Accessible interfaces: Top 25 ways for a better website

Last Modified: Jul 10th, 2024 - Category: Accessibility, UI Design, UX Theory
1676 words, 9 minutes estimated read time.
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’s Disease (PD) require special consideration, primarily addressed through specialized peripherals rather than specific UI adaptations. Adhering to the general WAI-ARIA guidelines typically suffices for accessibility needs.

It’s important to remember that many individuals with diseases prefer not to be singled out or treated differently. Therefore, avoid a “special treatment” approach and focus on implementing simple accessibility features.

If you aim to enhance your web presence with a better website or app, start with the basics: UX research. This involves engaging with people with PD or consulting knowledgeable professionals. Understanding the unique needs of people with illnesses or disabilities requires careful research and consideration.

For guidance, read our article “How to Create Better UI for Alzheimer, Dementia, and Parkinson’s Disease Patients”, where we explain how to design better user interfaces for those with neurological conditions.

Additionally, the study “Improving Computer Interaction for People with Parkinson’s Disease” offers valuable insights into HCI for PD patients.

Another recommended resource is “Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction: User and Context Diversity”, available on Google Books. This book, which I found invaluable when developing a system for Alzheimer’s patients, can also be adapted for PD. If possible, try to access it through available free sites.

The case for assistive technologies

Photo of a disabled couple using an ATM machine

Creating a desktop or mobile app UI that is accessible and usable by users with disabilities can be challenging. However, there are tools and resources available to help ensure your app is fully accessible and user-friendly for everyone.

When designing an accessible app, consider the following:

  • Software and Tools: Utilize software designed for accessibility testing. Many websites offer free tools, some accessible directly online and others requiring download. Each tool has its strengths, so use a combination to cover all bases.
  • Identifying Accessibility Issues: Regularly test your website or app for accessibility issues. Accessibility testing tools can help identify areas that need improvement. Testing across different platforms ensures that your app remains accessible to all users, regardless of the device they use.
  • Involving Users in UX Design: Involve users with disabilities early in the design process. Their feedback will highlight important details and help you avoid costly redesigns later. User input is invaluable in creating a truly accessible and user-friendly interface.

Key Considerations for Accessible Interfaces

  1. Assume Limitations: Design with the assumption that users may not be able to use both hands or keyboard shortcuts. For example, some users may use a trackball with their non-dominant hand while operating the keyboard with the same hand.
  2. Avoid Double-Clicking and Timed Actions: Double-clicking and actions based on timing can be difficult for users with disabilities. Keep interactions simple and straightforward.
  3. Make UI Elements Accessible: Ensure that UI inputs are large and easy to target. This is crucial for users with motor impairments or vision problems.
  4. Consider Vision Impairments: Users with Parkinson’s Disease often suffer from vision problems. Make sure your design is accessible for those who are visually impaired or colorblind.

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)

When designing accessible interfaces, it is crucial to involve actual users as early as possible. Their direct input will highlight problems sooner, preventing costly redesigns later. This approach helps avoid spending excessive time fixing issues that should have been identified during the initial development.

Keeping these considerations in mind when creating your mobile app UI can save you from common mistakes. Remember, users with disabilities have their own goals and needs. Avoid making design decisions without considering what they want from the app, as they may feel something is being “taken away” from them.

If an app is easy and useful for someone, regardless of their impairments or disadvantages, it will likely be easy and useful for everyone. Ensuring accessibility benefits all users and leads to a more inclusive and effective design.

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

Conclusion

Conclusion

Creating accessible interfaces and utilizing assistive technologies are crucial elements in user experience design, particularly when considering Universal Design and Accessibility. This is especially important for users with conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, where specialized peripherals often address their needs more effectively than specific UI adaptations. Adhering to WAI-ARIA guidelines is generally sufficient for ensuring accessibility.

It’s vital to involve actual users early in the design process to identify problems before they become costly to fix. Simple accessibility features can often meet the needs of users without making them feel singled out due to their condition.

Starting with UX research and consulting with knowledgeable professionals about the unique needs of people with disabilities is essential.

Using a combination of accessibility testing tools and involving users in the design process ensures that your app or website remains accessible to everyone. Considerations such as avoiding double-clicking, timing-based actions, and making UI elements accessible are key to designing interfaces that work for all users.

Ultimately, ensuring that your app is easy and useful for users with disabilities means it will likely be easy and useful for everyone, leading to a more inclusive and effective design.

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