Accessible interfaces: Top 25 ways for a better website

Added on July 8, 2021 - Category: Accessibility, UI Design, UX Theory
Disabled person at work using an accessible interface

Assistive technologies and accessible interfaces are two of the most important areas in user experience design, especially when considering Universal Design and Accessibility.

Brain electric impulses scanner device
A brain wave scanner

People with Parkinson Disease (or PD, as it is also called) need special consideration, as you may imagine. Keep in mind, however, that most of these considerations are covered by special peripherals, not specific UI. In fact, following the general WAI- ARIA guidelines is more than enough.

Remember that many people with diseases want to forget that they have a disease and don’t want to be treated in a special way, so try to minimize any “hey, I know you have a very complex disease, so I made a page for you” approach. Simple accessibility should be more than enough.

If you’re lloking to improve your web presence (as in “have a better website or app”), you’ll need to start with the basics. That is: UX research. For this you’ll need to have access to people with PD, or at least knowledgeable professionals.

So make sure you research the topic because contrary to what many UX professionals would think, working with people with illnesses or disabilities is a very different thing than we might think.

If you need guidance, make sure you read our article on How to create better UI for Alzheimer, Dementia and Parkinson Disease patients, where we explain in detail how to create a better user interface for people with neurological pathologies and conditions.

Additionally, you can read Improving Computer Interaction for People with Parkinson’s Disease, a very interesting study on HCI for PD patients.

And at Google Books you can find Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction: User and Context Diversity, which I really recommend. I got it when we were building a system for Alzheimer’s patients, and its content can also be adapted to PD, so if it’s within your means, try to get it. There are some free sites available, just in case

The case for assistive technologies

Photo of a disabled couple using an ATM machine

Creating a desktop or mobile app UI that has an accessible interface and, most importantly, usable by users with disabilities can be tricky.

There are many things to consider when creating one, but luckily there are some tools that can help you make sure your app is fully accessible and friendly to all who use it!

What software should I use? How can I tell if my website/app has accessibility issues? What tool should I use to test for accessibility? What website is the best place to get tips on improving an app’s accessibility? Can anyone create their own iPhone or Android app without needing coding skills? Why do native apps still look better than web apps?

These types of tests aren’t really useful because they won’t show you anything new. If your website behaves differently on one platform, then that will prevent someone who doesn’t own that platform from accessing it

There are many websites that offer free accessibility testing tools. Some can be accessed directly on the website, others need to be downloaded first. There is no “perfect” way to do this, as what works for one person may not work for another. However, there are many good resources to help you make sure your website/app is as accessible as possible to users with disabilities when someone using a different browser or type of computer tries to access it!

This is a perfect example of how important it is to involve the user in user experience design. The input from the experts on this site is very valuable and will be a great help. But getting input from actual users as early as possible in any design situation will highlight important details early on and avoid you having to try to re-plan them.

Assume that the user can’t use both hands or keyboard shortcuts.

My dad uses his non-dominant hand with a trackball because it shakes less, but has to operate the keyboard and click with the same hand.

Try that out for yourself; brutal.

So accessible interfaces and assistive technlogies have a dew things to consider:

  • Double clicking is a no-go.
  • So is anything based on timing.
  • Keep it simple and make sure the UI inputs are big targets.
  • People with PD often suffer from vision problems.
  • Be sure to address accessibility issues for the visually impaired.
  • Also, they may be shadow blind for certain colors, so address this as well as accessibility for shadow blind users.

And of course, you can read more at the WAI website

If you want to know more about Parkinson’s disease (PD) and its main symptoms and causes, this is a good place to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_disease

Also check out this video on understanding the difference between PD and dementia for people with disabilities, which I found helpful in creating our app for Alzheimer’s and Senile Dementia patients:

Some tips for accessible interface building

And, of course, there is much more information on the internet. Just remember to do some research before designing and interacting with your users. This is not always easy with people with disabilities or illnesses, as these particular situations are very different from others.

Accessible interfaces are a must

Disabled person using a head wand on a better website
Better websites require better assitive technologies. Photo of Head Wand (Wikimedia Commons)

For this reason, when designing accessible interfaces it’s important to get input from actual users as early as possible in any design situation – direct input from them will highlight problems earlier than trying to redesign problems later.

