Accessible design is a much-neglected part of “sustainable”​ design

a row of cupcakes frosted with blue icing and sprinkles
My commitment to accessible design started when I unintentionally excluded a kid from my birthday party when I was six years old. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.

As someone who is intrinsically motivated to be inclusive, I really only seriously began to think of accessibility as a principle of sustainable communication design when we worked on an infographic for the GDC (now, DesCan) a couple of years ago. Of course, like many of you, I default to considering environmental aspects of sustainability but inclusivity and accessibility have been top of mind these days.

A couple of weeks ago Madelen, Krisztina, and I attended (virtually) axe-con which was put on by the smart people behind axe Tools, Deque Systems. It was a jam-packed conference and I learned a lot. Some takeaways of axe-con I think others might be interested in:

  1. Accessible design is GOOD design. Accessibility includes access to more users, and often underrepresented users, but everyone will benefit from the clarity and principles activated.
  2. Good content strategy + clear design gets you more than halfway there. Using headlines in order? Clear, logical labels? Seems simple but these details can be the difference between a successful screen-reading user experience and a user getting confused or frustrated.
  3. Build collaboration between designer/developer early and often and document your logic to make it easier to share throughout the process.
  4. Colour changes are by and far easiest to solve for. Design with a colour contrast minimum of 4.5:1 – ideally higher. Usually, I use WebAim Contrast Checker or Color Shark to test colours during the design process this but an awesome (new to me) tool worth checking out:
  5. Design more than one way to indicate a link. Though colour is a quick fix in some cases, it’s important colour isn’t the only indicator of an action/link/change. Subtle changes like border styles, shapes and underlines can be quite effective.
  6. Explore the axe chrome extension via dev tools > inspect to learn more about how you can improve.
  7. Dig into the details. I love checklists and this one from A11y Project is awesome. It’s a LOT easier to read/use than the official web accessibility guidelines
  8. Accessibility makes business sense. Accessibility legislation is coming to BC’s Provincial institutions as early as September 2022 and followed by legislation for organizations. Also, an estimated 1 billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, have a disability — broaden your target audience simply by including them.

I am loving how it feels to advocate for the end-user and broaden the reach of our communications by employing a higher-standard for design. I’m most definitely still very much on the learning curve but just like understanding user experience, once you learn a little, you can’t unsee the challenge!

I believe it is our social responsibility to design for accessibility. I am committed to learning more, so I never exclude someone from the “party” unintentionally again.

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