A couple weeks ago I attended a brilliant event organised by the London branch of Ladies that UX, which was focused on mobile accessibility and designing for disabled and deaf users.
The host, Kath Moonan, kicked off the evening by explaining the vicious cycle that occurs in accessibility design: when products aren’t designed to be accessible in the first place, people with disabilities will tend to not use them. This reinforces a perception that there is no need to consider people with disabilities when designing these products, and the cycle is a difficult one to break.
However there are some key figures to keep in mind: 16% of the adult British population has a disability (whether visible or hidden) so they can’t really be considered a minority in this context.
Kath also reminded us that even if people may not consider themselves disabled at present, the aging population means we should be focusing more and more on disabled users when designing products.
Speakers at the event discussed their personal experiences of having a disability and challenged some preconceptions about what it means when using mobile technology.
Here are some highlights of the ideas that were discussed:
- WCAG mostly tries to accommodate blind people, but most disabled users are actually sighted. While designers should still seek to implement WCAG guidelines, it is even more important to talk to users with a wide range of disabilities and try to design so they can all access your product.
- Dyslexia for instance can involve a wide range of experiences, from having difficulty following written instructions, to doing actions in the right order, to coordination and difficulty viewing text that isn’t high contrast.
- MS can also involve a wide range of experiences, and is also challenging for affected individuals as the symptoms may fluctuate or even disappear at times. Can include: fatigue, low vision, pain, experiencing pins & needles, problems with dexterity and concentration.
Despite the range in experiences among the people with disabilities and deaf people that spoke, there were some common themes. Keeping things visual is really important: images, icons tend to be better than text.
The Amazon app came out very well in discussions, speakers praised its simple, clear design with good font size and concise information (just putting image of items with name next to it). They preferred to use Amazon even where there are cheaper prices elsewhere due to the ease of use of the app (take note other apps!).
While the evening wasn’t long enough to cover all of the topics stemming from these discussions, one conclusion at the end was that we should be making an effort to adapt designs for our users, not the other way around. Designing for individual preferences means all users, whether disabled or not, can tailor apps to their own specific needs and ultimately benefits everyone.