Inclusive UI/UX Principles: Designing for Accessibility

By Cam Velasco

CEO & Co-Founder
Published: Mar 20, 2024
Designing for accessibility and inclusivity in UI/UX is essential for equitable digital experiences. Prioritizing empathy and thorough research enables the creation of products that cater to diverse user needs.
A visually impaired person using a computer with screen reading software, wearing headphones. It seems like is being part of UI/UX principles for accessibility.

UI/UX principles of accessibility involve making your digital products usable for people with disabilities, while inclusivity goes further to consider a wide range of human diversity, including language, culture, and more. 

Balancing accessibility and usability is crucial. This means ensuring that everyone can access your design and easily complete tasks. Key strategies include empathizing with users, conducting thorough user research, and integrating accessibility. 

Testing and iterating based on feedback are vital for refining accessibility. Successful examples from companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Uber demonstrate the value and impact of these practices. 

Remember, making your design inclusive is not just good for business; it’s the right thing to do.

Accessibility in UI/UX 

Accessibility in UI/UX design means making websites and apps easy to use for people with disabilities. This can be anything from trouble seeing, hearing, moving, or thinking.

Some ways to make your design accessible include using alt text for pictures so people who can’t see well know what’s there, having captions and written versions of audio and video for those who can’t hear, making sure someone can navigate your site with just a keyboard if using a mouse is hard for them, and designing clear layouts and menus to help people with cognitive challenges

The main idea is to remove any obstacles that make it hard for all users to get, understand, navigate, and interact with your website or app.

Inclusivity in Design

Inclusivity in UI/UX design means creating products that everyone can use, no matter their background, ability, or situation.

Accessibility is mostly about helping people with disabilities, but inclusivity goes further. It’s about bringing people with different abilities into the design process by thinking about how things like language, culture, money, age, and other life stuff affect how people use your product.

Inclusive design tries to make sure no one is left out. This means designers need to really think about who they’re designing for and what kinds of things might get in their way.

UI/UX Principles: Distinguishing Accessibility vs. Usability

Open laptop displaying a 'Creating a Messenger Bot' tutorial page on the screen, with a finished coffee cup and water jug nearby.

Accessibility and usability are two ideas for making websites or apps easy and efficient for everyone to use. They are similar but focus on different things:

Accessibility Focuses on Diverse User Ability

Accessibility is all about making sure people with disabilities or impairments can use and understand a website or app. It’s about making sure everyone can get in the door, so to speak.

Examples include writing descriptions for images for users who have trouble seeing, providing captions for videos for users who are hard of hearing, allowing navigation through a keyboard for users who find it hard to use a mouse, and designing easy-to-understand layouts for users who need extra help

The main question with accessibility is, “Can everyone get to and use the features of this design?”

Usability Focuses on Task Completion

Usability is about how easy and efficient it is for any user to do what they need to on a website or app.

You need to provide easy-to-find navigation menus, and clear steps to take action accompanied by simple designs. 

With usability, the question is, “How easily can someone do what they need to do?”

Balancing Both Concepts

The best design makes sure that it’s accessible, so different kinds of users can use it, guiding to also make sure It’s usable, so everyone can do what they came to do quickly and easily.

Getting this balance right means understanding who your users are, what challenges they might face, and what they want to achieve. Accessibility opens the door, and usability helps people move through smoothly.

Core Tenets of Accessible UI/UX Design

Empathy and User-Centric Process

When we design for everyone, it’s crucial to start by putting ourselves in their shoes. UX designers need to really get what it’s like for people with different abilities when they use websites or apps. This means talking to users with diverse needs to understand their experiences.

Our main aim is to make experiences that everyone can enjoy, not just the majority.

In-Depth User Research

It’s important to keep learning about the challenges and problems users with disabilities face. Good ways to do this include doing interviews to hear directly from users about what’s tough for them.

This research should guide our design choices from the start.

Inclusivity Built In From the Start

We can’t just think about making our designs work for everyone at the end of the project. Accessibility needs to be part of the plan from the very beginning.

Flexible Navigation and Control

Everyone should be able to use websites and apps their way, especially people with disabilities. This means designs should allow for using a keyboard instead of a mouse, tags that help screen readers guide users through the site, subtitles and written versions for audio and video, and options to change font size and colors for better visibility.

Giving users these choices lets them interact in the way that’s best for them.

Clear, Logical Content Structure

Simple and well-organized content helps users who might have:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Cognitive challenges

This includes having a clear layout, consistent ways to get around the site, easy language, and not too many distractions. When information is laid out logically, it’s easier for everyone to understand and use digital spaces.

Implementing Accessibility in UI/UX Design

Keyboard Access and Navigation

To make your site or app work well with just a keyboard you need to arrange things so you can move through them in a sensible order by setting up shortcuts for key features.

This helps people who find it tough to use a mouse.

Sufficient Color Contrast

When picking colors use tools like WebAIM’s color contrast checker to see if your colors work well together, and aim for colors that stand out against each other enough, especially for text.

This makes it easier for people with trouble seeing to read your content.

Accessible Interactive Elements

For buttons and links to work for everyone, make sure you can tell what state they’re in (like when you’re hovering over them).

This helps all users know how to use these parts of your site or app.

Descriptive Alternative Text for Images

For ALT text, describe what’s in the picture and why it’s important, try to skip saying “image of” and don’t just use the file name.

This way, people who can’t see the images still know what’s there.

Avoiding Sensory Overload with Animations

To keep animations from bothering people, let users stop or hide moving things. Also, keep away from fast changes or too much blinking.

Always offer a way to slow down or turn off animations.

This makes sure people who get overwhelmed by motion can still use your site or app.

Transcripts and Captions for Multimedia

For videos and sound, add captions for talking and important sounds. Try to Write out descriptions for key visual parts, and make sure captions don’t block important parts of the video.

This lets people who can’t hear follow along with your videos.

Clear, Simple, and Consistent UI Copy

When writing for your interface, use easy words and avoid complex terms. Keep your language and style the same everywhere.

Simple and clear writing makes your site or app easier for everyone to understand.

Testing and Iterating for UI/UX Principles in Accessibility

It’s super important to always check our designs with people who have different needs and keep making changes based on what they tell us. This helps make sure everyone can use what we create. Here’s how to do it right:

Conduct Ongoing Usability Testing

Find people with all sorts of abilities, including those with disabilities, from different ages and backgrounds, to try out your designs. Watch them use your designs to do everyday tasks and see where they get stuck.

Iterate to Refine Accessibility

Take what you learn from testing and make your designs better and more accessible. You might need to do this a few times, fixing new issues as they come up.

Focus on changes that make the most important parts of your design easier to use.

Automated Testing

Use tools that check your design for accessibility problems. Make sure your design meets standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Inclusive Design Training

Teach your design team about how to make things accessible and think about everyone. Help them understand the different needs and views of all users.

Push for designing with everyone in mind, not just the majority.

UI/UX Principles: A New Era for Accessibility

Microsoft Inclusive Design webpage showcasing a graphic banner with diverse people and technology symbols, emphasizing the importance of inclusion in design.

Designing for accessibility and inclusivity in UI/UX is paramount for ensuring equitable digital experiences. 

By prioritizing empathy, conducting thorough research, and integrating accessibility from the outset, designers can create products that cater to diverse user needs.

Testing, iteration, and following exemplary practices from industry leaders are essential for refining and advancing inclusive design principles, ultimately fostering digital environments that are welcoming and usable for all.

An advertisement banner featuring a woman with glasses holding a tablet.

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Cam Velasco

CEO & Co-Founder

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