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Where Accessibility and Usability Overlap; Why it’s Important for a UX Expert to Do the Audit

If you wait for symptoms, you’ve waited too long

Wanting to be a step ahead of disease brought about early testing and preventative medicine. Today the importance of discovering and diagnosing asymptomatic problems has never been more vital. In the same way, an accessibility audit for your online platform is just as crucial in the business of caring for people, even before they step in the door.

“Web sites are nowadays the virtual front door of a business. If you can’t get in, you can’t get your business done and they just lost a customer.”
Dmitri Belser, Executive Director of the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley

For those with disabilities, many online front doors are still unruly and hard to open. Whereas ramps, handrails, and automatic doors have long since become the norm for brick and mortar locations, too many online facilities have not kept pace with accessibility standards.

Opening the accessibility / usability doors

There is not a one-size fits all “front door” to your site for people with disabilities. While there is a significant overlap between accessibility and basic usability, usability practice and research often does not consider the specific needs of people with disabilities. Just as there are varied disabilities, there will be varied accessibility issues to resolve. And with ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuits jumping in 2020 a surprising 12% from 2019 (of those filed in federal courts), accessibility compliance is not only necessary, but something health management decision makers can not ignore. But where should you start?

Using knowledge to empower others

New York Times bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari, in his insightful work – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, writes that “The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us”. An accessibility audit can provide reams of information that will help in the diagnosis of your digital experience. But only an expert can interpret and apply those insights in a manner that balances user, business, and technology goals. Rather than simply providing better service, this enhancement of user engagement – or empowerment – is what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “an integral strategy to develop high-quality, integrated and people-centered health services”.

When your organization’s front door is the most welcoming amongst its peers, not only will more users choose to enter your doorway rather than struggle with other awkward and uncomfortable accessibility “doors”, but once inside they’re more likely to stay. Helping others truly does help everyone.

Empowering all

Improving accessibility welcomes more than just those with disabilities. Many of the accessibility design features that make for a better UX / CX for people with disabilities can actually be scalable to serve an even larger audience. With the current increase in online options for services across the board (due to restrictions for in-person services), online traffic by non-traditional users has increased dramatically. This “tectonic shift from offline to online” has created users who expect a level of service that meets their unique needs. Keeping your organization’s focus on all these people, abled and disabled, and how to better serve them, is where the intersection of usability and accessibility offers the inclusiveness all people want.

Navigating the commonalities and distinctions of accessibility and usability

From what we’ve seen, there are accessibility considerations that are often overlooked beyond the obvious ones like contrast, legibility, and readability. These affect not only those with vision or hearing impairments, but also those with cognitive processing issues, such as the increasing numbers of people with ADHD or dyslexia, or simply those not accustomed to the tsunami of text and speed required to process information online. Regardless, all will benefit from the implementation of recommendations that an accessibility audit will provide in these following areas.

Consistent navigation and wayfinding

Basic accessibility compliance upgrades may open the door, but once inside physical and/or cognitive impairments (or simply lack of online experience) may make it difficult for users to find their way around your site. In this regard, perception is key. Although navigation information may already be in place, if someone feels that they have to go on a search for that information or that it is not easily understandable – it’s the experience of being trapped in a box with no way out.

Clear page layout and information hierarchy

Accessibility interviews with those actually using your website will reveal how simple shifts in information placement can have a significant impact on your patients’ overall perception and satisfaction. Form and function must work together to provide the best experience possible for all users.

Screen display optimization

A UX expert knows that only offering screen enlargement does not solve the problems of screen legibility. For example, accessibility interviews reveal that some with cognitive impairments process digital information better using specific colors or color combinations. Considerations to text size, text on specific background colors, speech readers, and more are all critical to users with various impairments or disabilities.

Target size of elements optimized for mobile

Limitations for mobile devices regarding the amount and placement of text and other elements (graphics, photos, etc.) able to be displayed on a smaller screen need to be factored into design. As part of an accessibility audit, a UX expert will look beyond the challenges that are inherent to mobile and layer on the accessibility challenges that are compounded by users with impairments or disabilities.

Content that users can actually understand

Along with text legibility, consideration for how your audio and/or video are composed play a big role in how well your organization’s message is understood and therefore received by your target audience. Simply adding closed captioning is not enough. For those with disabilities, (as well as abled but older users), language options, playback speed, or even transcripts, can be very beneficial and therefore important in building community with users.

“Accessibility is really about inclusion or exclusion. If you have a website, do you want to include disabled people or do you want to exclude them?”
Lainey Feingold, Civil rights lawyer

Where accessibility and usability diverge

While there is overlap, a designer must consider more than basic usability to make an experience truly accessible. Here are some examples across different accessibility areas:

  • Vision: Users who are color blind, partially blind, or even completely blind may require specific adjustments such as not only suitable color and contrast and text enlargement, but also use of descriptive alternative tags to be read by a screen reader.
  • Auditory: For users with auditory impairments, of course, optimizing the reading experience is critical. Due to heightened visual senses, looking at bright colors is difficult. So along with color considerations, transcripts or closed captioning for podcasts or videos are necessary options.
  • Cognitive: Cognitive impairments, including ADHD and dyslexia, are extremely common. Too much movement on a page and/or too much content without hierarchy can make it extremely difficult for these users to process information.

Finding the right accessibility audit expert

F5 and Healthcare Management Administrators (HMA) and other leading businesses understand the importance of accessibility. Recently both these companies reaffirmed their commitment to accessibility by choosing UpTop for their digital accessibility needs. For F5, UpTop put together an accessibility and inclusiveness strategy for the company with insightful research that included a competitive benchmark, detailed F5 site property evaluation, and accessibility interviews. For HMA, UpTop was instrumental in the design and development of their new and modern member portal and mobile app. UpTop ensured that it was not only effective for serving HMA’s users, abled and disabled, but was compliant with the WCAG 2.1 AA standard.

UpTop has an experienced team from various fields with the capabilities to prioritize your company’s accessibility needs against the broader UX strategy for your business. Additionally, UpTop can assess your accessibility needs, design and test the recommended solutions prior to implementation. All these factors together offer not only actionable insights but results that will help you bring about the changes in your company’s online presence to build community and empower your clients, able as well as disabled.

If accessibility compliance is on your roadmap, you’ll want to integrate it into your overall UX strategy and not slot it in as an afterthought. UpTop is ready to help you learn more, answer your questions and help you with that strategy. Our staff are experts in both accessibility and UX and can discuss your company’s specific needs and how to meet them on time.

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