As much as there is to consider in accessible design, it can be easy to become completely focused on finding solutions to accessibility issues and lose sight of the bigger picture. Improving accessibility isn’t only about providing accessible alternatives for people who may need them, but about providing an accessible experience overall, and this is why it’s important for accessibility professionals not to underestimate the importance of the user experience. User experience design—or UX design—is a process that focuses on designing experiences that are user-centric and evidence-based. Though the principles of UX design and accessible design do stand alone as separate, they overlap in many ways, and aiming to provide a good user experience will build a strong foundation for maximizing accessibility.
Key principles to consider
Designing with empathy is central to both accessibility and user experience design. Empathy is defined as being able to fully understand and reflect someone else’s needs and motivations and, in the context of user experience, it helps designers understand the challenges and goals of users as well as the barriers and reasons that impact them. Empathy opens the door to truly learning what a user wants to do and what they need to be able to do it, and having that understanding is necessary to preventing and removing the barriers that may stand in their way.
Emphasis on best practices
Just like accessibility guidelines, UX best practices focus on making decisions that are in the best interest of the user. These best practices discourage overwhelming users with distracting designs and confusing layouts, recommending simple, streamlined interfaces that are well-organized and intentionally structured. Taking this approach will help minimize the revisions that may need to be made to improve page structure, navigation, and the organization of content later on.
Prioritizing user feedback and testing
Getting insight from actual users is a big part of the UX design process, and getting this insight at multiple stages throughout the process can help establish and reinforce the needs and goals of a wide range of users, ensuring that critical accessibility considerations are identified early. That information can be used to inform design decisions, and ongoing user testing can help determine whether those design decisions actually work and how to revise them if they don’t.
The added benefits of considering user experience
Improved user engagement and satisfaction
Providing usable, accessible experiences to users means they’re more likely to stay engaged, find what they’re seeking, and achieve their own goals, which should always be the focus of the empathetic, user-centric design. A user who experiences success with minimal to no frustration is also more likely to feel as if they’re actually seen and valued, and that their needs were important enough to have been considered. Providing a smooth, accessible experience provides value to them, which helps establish trust and increases the likelihood that they’ll engage again in the future or respond to a call-to-action. Prioritizing the needs of the user can passively improve outcomes regarding stakeholder goals.
User-centric, accessible designs help everyone
Accessibility isn’t only about meeting a set of compliance guidelines or making accommodations for a select few. It’s about removing barriers for those who face them and improving equal access to information and services for all. Users often experience frustration, challenges, and roadblocks navigating and using websites and applications and understanding content regardless of disability status, and accessibility professionals have a responsibility to ensure that design decisions are made in the best interest of users, not just stakeholders. Remembering the importance of the overall user experience while working to improve accessibility will lead to better inclusivity and improve the quality of what you have to offer to users overall.