible to use. When accessibility is approached in this way, very little consideration is given to the quality of the experience for people with disabilities.

User experience is a design discipline focused on creating products that are easy and enjoyable—even delightful—to use. Good experience is good business, because we are more likely to repurchase and recommend products that we can use successfully, and that we enjoy using.

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences, by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery, combines the disciplines of accessibility and user experience design by broadening the concept of “user” to include all users, including people with disabilities.

The book builds from a foundation design principles and methods: the Principles of Universal Design, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and Design Thinking. It puts people first, using eight personas—fictional but realistic characters—to keep the focus on people in discussing the impacts of design.

The chapters on accessible user experience principles and guidelines take up the main part of the book. Each chapter starts with a real-world example to demonstrate how the principle plays out in the physical world, and to help understand why it’s important on the web. After that follows “how-to” guidelines related to strategy, design, content, and coding, with information about who is responsible. Each chapter concludes with an interview from a leader in accessibility and user experience. The accessible UX principles are:

  • Clear Purpose: Well-Defined Goals
  • Solid Structure: Built to Standards
  • Easy Interaction: Everything Works
  • Helpful Wayfinding: Guides Users
  • Clean Presentation: Supports Meaning
  • Plain Language: Creates a Conversation
  • Accessible Media: Supports All Senses
  • Universal Usability: Creates Delight

The penultimate chapter covers how to build an accessible UX practice within an organization in a way that achieves and sustains accessibility over time. And the final chapter takes a look into the future of web accessibility, with input from accessibility advocates and practitioners worldwide.

A Web for Everyone is for content producers, designers, programmers, strategists, managers, leaders—anyone who is making decisions that affect how people with disabilities experience digital products and services. It provides a framework for taking accessibility from a compliance concern held by few to a shared concern that is the responsibility of everyone within an organization. Only in this way can the web be truly inclusive of everyone.

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Information, Technology & Consulting