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Designing Online Spaces that Everyone Can Navigate

For those of you who are unfamiliar with online accessibility, let’s talk for a moment about why it matters and how to do it right.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with online accessibility, let’s talk for a moment about why it matters and how to do it right. Creating an accessible online experience is not just a matter of meeting legal requirements or ticking a box for social justice. It’s about recognizing that people with disabilities are an important part of our society and ensuring that they have equal access to information and opportunities. 

It’s important that all members of a production team approach the design and development process with a mindset of inclusivity. This means considering the needs of users with disabilities from the beginning of a project, rather than treating accessibility as an afterthought or something that can be added in later. Establish accessibility as a key priority, and ensure that all team members are aware of its importance from the outset.

One way to do this is to involve equitably paid people with disabilities in the design and testing process. This can help identify potential barriers to access and ensure that the user experience is inclusive and intuitive for all users. It’s also important to consult accessibility guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to ensure that content is designed to meet established standards.

Some key principles to making online experiences accessible include:

  1. Providing alternative text for images: Ensuring users with visual impairments can understand the content of an image through a screen reader.
  2. Using clear and simple language: Making content more accessible to users with cognitive disabilities or who have difficulty with reading comprehension.
  3. Providing closed captioning and transcripts for video content: To accommodate users who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  4. Ensuring that content is navigable with a keyboard: Allowing users who cannot use a mouse or other pointing device to navigate content effectively.
  5. Using color and contrast effectively: Making information easier to read and understand for users with visual impairments.

This also means avoiding practices that can create barriers to access. For example, using images of text instead of actual text can make content impossible to consume for users with visual impairments. Similarly, using complex or convoluted navigation structures can make it difficult for users to find content.

It’s one thing to ensure a product’s accessibility at launch; however, as people author new content and reconfigure the site, that effort can be degraded. You’ll want to ensure long-term systems are in place that protect the continued accessibility of the product. To that end, you should:

  • Provide training: Ensuring that all team members understand the principles of online accessibility can help ensure it’s integrated into all aspects of the production process.
  • Monitor and update: Regularly monitoring and updating content can help ensure that it remains accessible as new technologies and user needs emerge.

Online accessibility is about creating a more inclusive and equitable digital environment that considers the diverse needs and abilities of all users. Ultimately, designing for accessibility is not just the right thing to do, but it also allows organizations to reach a wider audience and provide a better user experience for all.

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