Designing Accessible Digital Products: Complying with ADA and WCAG Standards
Ensuring your websites and digital products are accessible to those with disabilities is both a legal and ethical imperative. By meeting established accessibility standards, you allow more customers to use your offerings effectively.
This comprehensive guide covers designing accessible, inclusive experiences compliant with ADA regulations and WCAG criteria. We’ll explore specific techniques for improving accessibility across websites, apps, documents, multimedia, forms, navigation, colors, interactive elements, and reading experiences.
Let’s help you open your products to all!
Why Digital Accessibility Matters
Beyond being the right thing to do, prioritizing accessibility offers advantages:
- Opens offerings to more customers – Disabled users represent an underserved market
- Enhances SEO – Optimal markup aids search engine crawling
- Lowers legal risk – Lack of accessibility prompts lawsuits and fines
- Improves inclusive reputation – Shows you care about equitable access
- Allows assistive tech compatibility – Screen readers, Braille devices etc. depend on it
- Simplifies usage for everyone – Enhanced clarity and flexibility benefits all users
- Shares your message widely – Deaf users appreciate closed captioned video content
Accessibility should be core to your brand, not an afterthought. Integrating standards upfront costs less than refactoring later. Prioritize inclusiveness from day one.
Overview of Relevant Laws and Standards
Familiarity with core regulations and guidelines prevents violations:
ADA Accessibility Requirements
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability. Title III covers private business digital accessibility obligations.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines detail standards for accessible web content like minimum color contrast ratios. WCAG 2.1 is the current version most widely adopted by ADA.
Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act
Mandates accessibility for federal agency digital tools and documents. Related to ADA but specific to government.
EN 301 549 / WCAG 2.1 Alignment
The European standard EN 301 549 references and adopts Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 criteria.
Following established criteria reduces compliance risks while making offerings more usable.
Conducting Accessibility Audits
Audit existing or in-progress sites and apps to catch issues proactively:
Use auditing tools like SiteImprove, Axe, or WAVE to programmatically flag errors like missing labels.
Physically verify compliant UI behavior, logical focus order, semantics, and interactions.
Screen Reader Testing
Install tools like JAWS or NVDA to ensure screen reader compatibility and fluent reading. Listen to page reads.
Modern browsers contain built-in accessibility validators to check issues like color contrast.
Hire third party accessibility consultants to audit beyond compliance to best practices.
Continuous testing throughout development prevents major remediation efforts down the line. Prioritize accessibility from day one.
Designing Accessible Websites
Optimize websites for disabled users through inclusive design:
Enable bypassing repetitive elements like headers with “Skip to Main Content” links.
Ensure Logical Focus Order
Structure tab flows in logical sequence so users navigate easily using keyboard only.
Every interactive element requires an associated, readable label. Relying solely on placeholders is insufficient.
Include Aria Attributes
Augment elements with descriptive aria tags like aria-label conveying non-visible behaviors for screen readers.
Provide transcripts of audio content and captions of spoken words in videos.
Use descriptive alt text to explain photos and visuals to blind users. Avoid unhelpful “image58282” lacking context.
Support Text Resizing
Allow users to scale text larger without breaking layout using relative units like REMs.
Ensure Sufficient Color Contrast
Maintain at least 4.5:1 contrast between text and backgrounds. Avoid color combinations failing WCAG standards.
Continuously validate compliance using automated tools to avoid basic issues degrading access.
Building Accessible Web Forms
Forms present common pain points if inaccessible. Ensure:
Logical Tab Order
Tab flow moves top to bottom through related sections without large jumps.
Field Label Associations
Visually connect labels to corresponding fields. Grouping helps. Don’t orphan labels.
Provide clear instructions describing requested info above fields to avoid confusion.
Use specifics error messages associated with inputs over generic alerts to assist correction.
Accessible Form Controls
Standard inputs like radio buttons, sliders with aria tags for behaviors. Avoid custom widgets lacking accessibility.
Review Required Fields
Minimize required inputs. Screen readers will notify users of mandatory fields.
Confirmation on Submit
Provide confirmation messages on successful form submission to reassure completion.
Streamlined, annotated forms minimize completion hurdles for disabled users.
