Last week I was privileged to be asked to speak
on a panel to students from the Center for Independence on the University of Washington campus. I went into the experience excited to share about my career path and hopefully inspire others to get into the creative field of design. What I didn’t expect was how much it opened my eyes about the absence of UX/UI design for people with disabilities and how inspired I was by these incredible students.
The Center for Independence serves as a resource for individuals, age 14 and up, with disabilities to fully access and participate in the community through outreach, advocacy, and independent living skills development. They work together with participants to achieve independent living goals such as self-advocacy, self-sufficiency, and self-determination.
The panel was made up of a wide range of professional roles, from a Machinist, a Mental Health Counselor, an Engineer, and a Web Developer/Accessibility Specialist to name a few. As the web developer was in a similar field, I really enjoyed listening to him and his amazing answers to the questions asked by the students. The students were really inquisitive and asked some tough questions, all of which the panel answered openly and honestly.
I’m certain that finding a career path as a person with a disability is extremely challenging but I was inspired by this organization, and its students, to push the previously defined boundaries and gain a clearer picture of where our world needs to step up. I've done a little research to learn more and this is what I've found:
According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, there are four major areas where web design is widely considered the best way to achieve accessibility. POUR is an acronym representing Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
For a site to be Perceivable, it must contain information and user interface components that are comprehendible to all their senses. Have you considered how a person with vision impairment would use your website? You must provide text alternatives where it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language. If English isn’t the primary language, are we offering an easy translation option? One thing that was mentioned, in terms of design, that I had never thought about before, is specifically surrounding a logo design. Trends have recently been to have a mark that has a gradation of colors/shades. But, if the colors aren’t discernible to someone who is vision-impaired, is your logo successful?
For a site to be Operable, it must have all functionality available from a keyboard. A site should be designed with enough time for users to read and use content. Currently, I see a lot of content that scrolls from RSS feeds quickly, most changing every 5 – 7 seconds. Can you imagine how someone with a lower reading comprehension rate might feel when trying to read this? One must also consider not using content that could potentially cause seizures or physical reactions. Flashing bright colors and pulsating content are a thing of the past. Additionally, a designer/developer need to make it easier for users to operate functionality through various inputs beyond keyboard.
For a site to be Understandable, the information and the operation of a user interface must be clear and intuitive to operate. I have always tried to design sites where the user can navigate easily and with intention. The text content needs to be readable and understandable. A web page should appear and operate in predictable ways.
Lastly, for a site to be Robust, it must maximize compatibility with current and/or any potential future users, including assistive technologies.
We, as a design community, are failing to address these accessibility barriers, and we need to step up. Are we testing our design for people with visual and auditory disabilities? What about for those who have cognitive or neurological disabilities? Are we testing our design for those with speech and/or physical disabilities? For a website or business to truly be successful and capture the largest audience, these are questions that we, as designers and developers, should answer yes to every day.
I know that I have just scratched the surface here, but I am excited to learn more, and hopefully, successfully design brands that reach everyone. If you are curious as well, or want to share your experiences, please reach out and start a discussion.
Special thanks to Karissa Bacus of the Center for Independence for reaching out and giving me this opportunity.
Kirsti Rochon is a senior level brand designer and marketing professional in the Greater Seattle area. For more information, visit KirstiRochon.com