Incorporating accessibility into application development is no longer just an option, but an integral part of the software-development process. However, people’s ability to access and utilize an application’s features is not always a shared experience. Some development teams do not initially design software with accessibility in mind. Nevertheless, guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a crucial foundation for accessible design. Even though many developers continually strive to integrate and enhance accessibility throughout the entire software-development lifecycle, there is still a gap in education and awareness surrounding accessibility issues.
Considering that there are 61 million people with disabilities in the US alone, today’s developers need to create accessible applications. Design-driven solutions start with embracing the human side of software. In this article, I’ll discuss some methods that help software developers to integrate inclusive-design features more effectively. But first, let’s dive into why this matters.
The Importance of Inclusive Design and Development
Inclusive design ensures that everyone has equal opportunities to access the Internet, enabling all to enjoy a high-quality Web experience. While regulatory mandates have brought this matter to the forefront of design, people should recognize that even minuscule details can dramatically impact people’s ability to access Web sites. For example, people with dyslexia, color blindness, or age-related vision issues might have difficulties with certain fonts and colors. If companies disregard such features of less inclusive design because of their brand guidelines, they risk alienating an entire segment of the population.
The digital transformation that was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it exceedingly clear that accessibility was lacking because most design processes were not considering it. It also revealed a perception gap regarding how many Web sites and applications were actually accessible.
Prioritizing accessibility is beneficial for business. Plus, maximizing search-engine optimization (SEO) and optimizing the user experience improve a Web site’s search-engine ranking, which can result in higher traffic and brand visibility, while demonstrating a commitment to human needs and creating good will for a company.
Let’s now quickly review the WCAG Principles, which are constantly updating. In WCAG 2.1, there are currently 78 criteria for accessibility.
WCAG Principles: POUR
The acronym POUR stands for the following:
Perceivable—Present information in such a way that all users can perceive it with all their senses.
Operable—Enable users to employ several methods of interaction with a user interface to access the content, including a keyboard, a mouse, or a special input device.
Understandable—Ensure that the content and operation of the user interface is straightforward.
Robust—Support interaction with the user interface on a variety of devices. As the user interactions evolve, so should the content.
Common Issues with Accessibility and How to Fix Them
A variety of common accessibility issues exists. Let’s consider how to fix them.
Desktop Versus Mobile Integration
Accessible features across platforms on both the desktop and mobile devices continue to be a painpoint for people with disabilities. For example, Web sites might not translate well because mobile touch zones aren’t intuitable, making navigating them difficult. Figures 1 and 2 provide examples of page designs for the desktop and mobile respectively.
Without closed captioning, or alt-text, screen readers won’t recognize an image, so people who are visually impaired and use a screen reader have no context regarding what is on the Web page. Information that users cannot perceive is not accessible. Therefore, developers must incorporate alt-text for images, videos, and audio recordings, as depicted in Figure 3.
Software Development Kits
Software development kits, or SDKs, that incorporate accessibility features provide an excellent foundation for building accessible applications and Web sites. As more organizations adopt no-code and low-code platforms such as SDKs, it is essential that the design of the underlying components integrates accessibility.
In Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), the commonality between a disabled attribute and an aria-disabled attribute is just semantics. The disabled attribute actually prevents click and hover states, while the only purpose of the aria-disabled attribute is to inform assistive technologies such as screen readers that a user-interface element is disabled, or unavailable.
The LEADTOOLS Document Viewer Demo highlights accessibility options by implementing aria-disabled attributes throughout the entire demo and incorporating screen-reader functionality. These features ensure that users with diverse abilities can interact with and access the content, providing an inclusive, accessible user experience. Plus, as Figure 4 shows, the LEADTOOLS SDK includes a speech recognition SDK that enables developers to incorporate support for speech-to-text translation that provides improved accessibility. One example of this is converting audio and speech from video files such as movies or interviews into subtitles, as the Multimedia Speech Recognition Demo within the LEADTOOLS SDK demonstrates.
Mindset Versus Operationalization
Digital inclusion is the next wave of digital transformation. Implementing accessible solutions is just the beginning of this movement. Developers need to work closely with users during app testing because many of them don’t feel prepared or qualified to integrate these features. Consistent education and an environment that encourages accessibility is key to viewing design and accessibility as one methodology rather than separate elements of design.
Next Steps: How to Incorporate Accessibility
Incorporating accessibility is easier said than done, but by following the necessary steps, organizations can increase their awareness of accessibility issues and actively educate their developers on how to create accessible applications.
One important way of gaining insights and building more inclusive application features is to engage with the local community and beta test with people who encounter difficulties with accessibility. By opening a direct line of communication with this group, you can gather their feedback and directly impact accessible design. Another way for organizations to educate their teams is to host panel and Q&A sessions with people who have struggled because of accessibility issues. Often, users who need accessibility features and have struggled with navigating an application can put the reasoning behind accessibility requirements into perspective.
Emphasizing accessibility during internal training can help normalize building in accessibility and heighten awareness of WCAG guidelines and accessibility. From the start, staff onboardings should include accessibility awareness and training. Plus, consistently providing educational opportunities such as Webinars and workshops to developers can inculcate accessibility best practices and methodologies that enable you to achieve the latest requirements.
Embracing accessibility as a cultural mindset rather than merely a requirement to check off is an imperative for all organizations. During the past few years of digital transformation, the adoption of inclusive design has increased rapidly. It is now crucial that standard design work should prioritize accessibility. Treat this paradigm shift as an opportunity for enhancement rather than a design challenge. As developers explore new technologies and SDKs and rely increasingly on automation, their dedication to inclusivity can play a pivotal role in emphasizing the human aspect of software.
By fostering a culture that values accessibility, organizations not only ensure their compliance with regulatory mandates but also demonstrate a genuine commitment to providing equal opportunities for all users. Taking an inclusive approach leads to the development of better products, improved user experiences, and increased brand loyalty. Embracing accessibility from the outset of the development process encourages innovation and collaboration among designers and developers, resulting in creative solutions that cater to a diverse user base. Ultimately, promoting an inclusive design mindset is not only good for business but ensures that technology is truly accessible to everyone. It’s the right thing to do.
Developer Advocate and Support Manager at LEAD Technologies, Inc.
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
At LEADTOOLS, the top provider of software-development toolkits, Hadi works with LEAD developers to create comprehensive toolkits for customers, jump-starting their application development process. With over ten years of professional experience as a developer himself, he is at the forefront of toolkit ideation and creation for OCR (Optical Character Recognition), forms processing, medical viewers, and multimedia applications. He holds a degree in computer engineering from University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Read More