Designing Accessible PDFs
Optimize PDF accessibility to support screen readers:
Add Logical Reading Order
Use Adobe Acrobat’s Make Accessible action to designate reading sequence and confirm tag structure.
Verify Tagged Content
Apply tags to non-text elements like headings and images describing their purpose and relationship in the structure.
Confirm Color Contrast
Ensure combinations meet minimums. Can be validated within Acrobat.
Include Alt Text Descriptions
Add alternative text elaborating on charts, diagrams, and figures unreadable by machines.
Structure with Headings
Use heading tags to mark sections and hierarchy similar to websites. Don’t just make text bold or large.
Confirm documents reflow logically when zoomed without odd text or element displacement destroying context.
Include in-doc links to sections and chapters to ease navigation without scrolling and searching.
Thoughtful PDF authoring prevents excluding audiences relying on assistive technologies. Build accessibility in from creation.
Designing Accessible Apps
Mobile app accessibility depends on proper native element usage and attributes:
Native Accessible Controls
Use built-in native UI components that automatically include proper attributes and behaviors unlike custom non-compliant widgets. Let the OS handle accessibility.
Element Role Tags
Clarify ambiguous elements like horizontal rule dividers using role tags like <div role=separator>. Avoid confusing screen readers expecting interactive behaviors.
Review Tab Order
Set logical navigation flow through all content as if using arrow keys rather than tapping.
Label All Interactive Elements
Ensure buttons, toggles, and other tappable elements have associated text labels.
Use action-oriented button labels like “Get Started” instead of ambiguous “Tap Here”. Describe results.
Caption or Transcribe Multimedia
Include text alternatives for video and audio content.
Leverage native human interface elements and modifiers. Custom non-accessible widgets fail users.
Designing Accessible Data Visualizations
Graphs, maps, diagrams and charts pose challenges for assistive technologies. Help users:
Provideaccessible Data Tables
Include primary source data behind visualizations in tables with proper headers and schema for screen reader interpretation.
Write Descriptive Long & Short Text
Use detailed alt text to fully describe visuals. Minimal shorthand captions supplement longer descriptions.
Choose Appropriate Chart Types
Some chart types like pie charts prove very difficult to interpret non-visually. Default to accessible options like bar charts when possible.
Offer Multiple Representations
Where feasible, provide both tables and accompanying visualizations presenting data differently.
Note Vocalization Challenges
Alert users that certain unavoidably complex charts may be difficult for screen reader interpretation to set expectations.
With thought, even complex datasets can be represented accessibly. Strive to make information accessible to all.
Designing Accessible multimedia
Video, audio, and animated content requires additional considerations:
Include Audio Descriptions
Narrations detailing key visual details benefit low vision users. Extend standard video captions.
Transcripts of audio and closed captions of video provide essential aid to deaf users.
Allow Playback Control
Give granular playback control over time-based media like pause, stop, rewind, and volume.
Avoid Flashing Content
Quick luminance changes or strobing effects can induce seizures. Follow best practice thresholds.
Provide Sign Language Interpretation
Incorporate inset videos of sign language translations expanding access.
Transcribe/Summarize Social Feeds
Describe embedded social posts, tweets, comments etc. for context without reading all content verbatim which is overwhelming.
Dynamic content requires additional supplemental text alternatives tailored to disabilities. Strive for inclusion.
Designing Accessible Text Content
Optimizing reading and comprehension aids disabled users:
Use Proper HTML Semantic Tags
Mark up content with tags like <header>, <nav>, <article> for structure accessible technologies understand. Don’t just use <div>.
Include Alt Text for Images/Videos
Describe embedded visual media concisely in surrounding text. ~90 characters maximum.
Structure Text with Headings
Properly tag headings <h1-6> to establish hierarchy. Don’t just make text bold.
Write Concise, Simple Language
Use plain language with clear wording to ease comprehension. Avoid unneeded complex vocabulary.
Don’t Rely Solely on Color Cues
Call out important sections/text with underline or italics in addition to color.
Use Lists for Scannability
Break up dense paragraphs with bulleted or numbered lists when possible. White space improves reading ease.
