A Web for Everyone
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A Web for Everyone

Designing Accessible User Experiences

Sarah Horton, Whitney Quesenbery

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  1. 288 pages
  2. English
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  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

A Web for Everyone

Designing Accessible User Experiences

Sarah Horton, Whitney Quesenbery

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About This Book

If you are in charge of the user experience, development, or strategy for a web site, A Web for Everyone will help you make your site accessible without sacrificing design or innovation. Rooted in universal design principles, this book provides solutions: practical advice and examples of how to create sites that everyone can use.

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A Web for Everyone

Understanding the Accessibility Equation
Inclusive design
Building a Framework for Accessible User Experience
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Principles of Universal Design
Design Thinking
Using Design Thinking for Accessibility
The web is making the world a smaller and more connected place, but there is still much work to be done to make the web an inclusive place that everyone can use. As web professionals, our decisions define and shape the web landscape. They can create barriers, and they can remove them. Guided by an understanding of people’s needs, it’s also possible to avoid barriers altogether, right from the start. The approach you take defines whether the web is, indeed, for everyone.
In this book, we will present a design approach that begins and ends with people. We believe that great design starts by thinking about how to make products work for everyone. We will take a broad view, looking beyond the idea of an average user in a typical setting to explore the widest range of user abilities and contexts that we can imagine. Expanding “design thinking” to include all people, we might call it “accessibility thinking,” which is using design thinking for accessibility.
Diversity is part of the richness of life. There’s even evidence that differences in human brains and how we perceive the world are as essential as
biodiversity is to the rich ecosystem of plants and animals.
Instead of pretending that hidden away in a vault somewhere is a perfectly “normal” brain, to which all other brains must be compared … we need to admit that there is no standard brain, just as there is no standard flower, or standard cultural or racial group, and that, in fact, diversity among brains is just as wonderfully enriching as biodiversity and the diversity among cultures and races.
Thomas Armstrong, The New Field of Neurodiversity
We know that by seeking answers to complex and even singular challenges, we will discover solutions that benefit everyone.
When we have a web for everyone, people with diverse abilities and contexts can use the web successfully and enjoyably.

Understanding the Accessibility Equation

Design isn’t simply about how something looks. A good design is visually appealing but also meets real needs, has substance and depth, and works well and intuitively.
Designing is an activity. When you make decisions about a product, and your decisions impact the lives of its users, you are designing—whether you think of yourself as a designer or not. The strategist defines the purpose and goals, the interaction designer focuses on how users will interact with the product, the visual designer creates the look, the content strategist gives the product a voice, and the developer makes everything work. Whatever the title and task, all of these roles are engaged in the activity of design.
When we talk about design, we mean it in this larger sense: the umbrella over all the skills and disciplines that contribute to the user experience.
No matter what your roles or skills are, it’s important that you—that all of us—own the term “design” because it comes with incumbent responsibilities, which we need to own as well. Design has the capacity to improve lives. When we wield such a powerful tool, we need to appreciate its power so we are able to use it for good.


Like usability, accessibility is a quality—in this case, it means how easily and effectively a product or service can be accessed and used. Physical and cognitive ability occur along a spectrum. Everyone has a limit as to what they can physically accomplish and intellectually comprehend. Good accessibility is designed for the full range of capabilities, as well as for the context of use or environmental constraints.
As Ben Shneiderman put it in his book, Leonardo’s Laptop, technology must be designed to include people with “new or old computers, fast or slow network connections, and small or large screens, ... young and old, novice and expert, able and disabled, ... those yearning for literacy, overcoming insecurities, and coping with varied limitations.”
When websites and applications are badly designed, they create barriers that exclude people from using the web as it was intended. Poor accessibility creates a disabling environment where the design does not consider the wide variation in human ability and experience. In other words, disability is a conflict between someone’s functional capability and the world we have constructed. In this social view of disability, it is the product that creates the barrier, not the person, just as design is at fault when a site has poor usability.
We could write this as an equation:
Ability + Barrier = Disability
The question, then, is how to avoid creating barriers and thus maximize the accessibility of a product? The answer: by adopting a practice of accessibility.
When people come first, designers think about real people with real needs. In Chapter 2, “People First,” we’ll introduce eight mini-portraits of people who use the web and who also happen to have disabilities. Starting with personas like these, you can make sure to design in the necessary features so that everyone has what they need to be successful with your websites and applications.
Think about a building. Public buildings do not generally provide wheelchairs for users with limited mobility. However, they are constructed so that visitors using wheelchairs can get around. Similarly, designers need to anticipate the needs of visitors to their websites and web applications and make sure that the necessary features are available to those who need them.

