Accessibility in the Digital Age

Accessible design centers the user

Sarah Ficarro

Category: Creative

02.28.2023

NJI Senior Graphic Designer Sarah Ficarro works tirelessly to provide a positive experience for all individuals. She has a passion for shining a spotlight on accessible and human-centered design. Sarah incorporates several design tools and best practices to enable users with disabilities to perceive, interact, and contribute without barriers. She shares her toolkit and checklist to help others on their creative journeys discover how easy it can be to implement accessible practices.

On March 12, 1990, over 1,000 people marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to demand that Congress pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as part of the “Capitol Crawl.”  Thirty-three years later, the fight for rights to accessible platforms continues, extending past the physical world into the virtual. 

No two people are the same — that’s what makes us human, so it is vital for creators to fully consider the human experience when designing. At NJI, we incorporate accessibility tools and practices to ensure all users, regardless of disability, have the same web experience. 

What is accessible design?

Accessible design focuses on enabling users with disabilities to perceive, interact, understand, and navigate products and services so that they can contribute without barriers. In the digital space, this can mean enhancing contrast, adding captions, or adapting different tools like a traditional mouse. Not only do these modifications improve usability for those with disabilities, they improve user experience for all.

Website accessibility is guided by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, an international standard of recommended principles with testable success criteria. Each criteria is ranked A, AA, or AAA based on its level of conformance and is progressively harder to attain.

  • A: Criteria must be satisfied 
  • AA: Criteria should be satisfied
  • AAA: Criteria may be satisfied 

These guidelines are a more important topic than many realize; they can leave clients open to lawsuits if they are not met. This is because recent civil court rulings define websites as a point of public access; therefore, they would need to meet ADA standards.

Why is accessible design important?

It is often thought that people with disabilities make up a small portion of the world’s population, and therefore they are often forgotten; however, one in seven people worldwide — over a billion people — have some form of permanent disability. This means a significant percentage of individuals in both active and latent audiences are subject to alienation. There are six categories of permanent disabilities, each with a wide range of conditions and severity.

  • Visual 
  • Auditory
  • Motor/physical 
  • Neurological 
  • Cognitive
  • Speech 

Accessible design allows for equal usage of resources on the web, and must be considered by all designers, developers, and strategists when embarking on a new project.

NJI’s Accessibility Toolkit

In order to create work that will allow all users to have a positive experience, NJI often uses a few different tools to help keep accessible practices at the top of our mind during every project. These plugins are not substitutes for research, consideration, and testing, but they will help get you on the right track, and while there are multiple plugins and tools out there that are similar, we found that these work best for us.

  • Stark: for Contrast/Color-Blindness 
    The Stark free plugin can be downloaded as a Chrome extension. It also works for Adobe XD, Figma, and Sketch, keeping designers in-the-know on how to address Accessibility issues. Allowing you to automatically check the contrast of both color and text size and review your website for needed tweaks, Stark can be used to provide clarity for individuals with blurred vision and black and white color blindness. 
  • WAVE Evaluation Tool: for a variety of accessibility needs
    The WAVE Evaluation Tool is a plugin that allows for a more in-depth audit. It is also an automatic evaluator, so it will not take up a large amount of time in your creative process. The plugin is able to check for contrast and text legibility, flag instances of missing Alt text, and target visuals, auditory and motion elements and links with ease. Its assessment is based on the WCAG and is perfect for when you need a detailed report on accessibility at a moment’s notice.
  • Funkify: for situational simulations
    Funkify is a resource that you may find helpful in understanding the importance of your journey. It is a disability simulator. It is always best if you can test deliverables and products with live users; however, that is not always possible. In those cases, a simulator can help you see your creations from varying viewpoints. 

NJI’s Accessibility Checklist

This checklist articulates where to start your own journey to discover how to readily implement accessible practices.

  • Accommodate for accessibility up front. Create a plan at the beginning of the process to work with copywriters to create Alt tags for hyperlinks, icons, images, videos, other media types, and closed captioning for video features.
  • Test for accessibility with real users. Consider your audiences and what challenges they will most likely face, as well as the assistive technologies they may use.
  • If you can’t consider all disabilities, focus on blindness. 80% of accessibility issues are related to visual impairments.
  • Be aware of visual bias, but remember that accessibility does not mean ugly design. Don’t use color as the only means of conveying information. Ensure that you can still follow content if everything is grayscale. Sufficient contrast between text and its background is key. Avoid small fonts, and try to use aligned paragraph structures where possible.
  • Embrace the all-access attitude. It all starts with a little consideration. It can make a huge impact for clients and their audiences.

When creating, it is important to have empathy and compassion for your future users. The solutions we create for one group of people can be extended to help all groups of people. Create something that can make a world of difference to someone

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