Link to Definitions of Terms
Hyperlink jargon or uncommon concepts to a definitions section for reference. Reduce confusion.
Readable, structured text ensures disabled users understand content. Consult the dyslexic community on publishing best practices within your subject domains.
Testing Assistive Tech Compatibility
Review experiences across technologies disabled users rely on:
Keyboard navigate and listen to pages read aloud via NVDA, JAWS, VoiceOver to identify gaps.
Set monitors at 200% zoom or higher and validate usability without scrolling or reflow issues.
Mobile Screen Readers
Validate mobile experience using VoiceOver and TalkBack on iOS and Android.
Translate samples to Braille and proof structure maintenance.
Dictate text content instead of typing and monitor accuracy.
Directly sampling assistive technologies builds empathy and catches compatibility issues. Strive to offer the same usability enjoyed by all.
Accessibility Training and Standards Familiarity
Educate teams on standards to instill access-first thinking:
Accessibility 101 Training
Cover disability types, assistive tech, basic patterns and tools to get ramped up.
Screen Reader Testing
Require designers and devs to regularly navigate sites blindfolded using readers to gain empathy.
Accessibility Standards Overviews
Share WCAG criteria, PDF, mobile, and document remediation guides as references.
Accessible Component Libraries
Establish reusable accessible UI pattern libraries and widgets for efficiency and consistency.
Create project checklist assessing status of criteria like color contrast, headings, captions, ARIA tags, etc.
Appoint internal accessibility specialists guiding teams and providing quality assurance.
Accessibility improves when built-in upfront. Arm every team member with knowledge to identify issues quickly.
Prioritizing Accessibility Remediations
With audits complete, create action plans:
Focus on Quick Wins First
Address simpler fixes like adding alt text before more complex rearchitecting. Build momentum.
Prioritize by Usage/Traffic
Improve popular high-traffic pages first to maximize universal visibility.
Schedule Gradual Scope Expansion
Phasing allows systematic accessibility growth from key sections to full reach.
Start New Projects Accessibly
Integrate standards into all new work immediately to prevent future rework.
Dedicate Ongoing Resources
Plan for regular audits, fixes, and user testing as changes roll out over time. Accessibility never ends.
While achieving “perfect” accessibility proves elusive, demonstrate earnest, measurable improvement over time.
Key Takeaways for Accessible Design
Here are core principles to guide your accessibility journey:
- Continuously audit sites, apps, documents and multimedia for WCAG criteria using automated scanners, code reviews, and assistive tech testing.
- Arm designers and devs with accessibility training on standards, assistive devices, testing tools, and inclusive components.
- Follow guidelines for structuring accessible web experiences with semantics, color, focus order, labels and ARIA attributes.
- Design enjoyable, unhindered workflows complying with ADA regulations.
- Ensure forms, videos, PDFs, charts and other elements offer full accessibility through captions, transcripts, and annotations.
- Adopt inclusive best practices, from content style guides to technical protocols, as defaults improving all user experiences.
- Prioritize quick wins and high-traffic areas first. Grow accessibility coverage methodically over time.
While achieving perfectly seamless inclusion remains difficult, demonstrating progress towards this vision ensures more users can effectively access your offerings.
Reviewing experiences through the lens of disabilities builds empathy and advocacy internally. With education and understanding, inclusive design becomes second nature rather than an afterthought.
So tap your team’s compassion – and ingenuity – to open opportunities for every customer to use your digital products rewarding, however they engage with technology.
- 1 Designing Accessible Digital Products: Complying with ADA and WCAG Standards
- 1.1 Why Digital Accessibility Matters
- 1.2 Overview of Relevant Laws and Standards
- 1.3 Conducting Accessibility Audits
- 1.4 Designing Accessible Websites
- 1.5 Building Accessible Web Forms
- 1.6 Designing Accessible PDFs
- 1.7 Designing Accessible Apps
- 1.8 Designing Accessible Data Visualizations
- 1.9 Designing Accessible multimedia
- 1.10 Designing Accessible Text Content
- 1.11 Testing Assistive Tech Compatibility
- 1.12 Accessibility Training and Standards Familiarity
- 1.13 Prioritizing Accessibility Remediations
- 1.14 Key Takeaways for Accessible Design