Skip to main content
  • What does accessibility mean?
  • Why is it important for my business to consider accessibility?
  • How can I start to think about making my products and services more accessible?

Say you have a business making paper and digital greeting cards. Each has a hilarious and touching message that other companies just don’t deliver.

One day, you’re dropping off some paper cards at a bookstore and see people reading braille books. Suddenly, it hits you: people with visual impairments might have a harder time benefitting from your products.

You’re left wondering whether a lot of people, including people with impairments, might not be able to enjoy the creativity and craft of your cards. But how many people in the world have disabilities?

Studies show that roughly 15% of the world’s population has a form of disability. That’s over 1 billion people. Learning about the kinds of impairments people may have can help you design experiences and products that benefit more customers.

Whether you make greeting cards, sushi, or an app that rates appetizers, lots of factors can impact how people access your business.

For example, you might have customers who have to use a keyboard or an external device to navigate your app on their smartphones or who rely on a program to read the content of your website aloud to them.

How you design your products and services for people with a wide range of abilities, including those with an impairment, is known as accessibility. And developing more accessible products can help all your customers in the long run.

For example, say you’ve designed your business’ app to be controllable by voice. This accommodates people with limited mobility in their arms – but it also helps a non-disabled dog walker who only has one hand free.

To better understand accessibility, it helps to know about different kinds of disabilities and impairments.

Some impairments are situational, like not being able to look at your phone when you’re driving. Others are temporary, like briefly losing your vision with a particularly bad migraine. Still, others are permanent disabilities, like being blind.

Designing for people with permanent disabilities can also benefit individuals with temporary or situational impairments. So think about those with permanent disabilities when making adjustments to increase accessibility.

Many impairments fall into 4 categories:

  • Visual: anything that impacts a person’s ability to see, including perceiving colour and light.
  • Motor/Dexterity: anything that impacts a person’s ability to use their body’s full range of motion.
  • Hearing: anything that impacts a person’s ability to hear.
  • Cognitive: anything that impacts a person’s memory, ability to use language, etc.

Visual impairments cover a wide range. People can have low vision, no vision, colour blindness – even the inability to see a laptop on a sunny day counts.

Lots of tools can help people with visual impairments use computers and phones. Web browsers’ zoom functions, screen magnifiers, and programs that improve the contrast between text and background colours can all improve accessibility.

There are also programs that give the work of the eyes to the ears. Screen readers, for example, read words on the screen aloud.

Remember that greeting card company of yours? If you’ve set up your website to work with screen reader technology, someone who’s blind can open an online card, hear it read to them, and have a chance to enjoy a chuckle.

Visual impairments also include how people see colour. So consider relying on more than just colour to convey information. If a user enters the wrong password, for example, try an alert that also includes on-screen text.

As with visual impairments, motor and dexterity impairments may alter how people interact with their devices.

For example, some people with a repetitive stress injury (or RSI) like carpal tunnel syndrome may find it painful to click a mouse. Others might have a motor impairment that makes it difficult for them to use a touchscreen.

To access digital content, people with motor impairments might pair a keyboard or other hardware with manual switches to a smart device. They may also use programs that let them control their devices with their voice or their eyes.

Hearing impairments might range from being deaf to trying to hear someone on the other end of the phone when it’s windy.

When building an experience which heavily relies on the use of audio or video, consider how a user who is hard-of-hearing might access that content.

Let’s say your imaginary greeting card site has an intro video for new users. You can consider including captions or a transcript to help those who might not be able to hear the voice-over or dialogue.

Using captions may benefit people who can hear, too. People might see your video when their volume’s off at work or when they’re commuting. Captions could help them learn just how hilarious and creative your cards are.

Lastly, some people have cognitive impairments. These kinds of impairments may affect how people take in and understand the content.

People with cognitive impairments may benefit from having content laid out clearly. So to make things more accessible for them, it may help to avoid designs that are overly busy or rely heavily on distracting animations.

Having large touch targets for interactive controls on your website, step-by-step instructions in your app, and an organized flow to interactions are all great ways to improve a product’s accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities.

But making things clearer is a smart move no matter who you’re trying to reach. So, as with visual, motor, and hearing impairments, improving usability for those with cognitive impairments can improve access for everyone.

  • The strong colour contrast between the text and the background
  • Links and buttons that are clearly different from other text
  • Colour and text alerts when info entered incorrectly
  • The ability to move around a webpage with the “Tab” key
  • Headers and navigations that’s consistent from page to page
  • Try using a screen reader like ChromeVox, VoiceOver, or NVDA (depending on your operating system) to see how a blind user might experience this site.

References: Google Webmasters, Think With Google, Google Primer