Inclusive design

Let’s go further and think about what it takes to design a great user experience for everyone. We can aim to reverse the equation from one that ends in a barrier to one that includes everyone.
Design + Accessibility = Inclusive Design
A universal web is designed for all, inclusive of geography, language, and culture. It’s a place that is available for people of all abilities, aptitudes, and attitudes. In short, design has the power to not only remove barriers but also not to create them in the first place.
The terms universal design, inclusive design, barrier-free design, humancentered design, and design-for-all are all concepts that strive toward a common goal: to make the user experience the first concern in making design decisions and to expand the description of users to include a wide range of human ability.

Building a Framework for Accessible User Experience

Our goal with this book is an approach that encourages design for everyone, where accessibility is not approached as a last-minute checklist of additions that are piled onto the product, but rather a set of features that are designed in place from the start.
We created a framework, based on established design principles, to identify guidelines and strategies for incorporating accessibility into any website or application throughout the design and development process. The nine principles are:
People First: Designing for Differences
People are the first consideration, and sites are designed with the needs of everyone in the audience in mind.
Clear Purpose: Well-Defined Goals
People enjoy products that are designed for the audience and guided by a defined purpose and goals.
Solid Structure: Built to Standards
People feel confident using the design because it is stable, robust, and secure.
Easy Interaction: Everything Works
People can use the product across all modes of interaction and operating with a broad range of devices.
Helpful Wayfinding: Guides Users
People can navigate a site, feature, or page following self-explanatory signposts.
Clean Presentation: Supports Meaning
People can perceive and understand elements in the design.
Plain Language: Creates a Conversation
People can read, understand, and use the information.
Accessible Media: Supports All Senses
People can understand and use information contained in media, such as images, audio, video, animation, and presentations.
Universal Usability: Creates Delight
People can focus on the experience and their own goals because the product anticipates their needs.
Each principle has a set of guidelines, which we will cover in detail in the following chapters.
To construct this framework, we stand on the shoulders of giants, building on three important bodies of work: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the Principles of Universal Design, and design thinking.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) sponsors many efforts in support of accessibility, which is not surprising given the commitment of its founder:
The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Tim Berners-Lee
W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops web accessibility standards and guidelines for web and software developers. The two most important are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) standard. The WAI also provides guidelines for developing web authoring tools (ATAG) and software, like browsers and media players (UAAG).
In addition to standards that are specifically about accessibility, the WAI works with other W3C standards projects, including the HTML5 standard, the next version of the basic language of the web. This standard is critical to making a web for everyone, because there, at the core, is where the basic structures make it easier—or harder—to make a site or application accessible.
The WAI also hosts a great number of educational resources, including the very helpful document, “How People with Disabilities Use the Web” (www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/).
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are organized under four foundational principles, which conveniently form the acronym POUR:
Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can see or hear.
Operable: User interface components and navigation must be designed so that users can interact with them and they can support assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must communicate clearly and consistently so that the content is readable.
Robust: Content must be written so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Having principles as part of WCAG 2.0 is an important step toward incorporating accessibility into design. Rather than simply following the technical guidelines as a checklist, the principles offer designers an approach to meeting user goals. The principles articulate the “why,” and the guidelines articulate the “how” of web accessibility.
We used the POUR principles to think broadly about user needs and WCAG 2.0 to identify the accessible features that must be present in the design. In Appendix B, “WCAG 2.0 Cross-Reference,” we map the principles and guidelines to our framework.

Principles of Universal Design

In 1996, a group of designers, architects, and rehabilitation engineers developed a set of principles to support the universal design approach. The approach was based on a philosophy articulated by Ron Mace, an architect, disability rights advocate, and founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.
Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Ron Mace
The Principles of Universal Design start from the premise that there is no typical, average, or normal user. Rather there is a basic underst...

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