It also helps to avoid spending too much time trying to fix problems that should have been identified during the development of the site itself, if they hadn’t been taken care of beforehand! (and I’m assuming you didn’t just choose this theme because it’s trendy).

Keeping all this in mind when creating your mobile app UI can save you a lot of time by avoiding common mistakes when working with this type of user.

Also, remember that they have their own goals and needs, so make sure you don’t force design decisions without considering what they want from an app, or they may feel like something is being “taken away” from them instead.

Remember, if it’s easy and useful for someone, regardless of how impaired or disadvantaged he/she may be (remember, this goes both ways), then most likely everyone will use it!

Accessibility Design considerations for a better website

Photo of different assistive devices used in accessible interfaces

The following list contains a set of basic rules that will help you more easily design, organize, and develop accessible interfaces. While the title of the section refers to better websites, these accessibility rules apply to a variety of projects and scenarios

  1. “One-size-fits-one” solutions that integrate well. This is different from “one-size-fits-all” and is perhaps most likely to be realised in the digital realm, where designers can design flexible interfaces and experiences that adapt to different contexts.
  2. However, despite this emphasis on personalisation, segregated or overspecialised (exclusionary) solutions should be avoided.
  3. Similarly, adaptive systems that make decisions for the user should be avoided.
  4. Respect for the dignity and autonomy of the user throughout the design process and the “importance of self-determination and self-knowledge”.
  5. Design based on special cases and “extreme users” (users with disabilities and special needs).
  6. Working in inclusive teams (as diverse as possible) with inclusive processes and accessible tools.
  7. Socially conscious and responsible design. Designers working inclusively need to be “aware of the context and wider impact of any design and strive to achieve a positive impact beyond the intended beneficiary of the design.”
  8. Inclusive design and accessible interfaces are not limited to accessible design. In cases where inclusive design takes disability into account (as in the borderline cases where users happen to be disabled), disability and accessibility are reformulated along a social model of disability. Such a social model of disability sees disability as a contextual “mismatch between the needs of the individual and the design of the product, system, or service.” Accessibility in an inclusive design context thus becomes the ability of the design or system to meet the needs of the individual user within its purpose. Therefore, eliminating the “mismatch between the needs of the individual and the design” is key to inclusive design.
  9. Develop an (interactive) accessibility or usability manual together with a demonstration of how it is applied.
  10. Early planning
  11. Careful testing
  12. Avoidance of one-size-fits-all solutions as far as possible (see first point)
  13. Attention to interfaces that avoid routinization for users who are susceptible to certain pitfalls
  14. Usability of adaptive systems based on empirical values as well as social norms and social understanding
  15. Strengthening the self-determination of participants through cooperation in the design of particular hazards
  16. Engaging stakeholders of those affected by the technology to promote dialogue and research opportunities. Without this, we would miss out on important insights into functional disabilities such as blindness, cognitive disabilities, orientation disorders such as autism spectrum, intellectual disabilities, etc. This includes borderline cases where the increased use of universal resources may present particular challenges in terms of expectation, perception and understanding.
  17. Include co-designers who have experience of, or can empathise with, particular types of disability that the technology is intended to help directly or indirectly. Also include all those marginal users who can never be freely included in areas related to their functional health limitations; but also integrate self-selected (“karaoke” drivers) into autonomous devices using output sensors & end cues (e.g. Braille input).
  18. Ensuring employment opportunities for people from this demographic.
  19. Incorporating access needs and personal medical conditions of individuals to improve design, technologies, functional assistive devices, etc.
  20. Aspects of developability that do not relate to individuals or large groups (older people with manitis, spinal lesions, stroke deformities, muscular dystrophy, multiple disabilities, arthritis, kidney disease, dialysis, etc.). This could be supported by students focusing on disability design and accessible interfaces.
  21. Specific reasons need to be explored: what standard heights; what size of screens; does accessibility need to be adapted for wheelchair users?…
  22. Models that include cognitive process analysis, presentation training, collaboration, etc., thereby modifying visual information processing systems
  23. Because many objects have an overarching function, multiple readings are often required to narrow down usability issues when aiming for better websites. User experience and satisfaction is no longer ab initio, but a degree after analysing replications of interface elements
  24. New approaches provide a casomorphic model rather than analysing the functionality of product features
  25. Interactions among D&I practitioners seeking alternative frameworks, such as the “drill ’em” paradigm with deep structure interviews

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