Digital Equality: The Importance of Accessible Software

We recently attended the UXSA (User Experience South Africa) Conference in November last year (2023), and we were treated to an educational workshop hosted by Inez Patel and Danielle Goosen from the team over at ABSA Bank. 

The workshops really helped us to understand that there is indeed an issue regarding the current landscape when it comes to applying accessibility into the digital products that we create. After a hands-on activity, where we had to design one single screen, it became clear that it would be one of the most challenging single screens we have ever had to design.

The hosts of the workshop introduced us to the wonderful people from Blind SA, who all had varying degrees of visual impairments. The user we were paired with had lost 100% of their vision. With the help of our workshop hosts we were able to design a screen that the user could interpret. Participating in this workshop prompted extensive research on the topic, leaving us with much to ponder.

This showed us that accessibility is more than just a catchphrase in our ever changing digital world; it's a fundamental idea that influences how we create software. For the purpose of developing inclusive digital experiences, it is essential for UX designers, developers, and product managers to comprehend and put accessibility best practices into action. Let's look at the importance of accessibility, important data, and talk about doable strategies for incorporating accessibility into your digital apps.

Why Accessibility Matters

  1. Inclusivity: Accessibility guarantees that digital products are usable and beneficial to all individuals, irrespective of their ability. People with long-term or short-term disabilities, such as those affecting their vision, movement, speech, hearing, or cognitive ability, are included in this.
  2. Legal and Ethical Obligations: Accessible design is required by laws and regulations passed in many nations. Use established guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to inform your design decisions. Compliance with these standards demonstrates an organisation's commitment to social responsibility.
  3. Effect on Business: Your potential user base grows when your design is accessible. Expanding the usability of your application allows you to reach new markets and increase client loyalty. Furthermore, easily accessible products frequently result in a favourable brand image.

Key Facts on Accessibility

  1. The Ageing Population: People's demands vary as they get older. Designing for older people means addressing issues with hearing loss and vision impairments. To cater to this population, take into account bolder fonts, strong contrast, and unambiguous instructions.
  2. Cognitive Challenges: Provide clear directions, reduce distractions, and simplify complicated interfaces. Cognitive impairments impact an individual's capacity for problem-solving, memory, and concentration.
  3. Motor Disabilities: Individuals with motor limitations may make use of voice commands or screen readers as assistive technology. Make sure the form can be navigated using the keyboard, stay away from mouse-only interactions, and give the user enough time to complete the form.
  4. Hearing Loss: Approximately 3 out of 4 people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss. For inclusion, captioned videos, transcripts, and volume control choices are crucial.
  5. Visual Impairments: Eye illnesses that reduce vision affect about one-third of the population over 65. To improve usability for visually challenged people, give priority to features like resizable text, alternative text for images, and keyboard navigation.

Implementing Accessibility in Digital Applications

  1. Semantic HTML: To construct a meaningful page structure, use the appropriate HTML tags (headings, lists, buttons, etc.). Semantic markup is essential for proper information conveyed by screen readers.
  2. Alt Text for Images: Use succinct, informative alternative text (alt text) to describe images. This boosts SEO and helps visually challenged people.
  3. Keyboard Navigation: Verify that keyboard navigation is available for all interactive elements (buttons, links, and forms). To find any holes, try using your program without a mouse.
  4. Colour Contrast: Make sure the text and background colours have enough contrast. Specific requirements are provided by resources such as the Web Content Accessibility requirements (WCAG).
  5. Incorporate individuals with impairments into your user testing process. Their input is very helpful in determining usability problems.

Companies Leading the Way

Accessibility is prioritized by a number of businesses in their digital products:

  1. Apple: Apple is renowned for its dedication to inclusive design and for continuously including accessibility features in both its software and hardware. 
  2. Microsoft: Resources for developing accessible experiences can be found in Microsoft's Inclusive Design Toolkit. 
  3. Google: Accessibility and usability are prioritised in Google's Material Design principles.

It is not optional or a nice-to-have feature to have accessibility. Any software design that seeks to reach and serve a diverse and inclusive audience must adhere to this fundamental criteria. Accessibility guarantees that users of the software won't encounter any obstacles or frustrations when using it, regardless of their needs, preferences, or abilities. Software Developers and Designers can produce more usable, efficient, and fulfilling products for all users by adhering to accessibility principles and rules. In addition to being a moral need, accessibility is also required by law (outside of South Africa) and provides a competitive advantage. Accessibility is therefore essential to good software design. 

We hope you will consider adding accessibility enhancements next time you code, design or think about digital products.

More Resources:

  1. Accessibility in Design: Best Practices, Case Studies, and Useful Tips1
  2. Introduction to Web Accessibility2
  3. 3 Strategies for Developing More-Accessible Software3
  4. Accessible design - why it matters and what are the benefits4

About the author

Zelien Zweers profile picture

Zelien Zweers

Zelien Zweers

I'm Zelien, an UX/UI designer with a passion for crafting software that's accessible to everyone while staying on trend. I find joy in exploring new places, spending time with friends and baking. Read more from Zelien Zweers...
Cuan Gilson profile picture

Cuan Gilson

Cuan Gilson

Hi! I'm Cuan, a passionate UX/UI designer with a focus on creating thoughtful user experiences. I aim to empathise with users and improve their interactions through design and research. Read more from Cuan Gilson...