Applying Universal Web Design to Create a More Accessible Internet
Building a better internet experience for everyone – including individuals with physical and mental disabilities – begins with universal web design. Although designing for accessibility and inclusion is not one of the first things most businesses think about when setting out to build a website, we would argue that it should be. By designing your website to be both functional and user-friendly to all individuals, you open up your site to an additional one billion potential customers worldwide who just so happen to be disabled and who otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience all that your site has to offer.
The idea behind universal web design is to make websites accessible to everyone, or at least aiming to meet the needs of as many individuals as possible, by creating and adhering to a set of universal design principles. Currently, there are no mandatory universal design rules in place that govern the entire World Wide Web, but inclusive design is encouraged by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible to everyone. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), meanwhile, does also require all businesses that fall under Title I (those that operate 20 or more weeks per year with at least 15 full-time employees) or Title III (those that fall under the category of “public accommodation”) to offer “reasonable accessibility” on the web; it just doesn’t define what, exactly, “reasonable accessibility” means.
Fortunately, there is a resource called The Principles of Universal Design, which can be helpful in understanding what constitutes accessibility and inclusive design on the web. It is a document that was created by a group of design researchers and practitioners in 1997 to encourage the design of all physical products, environments and methods of communication to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Although the principles may not have been created with universal web design specifically in mind, they can be utilized as web accessibility principles pretty seamlessly.
The Principles of Universal Web Design
There are seven concepts outlined in The Principles of Universal Design, and each one is relevant to and can be applied to the idea of universal web design.
- Equitable Use – The first principle of universal web design suggests that the design of your website should be both useful and marketable to individuals with diverse abilities. This principle encourages business owners and website designers to consider all potential users, rather than just your target or intended audience, when mapping out the various functions of your site.
- Flexibility in Use – Your website design should be able to accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Each person who visits your site is different from the next, and designing a site that is adaptable in its design and functionality will allow for each of your users to control and customize their own individual user experience.
- Simple and Intuitive Use – Your website should be easy to understand and to navigate, regardless of your users’ level of experience, knowledge or skills. You should aim to eliminate any unnecessary complexity from the site and consider arranging information in order of importance.
- Perceptible Information – All information on your site – whether text, images or videos – should be presented in a way that is easily accessible and digestible. You should also aim to provide compatibility with screen readers and other tools that are used by individuals with sensory limitations.
- Tolerance for Error – As humans, we’re all bound to make mistakes. And, as part of these web accessibility principles, it’s important to take the potential for user error into consideration. The individual elements on your site should be arranged to minimize hazards from the start, but in the case an error is made, you’ll want to provide ample warnings as well as fail-safe features.
- Low Physical Effort – What does physical effort have to do with the universal design of websites? At first glance, this one may seem a bit out of place. But as effortless as it may be for some to sit down at a computer and move a mouse, for others it can present a sizable challenge. Instead, ensure your website is also navigable by keyboard, and aim to minimize the need for repetitive actions.
- Size and Space for Approach and Use – The final principle of universal web design is especially important for mobile websites. Whereas on a desktop, most individuals are navigating the site with a small, nimble pointer, on mobile they’re likely using their thumb (or another finger), and it can be difficult for some people to select a small target area. Provide a clear line of sight for your users, and be sure to accommodate for variations in hand and grip sizes.
Implementing the principles of universal web design can go a long way in ensuring a positive browsing experience for all of the visitors to your website, especially those with physical and cognitive disabilities. To learn more about how to ensure your website is designed for inclusion and accessibility, contact Paradigm Marketing and Design today to schedule a consultation.